Not forking is the right choice for Microsoft

The most suspense-packed news from the Windows 8 keynote was their approach to the “Big Forking Decision”. Because the implications are huge.

I’m going even further: Windows 8 is not only the right move, it’s the only one with higher chances to win the title “most used Tablet OS” instead to fail.

So, the critics tell Microsoft to make a clear split and develop Windows 8 (a slightly better version of Windows 7) in parallel, while throwing all waste away with their new OS “Metro”.

I say 4 things would happen in this scenario:

  1. Windows 8 (and to a smaller degree Windows 7) sales would be slowed down dramatically. Because people don’t like spending money on a platform that is supposed to die in the not so far future. There are plenty of examples to that.
  2. In addition to Windows 8 loosing ground against Mac OSX, Metro will have a very hard time to compete with iOS and the iPad. It’s the ecosystem, stupid. Apple doesn’t show the iTunes account numbers at every keynote for no reason. When Metro is released to the public, the iOS ecosystem had more than 4 years [1] to grow — in the mobile industry an eternity.
    “But Microsoft sells so much more licenses to device vendors, the market will be flooded with Metro hardware!”
    So is the situation with Android right now. Pure quantity doesn’t necessarily bring you developer attention. [2]
    “But Metro for itself has some
    really big advantages over iOS!” So did webOS.
  3. Working on different operating systems inside one company that can do the same jobs is a big risk. Apple already knows this from the “Lisa vs. Macintosh”-era. If you watched “Pirates of Silicon Valley” you get a glimpse of how deeply divided Apple was. And, today nobody knows how OSX versus iOS will play out for them.
  4. Backwards compatibility is in Microsoft’s DNA — it was always an important selling point. It certainly doesn’t produce the best designed, user-friendliest and bug-free, unique experiences one can get with an iPad. But that’s not what the average person asks for — they ask “Does it run Word […with the interface I’m used to]?”

I’m absolutely not rooting for Microsoft, and we’ll have to see what else happens in the time till the first stable release. Similar to Gruber, I have my difficulties to see how it works out technically, but if it does (and Microsoft has a buttload of engineers working on it, I’m sure), it’s a brilliant move.

[1] I’m counting since the opening of the App Store in July, 2008. One could argue the first iPhone in 2007 is the real beginning, because customers bought into the ecosystem at that moment.

[2] Android users are indeed very different from iPhone users. More on that topic in the article Perils of Possession without utilisation.

This article was first published on September 21, 2011.

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