First off: By almost any measure imaginable, Windows 8 is going to be a huge, smash hit. Microsoft's scale and reach and partnerships with countless hardware OEMs pretty much guarantees they will sell millions of copies of this program. Heck, even Windows Vista, despite its many problems, was a huge seller for Microsoft when it shipped in 2007.
But -- here's the thing. Windows 8 represents a big change, and people don't like change. Faced with a learning curve, a lot of people will just go looking for something else.
And, unlike in 2007, right now there are a lot of other good alternatives. The two best alternatives -- the Mac and the iPad -- come from Apple.
Which is why I'm sure people in Cupertino are just loving Metro to death. Because while Metro is going to move a lot of PCs, it's also going to sell a lot of Macs and iPads.
The World Has Changed
Keep in mind that back in 2007 the iPad was still three years away, and the Mac was only beginning to convince mainstream users that it was a credible alternative to a PC. The MacBook Air, a machine that really won people over, hadn't shipped yet.
So in 2007 Microsoft's customers pretty much had no choice but to suck it up and deal.
Windows 8 arrives in a completely different world, where mobile devices are outselling PCs, where the Mac is now seen as perfectly mainstream -- they'll even let you use one at work! -- and where, for a lot of people, the iPad is all the computer they need.
Consider my dad. He's retired, and mostly what he wants to do is check email and do some Web browsing. For years he tore his hair out trying to use Windows PCs. Bloatware, crapware, vendorware, malware, applications crashing, crazy stuff happening. It was a pain for me, too, because I'm the one who got the calls asking what was wrong or why was his computer doing such-and-such a thing.
Finally last year we got him an iPad. Problem solved. Now he and his wife each have an iPad, as well an iPhone. No more angry calls. Everything just works.
I suspect my dad and his wife are not alone. Twice last year I had to fly from Boston, where I live, down to Florida during the winter, when all the "snowbirds" are heading south.
The planes were packed with elderly people, and the number one accessory (after Depends) was an iPad. I swear I've never seen so many iPads in one place. It seemed as if everyone on the plane had one. There they all sat, looking delighted and feeling all tech-savvy.
Add to that the onslaught of Android tablets that are hitting the market and you can see what Microsoft is up against.
Surface Is An Alternative, But Also An Exit
And sure, Microsoft is rolling out its Surface tablet, which represents its own alternative to a PC. But it also represents a potential exit from Windows, because once you start thinking about a tablet, you're going to shop Surface against the iPad.
And in classic Microsoft fashion the company is muddying the waters by rolling out two Surface tablets -- one that runs Windows RT, which ships tomorrow, and one that will run "real" Windows and is due to arrive in January. The Windows RT Surface uses an ARM processor and won't run the same apps as a Windows 8 PC. But the Surface running "real" Windows will.
Got that? Thanks for the clarity, Microsoft.
I can already imagine a puzzled customer standing in Best Buy, having the Surface explained by some goofball sales kid, and then saying, "Okay, I think I'll just get the iPad."
Let me repeat: I'm not saying Windows 8 will be a train wreck. But it's going to be a challenge.
Even Microsofties know this and I bet are already hurrying to get Windows 9 polished up.
Whether that will help or not remains to be seen. For now, Microsoft just gave Apple a really nice holiday present.
What do you think? Are you going to buy Windows 8?