Windows 8 Woes Continue


Mozilla announced on Friday that it is abandoning its Metro version of Firefox for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. In a statement released on the company’s Future Releases blog, Firefox Vice President Johnathan Nightingale praised the project’s team, but said it would be a mistake to continue to pour resources into it. Nightingale noted that the Metro browser tile for the Windows 8/8.1 start screen has never seen more than 1,000 active daily users. Mozilla’s announcement suggests that even following the release of Windows 8.1—which was rolled out in January to address user issues—the woes for Windows 8 continue.

Introduced in October 2012, Windows 8 was designed to save the PC. With Android and iOS tablets gaining popularity, the new operating system addressed both tablets and PCs by integrating a tablet-like tiled start-up screen to PCs; this was a drastic departure from the desktop start-up screen Windows’ users had grown accustomed to. Consumers responded negatively to Windows 8, with two consistent and loud complaints being the lack of a Start button—a feature Windows’ users regularly used—and not being able to boot directly to the desktop screen.

Consumer desire to boot directly to the old-style desktop suggests that users prefer to bypass the Windows 8 tiled menu completely. Mozilla’s announcement that its Windows 8 Metro tile produces less than 1,000 active daily users supports that sentiment. Firefox consistently comes in number two behind Google Chrome for browser usage, garnering around 30 percent of the market. Given its share of the browser market, Firefox’s lack of use on the Windows 8 tiled menu should serve as a canary in the mine for Microsoft.

Though it was designed to save the PC from encroaching tablet competition by making its interface more tablet-like, Windows 8, ironically, is actually hurting the PC market. Analysts report that PC sales have dropped in six straight quarters and some estimates foresee a 10 percent drop in overall PC sales in 2014. Microsoft hopes the fixes introduced to Windows 8.1 will help stem the negative tide.

It can’t be denied that Microsoft listened to consumer complaints concerning Windows 8, though the company initially chalked up much of the early criticism as a trend to the extreme, suggesting in a May 2013 statement that critics were using hyperbole and being sensational just to get page views. Two of the featured fixes incorporated into Windows 8.1 address the two key consumer complaints. Users now have the option to boot directly to the old-style desktop, bypassing the tiled screen, and a modified Start button has been added.

With tablet device continuing to gain consumer popularity and software companies responding to that trend by focusing on developing apps that support Android and iOS platforms, the PC seems destined to eventually serve only a niche audience. Serious gamers, graphic designers, animators, writers and the like will still likely see the benefit of a PC over a tablet device, but the average consumer who uses the Internet to gather news and information or keep in touch with friends and family via social media prefers the portability and convenience that tablet devices offer. So even if consumers do react positively to the Windows 8.1 fixes, the trend in tablet usage growth suggests that Windows 8’s woes will continue.

Scott Merrow