How Microsoft is failing Windows 8

The company's brilliant engineers must feel like velociraptors handcuffed to brontosauruses

D.B. Grady

Four months ago, Microsoft released Windows 8, a complete rethinking of the interaction between humans and computers. As a paradigm shift, the only real comparison is when Apple introduced the iPhone, moving the world from clunky Soviet-style mobile interfaces to the colorful, responsive touchscreens we have today. Of course, Apple had the advantage of not having to support 20 years of legacy code. Today, Microsoft isn't so lucky. Many programs designed for Windows 3.1 (released in 1992) will actually run on Windows 8. This is an astonishing feat of engineering, but also a giant boulder that Microsoft feels compelled to push up a hill. And such robust backward compatibility comes at a price. The biggest problem with Windows 8 is every version of Windows that came before it.

To understand why Microsoft is all but required to support programs written when Bill Clinton was an obscure southern governor, you have to look at the Redmond company's install base. Microsoft's Business division is worth $24 billion, and the Server and Tools division brings in $18.7 billion. Those two divisions represent more than half of Microsoft's total revenue — almost all of it from corporate America. (And those numbers don't even include Windows dollars.) Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, has boasted that there are 670 million computers running Windows 7, and every one of them is a potential Windows 8 upgrade.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up
To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us
David W. Brown

David W. Brown is coauthor of Deep State (John Wiley & Sons, 2013) and The Command (Wiley, 2012). He is a regular contributor to, Vox, The Atlantic, and mental_floss. He can be found online here.