Analysts Say Microsoft May Ditch “Windows 9” Brand Name

Reuters is confirming reports that the upcoming version of Windows that we’ve been seeing so much of (known as “Windows 9” to the media or “Threshold” within Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)) unofficially will be unveiled officially next Tuesday.

I. An OS By Any Other Name

The most shocking aspect of Reuters‘ report, though, is its claim that Microsoft may drop the Windows brand name altogether.  It writes:
The project, known for the past few years as “Threshold” inside the software company and “Windows 9” outside it, will likely get an entirely new brand, or just be called Windows, analysts said, ahead of its full release early next year.

The name change is symbolic of a new direction and style for Microsoft, which is veering away from an aggressive focus on Windows and PCs, the hallmark of previous Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer. The new, quieter emphasis is on selling services across all devices and is championed by new boss Satya Nadella.
Dropping Windows would certainly be a shocking move, one that even non-technophiles would likely react strongly to.  Windows has been Microsoft’s staple brand ever since its introduction in 1985.  To kill a brand with such universal recognition on its thirtieth anniversary would indeed be surprising.

The “Windows” brand will turn 30 next year. [Image Source: Slashgear]
On the flip side, Microsoft’s recent unification of its “Windows”, “Windows RT”, and “Windows Phone” brands under a single brand name — “Windows” — shows a willingness to make bold branding changes.  It also makes it a bit easier to make such a shocking and broad change, given that you’re changing one name, rather than several Windows subbrands.

Some analysts believe that after poorly received releases such as Windows ME, Windows Vista, and Windows 8, Microsoft’s auburn brand has too much baggage.  Gartner Inc. (IT) analyst Michael Silver tells Reuters:
Microsoft is changing from a company that was Windows-centric to one that is services-centric.  It has to be that way. Windows revenue is likely going to decline, and Microsoft’s task is to replace that Windows revenue with revenue from services on all sorts of platforms.

Windows 8 was not a shining moment for Microsoft.  Probably the biggest issue that lingers is the negative brand equity in the name.
Whether Microsoft opts to make the shocking decision to rebrand or looks to salvage its existing brand name with a more clear and consistent message remains to be seen.  But we will likely find out on Tuesday.

Microsoft has invited an elite group of reporters to a “discussion” next Tuesday at a “stylish event space” in San Francisco, according to Reuters.  It is expected to unveil a consumer Tech Preview of its next personal computer operating system at the event, in preparation for an April or May 2015 launch.  
[Image Source: Neowin]
There’s some evidence that Microsoft will keep the rumored Windows 9 branding.  The President of Microsoft France, Alain Crozier, stated in comments to the press [source; via]:
In the next few days, we’ll be releasing Windows 9.
Nicolas Petit, Microsoft’s French marketing chief, “clarified” this remark in a comment to ZDNet, stating:
We look forward to seeing you in late September in San Francisco for the future of Windows, which actually, at this stage, does not have a name as such.
Does Mr. Crozier have the inside scoop on the naming?  We’ll have to wait and see.  

II. The Rebuild of Modern UI (“Metro”)

But whatever it unveils, reporters believe that it missed the mark with its new “Modern UI” (colloquially known by its now defunct name “Metro”).  

Metro was well suited for touchscreen devices, but its large tile-based start menu often seemed like too much wasted space, given the default size tiles were needed to make them touch friendly.  Microsoft’s decision to not tweak the tile size to match device inputs appears to be one major mistake.

Another mistake in Windows 8 was the decision to kill the Start Menu — one of the most familiar features to PC users.  In its place Microsoft put an ungainly switch between Desktop Mode and the Modern UI.  Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update 1 went a ways towards fixing the damage done, but a much bigger fix is needed in the long run.

To be fair the Modern UI (Metro) was essentially just the Start Menu unrolled on a different page, save for some finer technical details.  But ultimately most users agreed were at best indifferent to and at worst angered by the experience it provided on desktop and traditional (non-touchscreen) laptop PCs.

Forrester Research, Inc. (FORR) analyst David Johnson summarizes:
The schizophrenic behavior between the modern user interface and the Windows desktop has got to go away.  They have to smooth that out.  Microsoft built their business on being very good at delivering what people needed in the moment, for example Excel in the 1990s.  That’s what Microsoft has to get back to, innovating and creating things that people find indispensable.
Under new CEO Satya Nadell, Microsoft appears to be finally listening.  While its revised version of the Desktop Start Menu does retain the trappings of Windows 8/8.1’s Modern UI (Metro), it’s much more compact, making it better for a mouse and keyboard.  It also gives users more flexibility as users can disable Live Tiles for traditional PCs or opt to use their more compact form in Threshold.  

The Start Menu meets (and replaces) Modern UI (Metro)
Touchscreen devices, meanwhile will get a more refined version of the current Modern UI menu.  Microsoft is ensuring that all Modern UI apps run in Desktop Mode (which is basically essential, as Modern UI mode may go away entirely for traditional PCs).

It’s also added a compelling feature for power users which has long been available in Linux — multiple desktops.  

A leaked view of Microsoft’s multi-desktop feature
In many ways these refinements represent a path of progress similar to how Microsoft turned Windows Vista into the wildly popular Windows 7.  

III. Building on Windows 8’s Strengths — the Cloud, Competitive Pricing

At its core Windows 8 had good performance graphically and in terms of memory usage — much better than Windows 7.  And its cloud services like the OneDrive, Office 365, and Windows Store were generally excellent.

FBR & Comp. (FBRC) analyst Daniel Ives emphasizes the importance of these well-received cloud services, commenting:
This is a launching pad and catalyst for Nadella’s holistic cloud vision over the coming years.  Windows 9 is a potentially game-changing product release for Microsoft.
Ultimately Microsoft appears to be looking, under its new CEO to transform into a services-based company, much like Google Inc. (GOOG).  Microsoft is not alone here.  Other companies such as Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE) have looked to transform their product line from traditional ephemeral software to a subscription cloud model.

Microsoft is slowly transforming into a “freemium” apps and services company.
But unlike premium software services like Adobe’s Creative Cloud, Microsoft is increasingly looking to make most of its consumer product free.  In that regard it’s more like Google than Adobe.  

Microsoft currently offers a free ad-supported version of Windows for larger laptops and tablets.  It also offers an entirely free version of Windows (RT) and Windows (Phone) for small tablets and smartphones.  It offers Office 365 free to students.  And it offers OneDrive cloud storage and OneNote unified note-taking free to everyone across multiple platforms.

Monetization will happen through three channels — advertising revenue (consumer-side), upgrades to premium services (consumer-side), and business licensing fees (enterprise-side).  This model, again, is somewhat similar to Google’s.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s third CEO, has only been on the job for a few months, but he’s already boldly reinventing Microsoft’s business model. [Image Source: Microsoft]
That “freemium” model is expected to be a key pillar of the Threshold and its services.  It’s a bold gamble for the veteran firm, and it could backfire in terms of earnings. But it’s certainly fun to see Microsoft inventing itself wildly.  We’ll all be watching next Tuesday to see just how wild it chooses to get with its campaign to reinvent its business model.