Microsoft revealed late last week that usage of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview has doubled that of Windows 7 during the same pre-release timeframe for that version. “Millions” of people are already using Windows 8 every day, the company claimed.
Because this is literally all the information that Microsoft communicated about this incredible milestone, let’s read between the lines a bit. I have two thoughts about this issue, one of which has been bothering me for some time.
First, this announcement is an attempt by Microsoft to remind people of how popular Windows really is. While the mainstream media is busy trying to bury Windows by constantly reporting on the “surge” of sales of iPads and other tablets (and rewrite history in the process), the truth is a lot less dramatic. In fact, as I pointed out last week in Good News and Bad News for the Future of Computing, even in a worst-case scenario in which tablet sales really do surge and actual PC sales fall by 35 percent, Windows still dominates the iPad and Android-based tablets as far into the future as 2016, the last year for which any estimates are available.
Second, and more alarming, the delivery of this little news tidbit represents just another step in an ongoing trend at Microsoft in which the responsibility for delivering a statement to the press and thus the outside world isn’t attributed to any executive or other person who works for or represents Microsoft in any official capacity. That is, Microsoft didn’t announce this information via a press release or have an actual human being working at the company utter the words that triggered this story.
No, Microsoft delivered this news via Twitter.
Here’s the exact tweet. “Windows 8 consumer preview usage more than twice Windows 7 beta at the same point in time. Millions of people using everyday.”
As a member of the tech media, I find this message—and the trend it represents—alarming.
In the good old days, discovering information about Microsoft’s activities was simple: The firm employed in-house PR people as well as external PR people through companies such as Waggener Edstrom. And all official news was channeled through a single PR channel, Microsoft’s Press Pass.
That is no longer the case.
Now, in addition to subscribing to innumerable RSS feeds thanks to Microsoft’s crazy and overly prolific need to be transparent via literally hundreds of individual blogs, the savvy reporter or blogger must keep track of a similar number of Twitter feeds, Facebook accounts, and other hard-to-track sources of information. Tracking down elusive on-the-record quotes is now nearly impossible.
Worse, queries to Microsoft’s official PR representatives often go unanswered, not just for days but permanently. Which is odd, because they clearly have a lot less to do today. And promises to follow up on questions that weren’t answered during actual one-on-one meetings are now an inside joke. It almost never happens.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining because my job is harder. I’m complaining because Microsoft’s so-called transparency has ultimately harmed the company and its users. There's no responsibility, cohesiveness, or clarity coming from the company—just hundreds of communications channels whose net effect is noise, not news.
So this week, we learned that the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is apparently pretty popular with people. It’s really kind of impossible to determine if that’s even true, let alone what Microsoft is really comparing. I’m a bit curious why the news didn’t come from Microsoft PR directly. But then, I shouldn’t be. It never does anymore.