Largely the OS that Vista should have been, Windows 7, released in October 2009, is considered to be one of Microsoft’s best operating systems to date. Although Windows XP held on to its large market share for much longer, Windows 7 was the fastest selling OS for the company with 240 million licenses sold.
It was faster, more stable and easier to use, becoming the operating system most users and business would upgrade to from Windows XP, skipping Vista entirely.
Windows 7 retained Windows Vista’s Aero UI, albeit with some tweaks.
Windows 7 was nearly universally well received by the critics and continues to have a strong market share.
Windows 8: The end of Steve Ballmer
While Microsoft chose incremental upgrades for Windows Vista to Windows 7, it went a radically different direction with Windows 8 abandoning the Start button altogether in favor of a touch-centric UI called “Metro”.
On the surface this made sense. In the years leading up to the release of Windows 8, Microsoft was beginning to feel increased competition from mobile space. PC sales were remaining stagnant while tablet and smartphone sales were taking off. This market was emerging and Microsoft didn’t have a stake in it, so Microsoft needed a platform that could bridge all of these platforms.
Ultimately this proved to be a disaster for Microsoft. While on the PC Windows 8 was a technical masterpiece — it was fast, stable and secure — the adoption rate wasn’t there. People wanted the start button back; the Metro UI didn’t interest many. In addition, there wasn’t a compelling reason for many to upgrade. Windows 7 was good enough. This is why Windows 8’s adoption rate — and its follow-up Windows 8.1 — on the desktop came in at a trickle, only hitting 15% as of February 2015 according to Net Applications.
On mobile devices Windows 8 fared much worse. It’s pickup was almost non-existent at first, but was later helped along from Intel’s contra revenue plan of providing tablet makers with heavily discounted Intel chips.
Microsoft also planned to bring Windows 8 to ARM devices via Windows RT and the Surface tablet. But manufacturers failed to show any interest in building Windows RT devices. The fate of the Surface was much worse: Microsoft took a $900 million writedown for “inventory adjustments” because of unsold Surface devices sitting in warehouses.