10 Reasons Customers Might Resist Windows 8

Has Microsoft become too innovative? Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a leader in the field of change management, discusses reasons that people might not rush to embrace Windows 8.
by Carmen Nobel

Software giant Microsoft is launching the Windows 8 version of its operating system this week, and suffice it to say that it's radically different from Windows 7. The familiar Start button and menu are gone, for example, replaced by a series of large, colorful tiles. And there's a new feature called the "Charm Bar."

Give Microsoft credit for innovation. But will corporate customers rush to embrace the change, or will they resist it at first? Signs point to resistance, according to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the Ernest L. Arbuckle professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and a leader in the field of change management. "Even in an era where young techies are looking to get the hottest and latest, people are resistant to change," she says.

Microsoft's launch of the new operating system accompanies its launch of a new tablet PC, the Surface RT, which will compete against Apple iPad. And industry observers have noted similarities between Apple's tightly-controlled marketing tactics and Microsoft's marketing campaign for the upcoming OS—Microsoft is even using indie rock music in its Windows 8 advertisements.

But what works for Apple might not work for Microsoft. Alas, when it comes to embracing the latest technology, consumer hardware and corporate software are as different as apples and orang… well, as different as Apples and corporate software. "Software is the method by which people do their work, and if you're requiring a radical change in how they do their work, it's a lot to ask," Kanter says.

“If you're requiring a radical change in how they do their work, it's a lot to ask”

In a September blog post for Harvard Business Review, Kanter discusses 10 of the most common reasons people resist change, in the context of leadership. This week, Kanter sat down with HBS Working Knowledge to discuss how these same reasons might hinder corporate adoption of Windows 8.

1. Loss of Control—Unsolicited change naturally meddles with autonomy, and the world's IT directors and other department heads may not appreciate having a completely different operating system thrust upon them from on high. "People don't like it when they're forced to change their plans, rather than determine the changes they want to make," Kanter says.

2. Excess Uncertainty—"People will often prefer to remain mired in misery than to head toward an unknown," Kanter explains in her blog post.

"There will be questions about Windows 8," Kanter says. "Will it work? Will it help me? Will this require further upgrades as Microsoft fixes the bugs? People might wait until there's more certainty, reasoning that if the current software works well, then why should they change?"

3. Surprise, surprise!—Sudden change almost always faces resistance, Kanter says. To that end, Microsoft has made a point of preparing the public for Windows 8, briefing the press months in advance and even offering downloadable preview version. Still, Kanter wonders, "Has there been sufficient time for the influencers to get used to this and help other people get used to it? And why launch on October 26? There's a lot going on in the world right now."

4. Everything seems different—Drastic change is more uncomfortable than incremental change, Kanter explains. And early reviews indicate that Windows 8 feels like a journey into the unknown. She cites the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, who reports, "even its most devoted users won't recognize the venerable computer operating system in this new incarnation."

Windows 8"Of course all change brings difference, but how many differences can we handle at once?" Kanter asks. "In Windows 8 there's the tile interface, there's no more start button, there's this 'Charm Bar'… These tools may work well, but human psychology says that if it's too different and too jarring, you turn away from it. You don't want to have to think about the tool. You want to think about the job you need to get done."

5. and 6. Loss of face and Concerns about competence—Let alone dealing with a change that wasn't their idea, people don't like it when a change makes them feel incompetent. And some early reviews of Windows 8 indicate that it's not much of an ego booster. In the comments section of a review on cnet.com, beta-testing computer science teacher 'jabnipnip' vented: "Sure it loads fast, but you lose productivity time just trying to figure out how to do things like print! No joke. Open up a PDF in the native viewer and you have to 'intuitively' know to press ctrl + p to print the file. I can't tell you how many times I've sat there getting angry trying to figure out how to get something done. I'm not an idiot when it comes to computers, but this OS made me feel like one."

"Your software should not make anyone feel like an idiot," Kanter advises.

7. More work—This is an unavoidable biggie. Change generally requires work. That can feel like an irony when it comes to a software upgrade that's advertised as a tool to make work easier. Even the most positive reviews of Windows 8 have acknowledged a steep learning curve, which is likely to induce some chafing among the weary corporate masses.

"We're talking about an incredibly overloaded population of people who don't need more work," Kanter says. "They need something to do the work for them, like Siri."

8. Ripple effects—"Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles," Kanter writes in her HBR blog post.

“Your software should not make anyone feel like an idiot”

There are key ripple effects inherent in adopting a drastically different operating system, she says. Confused individual users are likely to overload the IT department with "how-do-I" requests. Managers may be late for meetings as they try in vain to find their calendars with the new user interface. And so on. Some problematic are more likely than others, but "concern about ripple effects can cause considerable foot-dragging when it comes to change," Kanter says.

9. Past resentments—"Leaders should consider gestures to heal the past before sailing into the future," Kanter writes. "The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us."

We have two ghostly words for Microsoft: Windows Vista. It's been nearly six years since the launch of that version of Windows, but harried IT managers may never forget the glitches. (PC World magazine rated Vista the Biggest Disappointment of 2007.) "Microsoft has had problems in the past," Kanter says. "The company tries so hard to do something disruptive, but then all it accomplishes is getting disruptive to users."

10. Sometimes the threat is real—In her blog post, Kanter explains that many people fear change because it can be truly dangerous, posing a threat not only to old ideas but jobs as well. In the case of the Windows 8 launch, there's a threat to Microsoft's competitors-including Apple, Google Inc., and Amazon.com—who could lose market share if the operating system and the new tablet prove successful. "Competitors certainly resist the change," Kanter says. "They are going to do everything they can to try to capitalize on any wary customer and fan the flames of user resistance."

And the dramatic overhaul of the operating system is also a risk for Microsoft, which needs Windows 8 to succeed in order to maintain its own market share, especially among consumers.

"Microsoft has produced a bold innovation in Windows 8, and the company deserves applause," Kanter says. "But its marketplace success will depend on whether users are ready for such a giant leap. Does this big change activate too many classic sources of resistance? That is the question."

Follow Rosabeth Moss Kanter on Twitter at @RosabethKanter.

About the Author

Carmen Nobel is the senior editor of Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.
    • Romeo Richardson
    • Sacramento New Tech Freshman, New Tech
    I think windows 8 is perfect for a school because their tablets are cheaper than a full sized desktop PC, and the operating system is the most up to date even with the newest Microsoft office programs like Power Point.The windows 8 look and feel is great and less boring than XP being a motivation so students actually want to use it! only about 70 bucks.
    • Anonymous
    On Windows 8, when you open a PDF document, your Desktop switches to a Metro style app called Windows Reader created by Microsoft. It's frustrating to read the contents of PDF files by switching Desktop to Metro and reverse. Therefore, I search the web and use a freeware namely PDF Reader for Windows 8.
    • patrick r norha
    • retired-lawyer, self
    Change requires leadership skills; maintenance, managerial skills.
    • Todd MacDonald
    • Cheif Contrarian, bMergent
    I think Kanter's observations on change, fear, uncertainty, competence, etc are accurate but I don't see any unique conenction to Win 8. I also find it intersting that key user experience features of the Metro UI (the new Win UI) that have been tested and validated across 10s to 100s of thousands of users around the world can be so quickly dismissed. I can't help but be reminded of conversations I had decades ago when senior technology people like Mossberg and Kanter told me in no uncertain terms that a mouse or a color monitor had nothing to do with a place of business. Tech history has taught us that when things change, and they will, that those who figure out how to leverage the value quickest usually have an advantage. I'd love to see an article on that topic in the context of the largest technology release in the history of man.
    • Edward Stern
    I am not convinced that so many fear change. Rather, I think they are rightly concerned about the burdens of change--particularly the time needed to learn to do their jobs with new software. We need things that increase our productivity instead of eroding it. Siri is a productivity enhancer.
    • Don Hardman
    • Finance Manager, Pub Charity Inc
    I am looking forward to experiencing Windows 8. I still remember the launch of Windows with coloured bouncing balls. After all the hype about IBM's OS that never happened Windows was a refreshing, revolutionary change. I think people will embrace the change embodied in Windows 8 too.
    • David Goodnow
    • Returning Student, Independent Consultant
    I have been a technician, network administrator, and system administrator in government, school, and corporate sectors, covering Apple, Linux, and Windows environments from planning through maturity.
    Windows 8 (W8 /weight/ to those of us who have used it), requires a LOT from the back room. Microsoft has done an incredibly good job of making training and software available to both existing MSCE technicians but also to interested up-and-coming outsiders. That should fuel a boom of low-cost interns and part-time help to meet the burgeoning demand that W8 brings with it.
    The remaining large base of Windows XP users is expected to op for the low-cost upgrade offer Microsoft has made. Initially, the largest share of this should be at home; friendly advice and assistance from available knowledgable people will help tremendously in familiarizing employees _before_ throwing the whole new interface at them in a productivity-driven environment. For the love of whatever you hold dear, if you do not want to bring your workplace to a rage-induced stand-still, Plan This!
    Finally, every user WILL need a means for using gesture-controls, or they WILL hate life. Voice of experience, people.
    • Susan Chipman
    • retired
    I would urge people to pay attention to what Kanter has said here. It is not just a matter of generic resistance to change, but there are also issues specific to the computer software business. An NRC study of the economics of company investments in computers showed that the economic returns were generally disappointing. A distinguished cognitive scientist on the study group, long on the staff of Bell Labs, published a minority report "The Trouble with Computers" that emphasized these negatives more than the majority report. And when I read that book, I felt even he had underemphasized the burden that having to learn new computer systems with some frequency puts on already overloaded employees -- something I had experienced myself.

    As a government manager of cognitive science research, somewhat involved with human-computer interaction research, I have sometimes been tempted to claim as Chipman's first law of human-computer interaction, "The known system is the preferred system."

    Sometimes learning a new system can be easy even if the superficial appearance of the interface is very different. But this is true only if the deep structure of the system remains the same. Otherwise, learning the new system can be very difficult and consume a lot of time with a lot of errors involved.

    Apparently Microsoft is claiming to have done a lot of user testing of this new operating system, but I am skeptical. Software companies rarely do good user testing.
    I myself would never buy a new operating system until it has been out for at least a year, allowing others to discover the bugs.

    As for other products -- I used to do many presentations using PowerPoint. When I started having to do that, I did not have the time to take any training courses. At some point, I did have the time to take a course but had no need to do a presentation then. I did find, however, that the training course was directed only at some kind of imagined typical business user (pie and bar charts) but had no coverage of what most users in my organization needed to do -- highly variable graphs of scientific data. And the trainers did not know how to do these things either.

    Since I have retired, I bought a computer with a newer version of PowerPoint. I find that I no longer know how to do many things I used to know how to do very well because of version changes. Probably those functions are still there, buried but the help is useless over 90% of the time. Whatever new functions may be there, I do not appreciate them. Research has shown that most functions in software systems are never used by most users. They primarily serve marketing purposes.

    Towards the end of my career, I personally experienced a somewhat surprising case of the known system being the preferred system. The computer system in question was absolutely central to the job function of employees such as I -- we had no choice but to use it in order to give researchers grants. The old system was very bad and we used to make a lot of negative remarks about it. However, surprisingly, a well known consulting firm managed to design a new system that was not only new but also much worse in clearly identifiable ways. Aside from the initial problem that the consultants thought they knew much better than we did what the new system should do, it was designed in some very bad ways for human use. It assigned to humans tasks that computers are very good at and vice-versa. Human users had to remember lots of petty details for repeated entry. And, in many cases, if one made a minor error, there was no way to correct it, but one had to trash all work done up to then and start over. The old system was not THAT bad!
    I said that we had no choice but to use it. Not quite true. Many who had large program dollars hired contractors whose primary job was just to deal with these lousy computer systems. This increased management overhead on the programs, decreasing the money actually going into the research itself.

    As for the notion that Microsoft is a great innovator, I don't believe it. For the early days, I would refer people to the documentary, "Triumph of the Nerds," which I think is pretty close to the truth. Over the years, I saw a number of cases where Microsoft dealt with better competing ideas by simply hiring the people with the good ideas and paying them a lot of money. And one did not then see those ideas appearing in Microsoft products. One might call this anti-innovation.
    • Terry D. Eversom
    • Executive Director, Everson Consulting, LLC
    In my Change work I streamline these resistors to three foundational causes: Habit/Fear/lack of Information. LOI is the easiest to address. Use Kotter's X10 communication strategy and you are on your way. Habit is next toughest. To sway people to teh new process, teh benefits needs to exceed those delivered by the present process. This is where the merger of Marketing and Sales takes over. The final cause is the most challenging and usually the reason for failure. FEAR is the biggie, and benefits will not sway fear. The only technique that works is a step by step, "take them by the hand", development approach and Windows 8 is a huge failure in this respect. They dumped the new system on the populace and basically said, "Here' try it, you'll like it."

    Wrong, so wrong.

    If I am going to try to help someone overcome a fear of snakes, I can promise them a million dollars to spend an afternoon in a 6/6 enclosure with 25 non poisonous snakes I can guarantee you that 99% of the people with tell me "No Way!!". Again, forget selling benefits when facing the Fear Factor.

    Communicate/Educate/Train (CET)
    • Anonymous
    Am a big microsoft Fan.
    However, Without standardizing the existing thing..one should not produce different design products.. windows 7 itself is not as popular as windows xp...then why windows 8 is released ? that too with radical changes in design(GUI)..I think the quality of strategies are degrading compare to Billgates Era. Microsoft Needs Peter F Drucker, Bill Gates again to self realize what the company is loosing. Appreciate for taking this comment positively
    • Taat Subekti
    • Chairman, Dharma Shanti Foundation
    I think Microsoft has been too late to launch it. More or more people have left desktop and laptop. Furthermore, Microsoft has never thought its customer deeply and decently, because in operating Windows, the users need to buy and/or install so many softwares to work with Windows. It seems to me that more people change to pad, tablet, or smartphone that has all application program they need are embbeded in the operating system. In addition, many of these application can be downloaded for free. It may be the time that we must say goodbye to Windows, and welcome new players such as Android.
    • Anonymous
    Okay, and the gain in convenience and productivity with Windows 8 will be what? Let's face it, most "upgrades" have required more work with little gain. My institution still uses XP- why? Because Windows 7 doesn't work with many healthcare applications. Unfortunately, IT has imposed an upgrade to Office 10. A lot of hassle with no apparent improvement in the ultimate product. It seems that the bells and whistles have overtaken the functions we do on a regular basis. Every extra click reminds me that these programs seem to be designed by engineers that won't have to use them or are so deeply immersed that they can't see why I don't want to remake my mental map. I use all of these applications to get my job done. I'm very facile with PowerPoint - well make that was facile. Many functions that I use regularly are obscure, functions that relate to each other are now stashed in dispersed locations throughout the int
    erface. The new Excel remains a complete black box. It feels like they let a work team loose that wanted to re-invent something that was working. It also feels like Microsoft doesn't respect my time and just assumes that I really want to spend lots of time learning a new system. So, I'm expecting the same hassles, annoyances, frustrations, and loss of productivity with Windows 8. I've worked to know these systems well enough that they serve as a means to help my work - with huge changes, mastering new computer systems and applications have to become the goal. I doubt anyone will want to hear "I'm sorry this is late and looks a bit sloppy, but you'll be glad to know I created it with Windows 8". I know how the current systems and applications work, but now I will need to remake my conceptual map. Based on the little that I've seen, going from XP to Windows 8 is a bigger jump than going from XP to a MAC OS. Maybe that's the alternative. Fear - no. Anger that
    I must waste my time with no improvement in the final product - yes.
    • David Luken
    • n/a, Retired
    Unsaid in this analysis and the many analyses I've read is WHY this expensive new software at this time. What does it do that Windows 7 can't do? What is new and improved about this new and improved product? How soon will other software and hardware vendors start saying we MUST have Windows 8 to use their products. This is an enormous scam.
    • Evan Browne
    • Communications consultant
    In the public sector (which is a significant IT user), a primary gut-wrenching issue is COST.
    • Anonymous
    It seems to me that IT upgrades tend to be about introducing cool new things and/or "simplifying" old things.

    I don't know how many people want cool new things vs engineers and marketers developing a bad case of creeping featuritis. I suspect most people want to be able to continue to do what they were doing. If a set of actions accounts for 90% of the uses of a system, providing dozens of new options to cram into the 10% of the time doesn't do much.

    If a company cares about its customers, it should be responding to customer demand for additional features, not creating things not asked for. Some company-driven ideas might be great, most will be never be used.

    And these new features shouldn't interfere with the primary uses, because these will remain the primary uses. If you don't know what the primary uses are, find out.

    If you are going to introduce changes that alter the primary uses, hopefully making them better, you should know how your customers interact with your system well enough to have the improved version recognize when a customer is trying to do something common using the old system, and have some sort of helpful window pop-up, saying "It looks like you're trying to do X, here's how we've made it simpler..."

    Keep it to the main features, so Clippy doesn't get in your face all the time. And give the option to just do it the old way if the customer doesn't have the time or desire to deal with the changes.

    As for making people aware, I'm on the computer most of the day, and I just heard of Windows 8 a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I have ad-blockers installed, but don't think that can account for my lack of awareness.

    I also don't really have any idea of why this is needed, other than that MS, Google, Apple, and Amazon seem to have decided to try to do everything each other does.
    • Dawne Wimbrow
    • CIO, Albany International Corp.
    I am currently using Windows 8 on a notebook and testing the preview version of Office 2013. In our organization, we also use Microsoft Lync for voice, video and instant messaging. The entire suite of products makes for a very effective working and communication environment.
    The jump from Windows 7 to Windows 8 isn't going to require extensive training or learning as indicated by a number of the comments. There are a few tricks that were not intuitively obvious to me at first; similar learning happened the first time I put my fingers on an iPad.
    Certainly the Windows 8 interface will have greater advantages on touch devices, but there are other features that are advancing us gently down the new technology road. The software (including Office 2013), promotes usage of SkyDrive. We will see personal and enterprise cloud storage becoming the new normal, rather than relying on increasingly large personal hard disks for both company and personal data. Integration of social networks, communication, collaboration and contact management is enhanced in Windows 8 and Office 2013. I have found the integration to be smooth and not intrusive to the way I want (and don't want) to interact. There are other advantages, such as better security, task management, faster start and overall user aesthetics. Some of the new Windows 8 reader apps I don't like, but they are easy to replace. For example, I downloaded Adobe's pdf viewer so it's my default reader for PDF. You can still work in your desktop and will not hardly noti
    ce the difference, but it's nice to hit that windows key and see the more modern interface every now and then.
    There may not be a compelling business case to immediately upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8, but I personally would not want to go back!
    • Anonymous
    Not having tested Win 8, I must say that I am rather reluctant to shell out my hard earned money to a corporation whose agenda is dubious, i.e., to turn products (good, bad, or indifferent) to make that fast buck.
    • Joe Milton
    • Director of IT, Pratt Visual Solutions
    My question is what is the benefit to the business market? What is the ROI? Will this new interface make our employees more productive or do we just have to bare the expense of training them on something new for the sake of being new?

    IMHO I see no benefit to the change in the desktop and if that is all the Windows 8 has to offer then we will not be upgrading. It took a while but Microsoft corrected their screwed up with Vista (which we never deployed) and fixed those issues with Windows 7. Wake up Microsoft and see that, while the 8 interface might be good for a tablet, the majority of your business users don't need it or want it. It is an expense in time, training and hard dollars that offer no return.

    I wonder how long we'll have to wait for Windows 9.
    • Craig
    • System Admin
    I agree with the article for the most part. My specific issue with Windows 8 is that the changes are forced on the user. In previous versions, the changes were mainly incremental, you could still do things the old way and slowly learn the new way. Windows 8 is a radical change that forces people to learn the new way. All documentation that tells people go to Start... now needs to be rewritten. We run Windows 7 and it is a very solid OS, so we don't have any compelling reason to change. On the home front I am changing to Linux as it fits my requirements much better.
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC(India) Private Limited
    All changes arrive with some hiccups and give teething troubles as well. This is bound to apply to the latest version of Windows also. But, after the operations are understood and practised, nomalcy will be there.
    To me, from whatever I have learnt so far, Windows 8 is bound to be an exciting switchover.
    Cost also matters.
    • Arun Saxena
    • Chief mentor, Insights and Directions
    The views in this article are extreme. The article is full of half baked arguments and fallacies. These do not reflect both sides of the coin. Here is the rebut -

    Loss of control - Nobody is forcing people to switch to Windows 8. Microsoft supports Windows 7 and even earlier versions.
    Excess uncertainty - true for any software or any upgrade. I upgraded my iPOD from iOS5 to iOS6 and repenting!
    Surprise-Surprise - I do not know what is the surprise. Win 8 has been talked about for over a year. Furthur, people can take any amount of time to decide upon the shift from windows x to windows 8. I do not know why Oct 26 was selected but I also do not see a valid argument in the question raised - why launch it on Oct 26.
    Everything seems different - Customers have different attitudes to new products - some like to play around and learn new stuff. Others like to stick with tried and tested. To each their own. It would be illogical to paint Win 8 as a culprit for paradigm shift.
    5 & 6 - folks at two ends of the computer literacy have vastly different demands from software. No software has so far satisfied both ends. I face same problems as the teacher but I am not complaining. I see lot of other benefits in the product to forget the pain of learning.
    7 - I agree - extra learning is more work. On the other hand it could more play for some people. Consider the predominant workforce is young who like experimenting and are quick learners.
    8. This is laughable story - managers getting late because they could not find the calendar. Today folks also have the synched calendar on their mobile phones. In fact I have the problem that I get multiple alerts for a meeting - desktop, laptop, mobile, iPOD!
    9. The example is a wrong comparison. Vista failed because of different reasons. Does that mean Win 8 will also fail. We must wait and see. Let us not predict the doom day yet.
    10. The world has advanced thru paradigm shifts and not just by delta x increments in innovation.
    • Anonymous
    The Windows User Interface (UI) refresh allows the Windows OS to leapfrog over Apple making both the tablet and desktop/laptop experience seamless - that's very positive in my book.

    This UI refresh by Microsoft is far more intuitive and hence I believe will be more successful (or at least less controversial) than the ribbon UI introduced into their Office product line several back.

    I am admittedly one of those individuals who has failed to embrace the Office ribbon UIs and have instead installed plug-ins that 'bring back' the old style application menus that I first learned when Windows 95/Office 95 rolled out almost 20 years ago.
    • John
    • Malcom, MJC Inc
    What a negative article. It sounds like one long whinge about having to do anything. Bringing up Vista is areal sign of a non thinker. It was fine but not great and it was 6 years ago. Win 7 is a very good OS that the world is embracing. Win 8 will be accepted, it is better and faster. All this rubbish about the UI must be coming from people who have never used Win 8. It is just a different shaped Start menu.
    Really getting sick of alarmist "I wont change" scare articles. Absolutely awful read.
    • Jaime
    • Court Interpreter.
    I just bought a new Lap Top and had the sad surprise of finding Windows 8 in that PC. It is useless, confusing, alien and unfriendly. It belongs in a smart phone or tablet screen that obviousloy can not use a mouse and requires swift yet not precise moves. This is awfull, and the worse is that there is no competition, Microsoft can afford to assault it's customers because these customers have no where to go. I love Windows XP, second best is Windows 7. and that is the real actrual sales chart. Windows 8 is a blunder.
    • Anonymous
    Windows 8 makes it harder and slower for business users to get their work done. An OS that is more inefficient is NOT an improvement!
    • Joe O'Mahoney
    • Researcher, Cardiff University
    The article misses the point: in a near-monopolistic market, innovation is driven by the desire to fleece the end-user rather than improve the product.

    The company that gave us Vista has given us another dud which sensible users will skip over to the next product which will doubtless bring back to old UI.
    • Braam Beyers
    All this talk about the problems that everyone experience and the high percentage of failures and negativity.
    How many people actuall have a solution - are there any good systems?
    Is there software packages that can and will work? we are all using the technology to communicate our frustrations. Does it really matter if a system can do 1000 times more than what we can use?