Dear HP: Running From the Future Doesn't Help Anyone

Shiny new computer, shiny new software. The two go hand in hand. Except when they don't. It's one thing to let tech-savvy consumers have the option for a software downgrade if they see fit, but HP's choice to push Windows 7 on consumers by default is another entirely: it's bad, for everyone involved. No one ever came out ahead by fighting against the future.

On its face, HP's push to sell Windows 7 PCs to the exclusion of Windows 8 boxes might seem cute, or maybe even consumer-friendly. Windows 8 is different. Windows 8 is confusing. Windows 8 will scare your grandparents. Give the people what they want: a start menu and an old OS.

And if you want to sell Windows 7 rigs in the back, on discount, a quiet clearance section for the true disbelievers, fine. Great, even. But to put them front and center and throw an old area rug over Windows 8?

That's just backwards.

Windows 8 hate is outdated

HP's big Windows 7 push feeds on—and perpetuates—the worst kind of cursory Windows 8 hate. Hate that's uninformed, off-the-cuff. Hate that's outdated. Windows 8 launched with its issues, among them the lack of any built-in help for the legions of unwitting users blind-sided by live tiles. It wasn't a great launch.

But the days when Windows 8 was kinda busted are over, to whatever extent they were happening in the first place. The biggest barrier to Windows 8-entry has always been confusion, and Windows 8.1 fixed so many of the little things that made an already tough transition rougher, from the lack of tutorials to tiny-but-crucial UI tweaks. Windows 8, today, is both good and accessible.

Still, it's an unfortunately truth that "Windows 8" is still a phrase with bad connotations. Especially to folks whose only experience with it has been hearing other people whine. What good is "popular demand" if it's just echo-chamber complaining? That's a problem Microsoft is going to have to face on its own, but it's also an issue it's in everyone's best interest to clear up.

Windows 8 isn't going away

This isn't the first time hardware manufacturers have tried to pull this kind of OS switcheroo. Sales of Windows XP computers jumped up during the dark days of Vista. Except Vista eventually disappeared, and Windows 8—or more specifically, Windows 8's tiled interface—isn't going to.

Its name might change, and its successor might already be on the way, but Windows 8 is a transition that there's no going back from, no matter what "Windows 9" might bring. Modern-style apps and touchscreen friendly UI aren't just phases desktop computing is going through, they're the effect of a radical restructuring of what using a computer means. A restructuring that's outside of any one company's control.

Clinging to the old guard is just delaying the inevitable. It also ensures that everyone who's trying to run from the future is only going to be even more hopelessly behind when stalling isn't an option anymore.

Really HP? Come on.

But more than anything it's just a lame move, and one that's disappointing to see from a company that has every reason roll up its sleeves and dive head-first into whatever the future might hold. HP has yet to produce a great phone or tablet, took webOS and drove it straight into the ground, and has a software strategy that seems to involve trying to make bloatware cool through sheer force of will. Likewise, running screaming back to Windows 7 to hold on for dear life is something that's doomed to fail sooner or later. We reached out to HP to see if maybe there's a more optimistic take, but so far no response.

If Windows 8 is really a problem, maybe make a point of helping users cope instead of helping them cower and hide with a plan that—at best—offers temporary comfort. This touchscreen, convertible, tablet-ized moment in desktop history can be scary, sure, but HP should know the score. Playing make-believe isn't a solution. Trying to make the best out of what's coming at least has a chance of being one.

So please HP, don't be an enabler. Or if you're going to retreat, at least pick a route that's not a total dead end.