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Can we call Windows 8 the new Vista? Not so fast, analyst says.

In this Nov. 19, 2013 photo, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer speaks at the company's annual shareholders meeting in Bellevue, Wash. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

When it launched Windows 8 two years ago, Microsoft was trying to introduce an entirely new approach to desktop computing. But for a lot of average computer users, the experiment didn’t work.

Just a year later, Microsoft had to walk back some of its changes in a Windows 8.1 update. On Wednesday, the company said that it will extend anti-virus support for the decade-old Windows XP for another year, indicating that there’s still a large group of customers that are hesitant to move beyond the 2001 operating system.

And late last week Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott reported that the company is moving quickly to Windows 9, code-named “Threshold,” which will “wipe the slate clean” of Windows 8.

Microsoft declined to comment on speculation about any of its future announcements.

Taken together, it’s tempting to say that Windows 8 is worthy of comparison to Microsoft’s greatest flop in recent memory: Vista. But that’s not quite the right comparison to make, said Al Hilwa, a technology analyst for International Data Corporation.

Hilw said Vista’s main problems were that it was shipped late and didn’t run reliably. That wasn’t the problem for Windows 8.

“Windows 8 ran reliably, and on vision,” Hilwa said. “The problem was the vision.”

There’s nothing wrong with Microsoft’s attempt to make a system that worked with tablets and desktop computers, he said. In fact, Microsoft was quite late to the game on the mobile device front.

But the company didn’t do a good job of balancing its tablet ambitions with the need to keep its existing base of desktop users and developers, Hilwa explained.

“It made the whole desktop user base suffer with the lack of the Start menu,” he said, noting one big change that Microsoft had to switch back with its updated release of the system.

Microsoft is entering its fifth month without naming a new chief executive to replace longtime head Steve Ballmer. One major question that will hang over the head of whoever takes the job is how to pursue that mobile future without forsaking the desktop customers who made — and continue to make — Microsoft the dominant force in the desktop world.

“It’s not about abandoning the convergence story,” Hilwa said. “It’s making the hybridizing of these two platforms more effective.”

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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