Windows 8: The Beginning of the End of Windows

I have a longstanding rule for evaluating new tech products: Don't judge anything by the demo.  I've seen far too many product previews that hid fundamental flaws in usability.  Until you can touch and play with the product on your own, seeing the little details of fit and performance that make it delightful or frustrating, you won't really know if it's worth your time.

So it's far too early to make any judgments on Windows 8, which Microsoft just previewed (link).  There are an incredible number of ways it could go wrong.

But.  I've got to say, this is the first time in years that I've been deeply intrigued by something Microsoft announced.  Not just because it looks cool (it does), but because I think it shows clever business strategy on Microsoft's part.  And I can't even remember the last time I used the phrase "clever business strategy" and Microsoft in the same sentence.

The announcement also has immense implications for the rest of the industry.  Whether or not Windows 8 is a financial success for Microsoft, we've now crossed a critical threshold. The old Windows of mice and icons is officially obsolete. That resets the playing field for everybody in computing.


The slow death of Windows

When Netscape first made the web important in personal computing, Microsoft responded by rapidly evolving Internet Explorer.  That response was broadly viewed as successful, but in retrospect maybe it was too successful for Microsoft's good.  It let the company go back to harvesting money from its Windows + Office monopoly, feeling pretty secure from potential challengers.

Meanwhile, the focus of application innovation slipped away from Windows, toward web apps.  New software was developed first on the Internet, rather than on Windows.  Over time, Windows became more and more a legacy thing we kept because we needed backward compatibility, rather than a part of the next generation of computing.

Windows was our past, the web was our future.

This process was made very starkly clear by the iPad.  Although the iPad is not a comprehensive PC replacement, and Apple has been very careful to say that, it is a very good PC replacement for certain tasks.  And it has probably started to eat a hole in sales of notebook PCs, a very ominous change that should scare the daylights out of the people in Redmond.

To me, Windows 8 is the first sensible response by Microsoft to the strategic challenge it faces from the web.  It apparently introduces not just a new user interface, but also a new programming model that embraces web technologies and integrates them with Windows resources and APIs.

I need to see a lot more on that programming model: How will Windows web apps really work, which APIs are available, how will these apps be sold and discovered, and on and on.  Ars Technica had a great question: What's the visual paradigm for apps that want to look modern but aren't appropriate for touch? (link):

"There are plenty of applications that are too complex and fiddly to ever be at home with a touch-first interface—consider a software development environment, or a fully-featured office suite. Leaving these stuck in a Windows 7 ghetto doesn't seem like a good long-term option."

But at least Microsoft is finally trying.  The alternative was to cling to the past and be a stationary target, gradually eaten away by the iPad and Android and Chrome and smartphones and whatever else the web world cooked up.


The risk

There's a downside in all of this for Microsoft.  By embracing the next generation of computing, Microsoft is obsoleting its current products. 

You can see this effect just by watching the Windows 8 preview video (link).  The new interface and its applications look fluid and roomy and relaxing to use.  The interface is smooth and playful.  And then they switch into Windows compatibility mode and there's an explosion of crapola on the screen.  It almost made me gag.

John Gruber says this is a fundamental flaw in Microsoft's approach (link), as does Jason Snell at Macworld (link).  I understand what they're saying -- when you're working on a new paradigm, you don't want to be distracted by any baggage from the old one.  But for Microsoft, this is about more than just responding to the iPad.  It's the company's next computing paradigm, a change as fundamental as the transition from DOS to Windows.  The thing that made the Windows transition work was that Microsoft protected the customers' investment in old applications and data.  You could keep using your old DOS applications while you gradually got used to Windows. 

So users will have an interesting choice.  Apple, with iOS, is making a clean break with the past.  So are Chrome and Web OS.  Microsoft is trying to cherry-pick the best of iOS and WebOS and Chrome, and wrap that into a product that's also backward-compatible.  Let's see, cleaner design versus backward compatible...where have I seen that before?  Oh yeah, Mac vs. Windows, 1990.  I was at Apple at the time, and backward compatibility was the magic key that kept the PC installed base loyal.  I'm sure Microsoft knows that, and they're looking to run the same play again.  Since they are not likely to create something even slicker than Apple, I think they're absolutely right to maintain compatibility in their new product. It's really their only choice.

Old Windows apps running inside Windows 8 do look awful.  But so did DOS inside Windows 3.0, and that didn't stop people from buying it.

Microsoft will pay a serious price for the Windows 8 announcement.  Most PC users haven't yet upgraded to Windows 7, and some Microsoft execs have been bragging in public about the revenue to come from upgrading all of those people.  Forget about it.  I think you'd be an idiot to buy Windows 7 for an existing PC when you know Windows 8 is coming.  It would be like buying a horse-drawn carriage after Ford announced the Model T.

So there is a risk (actually, a likelihood) that Microsoft will stall its own revenue this year.  I'm surprised that it is previewing Windows 8 so early, when it won't even have more details until its developer conference in September.  And who knows when the new OS will actually ship; ArsTechnica guesses it'll be the second half of 2012, which usually means December.  That means we're in for up to 18 months of vaporware.  If I had to pick a fundamental flaw in Microsoft's approach, I'd point to that 18 month delay.  It's way too long.  It should have been nine months maximum.

Hey Microsoft, does no one there remember Osborne Computer (link)? You can destroy a tech company by pre-announcing your next generation product before it ships.  Luckily for Microsoft, most PC companies don't have an immediate alternative to Windows, so it won't collapse the way Osborne did.  I assume the folks at Microsoft were spooked by the competition and decided they needed to preannounce Windows 8 now to prevent Google Chrome from gaining momentum, or iOS from taking over, or some other alternative like Web OS emerging, now that HP is talking about licensing it (link).  But the long delay raises the risks to WIndows.  Microsoft has now bet its future on Windows 8.  If it's late, or if it's not a great experience, that could turn into a very serious financial issue for the company, and it could invite customers to switch to something else.  A few years from now we could look back at this as Microsoft's death rattle. 

Or as its new beginning.


What it means to the rest of us

The history of platform transitions is that they are huge opportunities for developers.  They reset the playing field for apps and devices.  Look at the history:  The leaders in DOS applications (Lotus, Word Perfect, etc) were second rate in GUI software.  The leaders in GUI apps (Adobe, Microsoft, etc) were not dominant in the web.  It's actually very rare for a software company that was successful in the old paradigm to transfer that success to the new one.  Similar turnover has happened in hardware transitions (for example, Compaq rode the Intel 386 chip to prominence over IBM in PCs).  And yes, there is a hardware transition as part of Windows 8, since it will now support ARM chips, and you'll want a touchscreen to really take advantage of it.

So if you're running an existing PC hardware or software company, ask yourself how a new competitor could use the platform transition to challenge your current products.  Here's a sobering thought to keep you awake tonight: the odds are that the challengers will win.  The company most at risk from this change is the largest vendor of Windows apps, Microsoft itself.  Microsoft Office must be completely rethought for the new paradigm.  You have about 18 months, guys.  Good luck.

By the way, web companies are also at risk.  Your web apps are designed for a browser-centric, mouse-driven user experience.  What happens to your app when the browser melts into the OS, and the UI is driven by touch?  If you think this change doesn't affect you, I have an old copy of WordStar that you can play with.  Google and Facebook, I am talking to you.

If you're running a hardware company, how will you need to change your devices to take advantage of the new OS?  Shipping a device that isn't Windows 8 ready will soon be as risky as shipping a PC in 1993 that couldn't connect a mouse.  (Unfortunately, because Windows 8 is so far out, I don't know if Microsoft has even fully defined the hardware spec for a Windows 8 PC.  The OS cries out for a flat panel screen that docks, so you can use it on your lap or as a monitor. Microsoft has a lot of work to do, and the PC vendors will face a lot of uncertainty.)

If you're starting up a software or hardware company, you should ask yourself what new opportunities will be created for you by Windows 8.  What category of app or website will be made obsolete by this new operating environment, and can you seize it?  (For starters, who's going to take down Office?)

And if you're making a competing platform, this is your opportunity to strike.  Microsoft has given you more than a year's advance warning.  The race is on to replace Windows.  Can you create a better alternative?  How will you protect the legacy apps and data of PC users?  If you're looking to license, can you line up enough vendors, and a reference hardware design, to get to critical mass before Microsoft does?

I have no idea how this will all turn out, but finally after 20-plus years of GUI dominance on the desktop, fundamental change is at hand and the dice are rolling again.

This will be fun.

70 comments:

greenlander said...

Fascinating analysis, Michael

Walt French said...

“This will be fun.”
Damn tootin'!

I'm with you in assuming MS pre-announced today to get mindshare against competitors' OS announcements; specifically the rumored Apple announcement of a largely converged iOS/MacOSX. Where, by “largely,” I expect that Apple will aim for document compatibility but keeping a distinct user experience for both the touchscreen types and us dinosaur laptop/keyboard lovers.

Tom Frauenhofer said...

Very good analysis. I think it's too early to judge how successful this will be, but I agree, the later they ship, the harder the battle will be for them.

(Re: "Hey Microsoft, does no one there remember Osborne Computer (link)?" Doesn't seem like anyone at Nokia does.)

Digithoughts said...

Again Michael: I'm faster, but you're BETTER. Thanks for this thorough analysis. BTW, regarding the hardware requirements for W8: According to Anandtech they're the same or lower as for W7.

rurik said...

Yes it will be fun -- but I see Win 8 as a different move: to unify desktop and mobile and leverage the Windows/Office monopolies to wage a multifront war against Apple/Google.

Thoughts here: http://rurikbradbury.tumblr.com/post/how-windows-phone-could-beat-ios-android

Tomus said...

As you mentioned couple of times, Windows 8 screams for a touchscreen. Theres nothing new (ok, very little) for the desktop Office+kb+mouse users, nothing to wait for.
If this announcement will stall anything, I think it will be the sales of the unpolished Android tablets and incompatible iPads (from Win users perspective).
If we talk about consumers with mainly media and Web in mind, then giving them hope is better than letting them forget MS all together and buy iPads with no regrets.

Murani said...

Microsoft is smartly working with the OEMs and requiring them to not produce crapware. They are setting guidelines and making the chipset designers and pc oems to work together and optimize Windows 8 devices.

To me this increased optimization is borrowed from the positive fedback they got from doing the same approach with Windows Phone 7. Now the whole Mac vs PC debate just got even fiercer because Windows 8 devices will be optimized just as Macs are.

It was indeed a risk to showcase the UI this early but it was needed. At least to fend off this stupid adoption of Android. Thats the target Microsoft is squarely aiming to destroy. Apple and Microsoft have been frenemies for years if not decades.

Anonymous said...

Sinofsky runs a tight ship. My guess is Win 8 beta should be out by September developer conference. Then released in first half of 2012.

orcmid said...

I think that when we saw the Windows apps (and a glimpse of the Windows 7 task bar) in the demo, those are rough edges.

The message was about tiles and the fact that they want to make creating applications as effortless as possible, including using HTML5 and JavaScript at the entry level. Also, touch-first, app stores, and other functions.

I bet there will be more designer-level changes in the startup and more smoothness in moving in and out of conventional applications, especially Microsoft Office.

It's not done yet. It could take another code-name or two before it.

orcmid said...

Oh, and did you notice in the Jensen Harris Video #1 that there was a part of the wall that had been intentionally blurred?

Heh.

Barry Mavin said...

The problem with all these moves to "touch" and "pads" of various descriptions is that it will eventually affect the cost of software development as somebody somewhere has to build apps for these devices and that really needs traditional keyboard and mouse. The idea of developing a large enterprise app on an ipad or win8 pad is not attractive. This sea-change will C-change software development and development machines may well become too expensive for small developer shops.

Scobleizer said...

I've been reading tons on Windows 8 and you have the best analysis that I've seen so far.

But, I'm a bit skeptical. I remember seeing prototypes of Longhorn (you know it as Vista) that had me similarly excited. There's a lot that can happen in the market between now and next year, which is when we'll get PCs loaded with Windows 8 and already I'm not sure that this will actually increase my productivity all that much.It sure looks cool, though!

David said...

Old Windows apps running inside Windows 8 do look awful. But so did DOS inside Windows 3.0, and that didn't stop people from buying it.

There is one big difference between back then and today: It's the consumers who control the market and UX is more important than ever to them. It's what helped the iPhone and Android make serious headway into the business world at the expense of the once dominant RIM.

Anonymous said...

I have a lot of macs but still prefer windows in a XP style view for work. it has a clean and productive view which is not what i see in the W8 preview.

Anonymous said...

@Scoble, what you saw was Director-ware of Longhorn. This time what Sinofsky showed on stage was running code. There is a big difference.

Andrew Denny said...

Good analysis, thanks. But I think you are wrong about the announcement of 8 stalling sales of 7.

Windows is normally bundled in with hardware anyway, it's announced you won't need nextgen hardware and there's clearly at least a year to go. People might defer a purchase for a couple of months, but not a full year.

quux said...

"Unfortunately, because Windows 8 is so far out, I don't know if Microsoft has even fully defined the hardware spec for a Windows 8 PC."

They said clearly in the presentation, it will run on anything that runs Windows 7. Add a touch sensitive display, and the new interface is fully enabled.

I didn't see anything about it that would add any other requirement, although for more mobile-centric devices obviously there will be a need to choose the hardware carefully for the best battery life.

Erico said...

Windows Vista, Win7,Win8... What´s wrong with XP?

clive.boulton said...

Yes, Two old models, the Microsoft GUI model and the Cloud Browser model superseded by the Touch Internet Apps on Mobile, Tablet, Desktop, Tabletop.

Microsoft's strategy will work well to transition sophisticated biz apps from old to new, just as it did from DOS to Windows, from awkward to use to convenient to use.

Mike Cane said...

>>>You can destroy a tech company by pre-announcing your next generation product before it ships.

Were you at Palm when that happened?
http://www.palminfocenter.com/view_story.asp?ID=2446&MODE=FLAT

Anonymous said...

Is Windows 8 the beginning of the end for Windows or just the beginning of the next wave of growth? One of the most interesting opportunities for Windows 8 is to eliminate the need for a 3rd device (ie. tablet). I'm part of that group that needs a keyboard and doesn't want to lug around a smartphone, laptop and a tablet. I want an all-in-one device. The laptop needs to morph into a hybrid tablet/PC like the ASUS transformer or the Samsung Sliding PC 7 only thinner. When this happens the world will get their tablet and their PC in a single device. I think both Apple and Microsoft will prosper, but history in computing favors the all-in-one devices. Thus, I think the rumors of Microsoft Windows slow death are greatly exagerated!

th3r0ck said...

well! as i see! i don't think you are 100% right! this video is more about laptop, or handheld device. so you cant foresee the future of Pc! Ms will never die! i am not MS fun! but i think this is another beginning of RISING!

raycote said...

I'm a long time admitted Apple Fanboy but I think MS is on the right track here. They are framing the challenges at hand perfectly.

1)- full featured traditional Windows UI gives enterprise creative/programing stuff complete control on the desktop or laptop

2)- being switchable to a light-weight touch based UI to mimic mobile presentation while on your desktop or laptop GIVES WINDOWS-8 A KILLER FEATURE FOR THE ENTERPRISE AS MOST ENTERPRISE STAFF ONLY NEED SIMPLE PRESENTATION AND LIGHT-WEIGHT UPDATING FUNCTIONS THIS APPROACH KEEPS IT ALL TURNKEY SIMPLE FOR END USERS AND HELPS KEEP TRAINING COSTS FOR MOST FRONTLINE STAFF DOWN

------

3)- on the mobile side all their heavy weight legacy Apps can be delivered via a light-weight mobile touch UI presentation layer thus leapfrogging Google Apps/Chrome OS

4)- by leaning on HTML5/CSS3 they can leverage all the web Apps out there, run their own Apps either from the cloud or locally and MOST IMPORTANTLY CREATE A CHROME OS LIKE INTERFACE FOR ALL THEIR LEGACY ENTERPRISE APPS potentially crushing Googles lame and poorly interfaces offerings

5)-in the not too distant future as mobile hardware matures moving the full OS onboard means all Apps will have the ability to run locally on all mobile devices and this will offer some really curial value added to the mobile experience
Cloud only = GOOD
Cloud + Local = PRICELESS
Why you ask?
Example: DNA does not need to phone home to find out how to do what it does, interactively execute it's creatively recombinant possibilities

Jeff said...

Insightful analysis ... the shift is on to touch UIs, and the WIMP model looks oh, so dated.

But it'll take a decade for enterprises to shift their bespoke apps from the Win dev model to the new paradigm. Billions of lines of codes need to be rewritten people, that will take time and money.

So for enterprises, the 9 months v 18 months time frame is meaningless. In fact for them the longer the better!

ashleymarie said...

Very interesting analysis. I'm most intrigued by "what this means for the rest of us" -- how will developers react, competitors, hardware partners, etc. Time will tell...

Great read - thanks!

craigtimpany said...

That video seems like a suicide note.

They kept saying that they were going for a consistent UI between mouse and multitouch. Mouse and multitouch have very different capabilities, and demand different UIs. If you shoot for the lowest common denominator of both, you'll end up with a grossly inefficient interface.

Someone tell me I've misunderstood this. They don't really intend to gimp the workflow of a billion office workers for a shot at making a foothold in the tablet market, do they?

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody!


Digithoughts wrote:

>>regarding the hardware requirements for W8: According to Anandtech they're the same or lower as for W7.

Thanks to you and the others who pointed this out. I think there *should* be a new spec for Windows 8 optimized devices, though. At a minimum, they should have a wireless, battery-powered monitor that you can use either on a display stand or in your lap.


orcmid wrote:

>>Oh, and did you notice in the Jensen Harris Video #1 that there was a part of the wall that had been intentionally blurred?

Hah! Nice catch. I wonder if they set that up deliberately, just to give us all something to speculate about.


Scobleizer wrote:

>>I remember seeing prototypes of Longhorn (you know it as Vista) that had me similarly excited. There's a lot that can happen in the market between now and next year

Agreed, 100%.


>>I'm not sure that this will actually increase my productivity all that much.

The UI alone wouldn't make much difference. The real test of any new platform (and I think Windows 8 is a new platform, not just a new UI) is whether it enables a new generation of apps that let us do great stuff. That's where your productivity boost should come from -- if Microsoft succeeds.


Andrew Denny wrote:

>>I think you are wrong about the announcement of 8 stalling sales of 7. Windows is normally bundled in with hardware anyway

Thanks. I should have been more clear -- Microsoft execs had been bragging about all of the aftermarket upgrade copies of Windows 7 that they were going to sell to XP and Vista users in the next year. I believe those sales are now at risk.


Mike wrote:

>>>You can destroy a tech company by pre-announcing your next generation product before it ships.
Were you at Palm when that happened?


Yes, and I was thinking about it when I wrote this post.


Anonymous wrote:

>>Is Windows 8 the beginning of the end for Windows or just the beginning of the next wave of growth?

It's the beginning of the end of the current Windows UI and development platform. Both of them are now effectively "legacy" technologies, even though Microsoft didn't use that term.

But yeah, it could be the beginning of new growth for Microsoft.


Jeff wrote:

>>it'll take a decade for enterprises to shift their bespoke apps from the Win dev model to the new paradigm. Billions of lines of codes need to be rewritten people, that will take time and money.

I forgot about that part. You're right that the transition will take a decade, but IT managers will expect migration tools on day one. I wonder if Microsoft has really thought through how all-consuming this transition will be (or how badly they may fail if they don't treat it as all-consuming).

Anonymous said...

Oh so microsoft is reinventing the window phone interface on a PC yeah thats going to work...

The Touch stuff is going to suck on a big screen.

Aaron Miller said...

Great analysis as usual Michael. Thank you. The thumb keyboard layout shows some thoughtful, though incremental, design work reminiscent of the "alt-tab" hot switch that MS also introduced. While I see pain in their future, more than ever, it looks as if they'll pull this one off as long as they don't get in their own way (i.e. Danger acquisition) and succeed in a platform similar to WebOS's webby app approach. I dare say that I'm rooting for MS more than a little...

Apple has an amazing lead yet again and while I don't see them squandering it (again) it's amazing how over and over, Apple shows the world how things should work, allowing others to follow their lead. To paraphrase you, we live in interesting times!

Roger Pechet said...

@Aaron Miller, you wrote: Apple has an amazing lead yet again

Only in one specific sense does Apple have a significant lead. They have gained a few years worth of internal knowledge on how to effectively develop and extend touch interfaces.

But this aspect of the lead isn't nearly as significant as it may appear.

As others here have noted, there are literally millions of proprietary applications that are running inside the walls of businesses today.

(Having been employed by 3 Fortune 500 firms, and having consulted with several dozen more, I'm being very conservative in my estimate.)

The real lead will accrue to whichever software companies can capture the conversion of these applications to the new touch paradigm.

And one thing that Microsoft has learned after great pain and through lasting injury is how to woo the vast majority of internal app developers.

Note that these internal developers are a different breed from those commercial app developers. The internal ones are mostly content with meeting the function of an app. Fit and finish (and other issues) don't really concern them.

Microsoft generally meets the needs of these developers fairly well.

So they have a lead in this respect.

Kublai7777 said...

@Pechet Touch and keyboard apps aren't mutually exclusive input modes. I've got an Apple Newton eMate and I quite happily select various UI features with my finger and revert to the keyboard whenever I need finer adjustment.

I suppose the fact that it has a resistive touchscreen makes precise "touching" easier.

I'm looking forward to the shift but also glad I'm not forced to reinvest to enable to use all my productivity apps overnight.

Anonymous said...

Posting based on a Link from Mike Elgan who focuses on the points about upgrading. I never understand why there is so much focus in the tech press on whether users are upgrading or not upgrading their OS. I am a tech person by occupation but at home a pc is just an appliance for me, an appliance that has been getting cheaper and cheaper every year to replace as needed. I just don't see that most users ever intend or need to upgrade a computer in this day and age. They buy a new one, which is what I do. Microsoft is dependent on the OEM model for nearly all of their consumer OS sales and this will remain the case for as long as they are in that business. Why would very many users pay $100 to upgrade an OS on a three year old computer when you can find a new laptop for $300-$400. I'm not really arguing the good/bad/right/wrong of it, I'm just giving the consumer perspective. Nor would I even think to project just where the pc is going. It's death has been predicted for a long time but it may still be around for a long time. Even if market share declines the overall market may still grow. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

For us schulbs with our heads stuck in spreadsheets nothing much has changed since Lotus123...bloat and flashy visuals are not an improvement.

Touch? So all that gunk and crud that accumulates under my mouse and on my keyboard will now be all over my display screen? Lovely, giant leap forward, right.

When is the pure voice interface going to save us?

Jason Dunn said...

An excellent article as always Michael - I enjoy your analysis - but I was a bit confused by something. You say that you like the UI except when it switches to "Windows compatibility mode".

Perhaps I'm incorrect, but my understanding is that the fancy new UI we're seeing is simply an overlay on top of Windows. Windows is still there, just like it should be - the Metro-based UI is an application that runs in full screen mode, not an OS unto itself.

So Windows is no more or less ugly that it is today - and I happen to think Windows 7 is a very attractive OS. Is it built for finger-friendly use? No, not at all. But you make it sound like it's a disaster, and umpteen millions of people are using it on a variety of laptops today...

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the comment, Jason. And you ask a good question. Here's my take:

I don't care about the underlying OS kernel; that's just plumbing. The platform (the things that a user and developer see) is what matters. That's where the market power is, and that's where most of the customer value comes from.

Windows 8 creates a new visual paradigm for Microsoft-based computers, and a new web-derived set of APIs. It is, in every way that matters, a new platform. I hear you that you like Windows 7, but to me, once I saw Windows 8, it felt so right and so much better that I didn't want to go back. I want Office and the rest of my Windows apps rewritten for Windows 8 now.

I'm not saying Windows is terrible, just that it's old and crufty (like any old OS), and it's far past time for something new.

I hope Microsoft -- all of Microsoft, everyone at the company in every business -- recognizes that just as you can't be halfway pregnant, you can't halfway adopt a new platform. Like it or not, Windows 8 is now the company's future and everyone needs to be behind it or Microsoft could easily get the worst of both worlds: an old Windows platform that's now obsolete, and a new platform that doesn't reach critical mass. That would bring on the apocalypse for Microsoft.

Steve Ballmer, this is an issue worth throwing chairs about.

Olivier said...

Great, great, great article, Michael.
MobileOpportunity is isually really good, but this one is awesome !
Congrats !

Anonymous said...

People often forget, touch is a pretty bad interface for many applications.
Try using a touch screen for an extended period of time. A PC is not a phone or even a tablet which are normally characterised by short input requirements. There is nothing good about touch for text entry or fine graphic/control entry, it's just the wrong technology..
Why is the mouse/keyboard better? Simply it's a closer link to the brain-> Hand movements than a touch interface, it becomes part of your body more like a pen. Touch is more 'remote' and the ergonomics are horrendous - read repetitive strain injuries!
Have experimented here giving the user the option of touch and mouse/keyboard input. Touch is used but for natural 'Quick jab' operations like accept a dialog or start a program, keyboard/mouse when longer input is required or even short inputs like a phone number.
Touch is great for certain applications, but it's not natural enough to replace a mouse/keyboard.

Microsoft is wise to cover both in Window 8.

So Yes - Microsoft is probably heading in the right direction!

Anonymous said...

"I have a longstanding rule for evaluating new tech products: Don't judge anything by the demo."

What's unfortunate is that you cannot follow your own prescription.

DM

Anonymous said...

Come on guys, the preview is nothing but a re-skinning desktop manager of good old window using WPF. You really think that within 2 years time frame that even Microsoft can rewrite windows from scratch? Lol

Anonymous said...

The bias in this article is insane. You speak as if the desktop is gone and that everybody will use tablets from now on.

You are delusional.
Office (or any other productivity suite) will not become irrelavent, quite simply because people will continue to work using keyboards and a mouse.

I don't see myself typing at 180hits/minute on a touchscreen any time soon.

What I conclude from this article is that guys like you, who desperatly would like to see microsoft fail, are scared shitless. You realise that windows 8 is about to hit the nail on the head and it scares you to death.

Yes, it WILL be windows 95 all over again. Do you remember what happened to competition last time such msft ownage happened? That's why you are spreading all these lies. Yes, lies.

When the Metro GUi is switched to classical view, it is NOT (repeat: NOT) going into "compatibility mode". It's going into DESKTOP mode.

It's not any more "crapola" then windows 7 is "crapola" or mac os x is "crapola". It is a GUI optimised for keyboard and mouse, while Metro is a gui optimised for touch. And they both run on the same engine. And that scares you to death. You know what this means, you just don't want to admit it.

Furthermore, "vaporware" is software that doesn't exist and can't be demonstrated. I know iFans have a tough time with the concept of "public beta's", but realise that you won't have to waith for 18 months to see it in action and/or get feedback.

I also think it's rather funny that you hint about the Osborne. So according to you, if something comes out in 18 months, nobody should buy the current version?

Doesn't that mean that according to you, NOBODY should buy an iphone?

You web yuppies should start to realise that windows 8 is not coming as a tablet OS.
In fact, windows 8 is gonna change the game. There won't be any difference anymore between your tablet and your desktop/laptop, except for the way you'll interact with it. But you'll do the exact same work.

And contrary to the consuming devices that the iCrapola are, win8 based tablets will actually be usefull in a productive kind of way - not jsut for watching youtube flicks and yapping on twitter.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post!

gzost said...

As always when touch is being demonstrated for the desktop, I am skeptical. I spend a lot of my time tpying. Any interface that I can run on my desktop therefor needs to accomodate keyboard/mouse operation. Swipes are, generally, not something that this interface lends itself to.
Additionally, touch needs horizontal surfaces, otherwise your shoulders cramp up very quickly. This means sitting and looking down for extended periods of time. I can just hear physical therapists worldwide thank the manufacturers for new business

Igor Mateski said...

makes me feel young again... and makes me relax for a bit longer on my XP machine before I Really Have to update.
Win8 seems a bit like interactive TV, except you can do work with it too. In some respects, it's a plus. Say, it may just make the cleanex industry even stronger from all that touching and prodding the LCD. :)

Anonymous said...

Apple freaks hate MS. When MS do Apple, they say it's a step in the right direction. I agree with gzost. Get a touch screen user and keyb/mouse user to do something constructive and see who does it quicker, and with less pain!

kyle hamilton said...

The graphic design of the W8 UI looks pretty dated. Oh when, oh when, will MS finally die!?

Tony said...

After 25 years of exclusively building MS Apps, I switched over to Chrome Extensions (Chrome OS) last fall... I'm not going back... My stuff works on any platform now and there are tool companies that'll let my leverage my efforts within other Browsers...

Once the MSDN base sees the alternatives and flexibility, it's a done deal

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for all the comments, folks. This is a really interesting discussion.

Several of you said that you see the new Windows 8 interface as just an addition, not a replacement for the current look of Windows. That's a sensible interpretation of the announcement, but it wasn't the message I thought I heard from Microsoft, and it's not what I'm hearing from people who know the company better than I do. Here's Mary Jo Foley of All About Microsoft (link):

"Anything that’s not a new Windows 8 'immersive,' modern application, going forward, is now going to be considered 'legacy.'"


DM wrote:

>> "I have a longstanding rule for evaluating new tech products: Don't judge anything by the demo."
What's unfortunate is that you cannot follow your own prescription.


Actually, I was evaluating the strategy.


Anonymous wrote:

>>You speak as if the desktop is gone and that everybody will use tablets from now on.

Nah, that's not what I expect.


>>Office (or any other productivity suite) will not become irrelavent, quite simply because people will continue to work using keyboards and a mouse.

The keyboard I don't question. I am starting to wonder about the need for the mouse.


>>I don't see myself typing at 180hits/minute on a touchscreen any time soon.

Me neither.


>>guys like you, who desperatly would like to see microsoft fail, are scared shitless.

Did you actually read any part of the post other than the headline? I said I liked what Microsoft is doing and that I think it could succeed.

I came here to praise Microsoft, not to bury it.


>> "vaporware" is software that doesn't exist and can't be demonstrated.

No, it means software (or hardware) that has been announced but not yet shipped (link).


gzost wrote:

>>As always when touch is being demonstrated for the desktop, I am skeptical. I spend a lot of my time tpying. Any interface that I can run on my desktop therefor needs to accomodate keyboard/mouse operation. Swipes are, generally, not something that this interface lends itself to.

I don't expect the keyboard to go away until we have better speech recognition. But is the mouse really necessary? Previously I would have said yes, but now I am not so sure.

A friend raised another interesting possibility the other day -- what if Microsoft combined the Windows 8 interface with the Kinect gesture recognition technology? Then you wouldn't have to actually touch the screen, at least for certain classes of gestures (swipes, for example). If implemented poorly, a sudden sneeze might reformat the hard drive, but we have the same sorts of issues with speech recognition and they have (mostly) been overcome.

It's an interesting thought experiment to assume away the traditional window/menu interface and ask how much an app could accomplish with this new paradigm of gestures and touch and tabs. It's hard to let go of the old baggage, but once you do I'm intrigued by how much the new interface might be able to do.

You'll probably still want a mouse (or a stylus) for some things, but I bet the list is smaller than most of us think it is today.

Anonymous said...

You web/mobile people are laughable. Why? You think the web is all there is, because that's all you do.

To make it simple for you, the web is a BOOK with sound and moving images. It's not a CREATIVE TOOL. You can't DO anything with the web. Mail or calendar or blog or twitter is NOT doing. It's communication, and mail and calendar can be done without a browser. You can only PUBLISH and CONSUME on the web.

There is a world of professional SOFTWARE that runs on OSes like Win/Mac/Linux that is used for WORK. There is nor can there be an alternative to it. Touching the screen isn't an alternative to mouse/trackball/trackpad.

What you call immersive is just full screen. We've had that forever. I can remove the title bar, scrollbars, toolbars and all other junk, and have an immersive app. I access everything hidden using gestures and right click contextual menus.

What is NOT being done is reducing the need for interaction with the applications and OS, through artificially intelligent, adaptive, learning automation. We still have to do just about the same amount of unnecessary work as we did 15 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I work in an educational environment with over a 1000 desktops, laptops and servers spread out on a dozen campuses that are in use by students, faculty and staff. Replacing most of those with portable tables just sounds like an administrative nightmare. And what about heavy-duty applications such as Creative Suite and AutoCAD? Are they stuck to run on Win7 or some Win8 compatibility mode? I think the need for a real desktop OS is still there, but now it will get less development and innovation.

Anonymous said...

Backward compatibility is ultra important (unless you use pirated software :-) I am not willing to pay for my applications again !

A dekstop PC is different from a mobile device. Touch screen is not new ! HP sold PC's with touch screen in the 80' (yes I am old) They use the film character of the ET to promote the device !

The challenge for Microsoft (and I do not see why they can not be successful please note that I do not love MS) is to have a properly layered system to accomodate different GUI's.

The real isue has always been numbers and profits. Most of the public use a PC just to play, browse the web, send e-mails and every once in a while put together a CV, or school work. You can do the former activities with a multiplicity of devices today !
The days of sweet profits are over.

Anonymous said...

The problem is the Win7 running underneath Win8 touch screen environment. I just cannot see it running very efficiently on battery power. If you only need a touch screen environment on your laptop occasionally, this might be good enough, especially if the screens swivel to hide the keyboard. However, that would not quite capture the attraction of iPads (to those who find them attractive.)

By the way, what is with the whining about touch screen not being useful for enterprise? In a typical company, most people view data put together by servers, type up relatively short emails or click on little boxes, buttons and menus that form the heart of ERM or accounting software. They are all very amenable to touch interface, with an occasional use of a cordless keyboard. Of course, that does not necessarily make these apps more user friendly, but it may still present an opening to new competitors.

Michael Mace said...

Anonymous wrote:

>>You web/mobile people are laughable.

Wow. I've hit some sort of personal milestone here. For the whole time I worked at Palm, people thought I was a PC guy because I had worked at Apple for a decade. Now I've been away from Palm for years, and finally someone thinks I am a web/mobile guy. Thanks!

To set aside the sarcasm for a second, I actually agree with most of what you said. Tablets and other mobile devices are mostly about media consumption rather than creation. PCs are optimized for information creation.

But having said that, I don't think the mouse/windows UI is necessarily the ultimate way to control a PC. At some point we'll discover something better, and I think maybe we have hit that point. Anytime you take an existing app and try to force it into a new UI it looks hopelessly messed up. But if you re-imagine the app for the new interface, sometimes you get startling gains in productivity.

I think we have that sort of opportunity with Windows 8.

Some of the criticisms I'm hearing of the Windows 8 interface sound remarkably like the things that DOS users said about the Macintosh UI when it first shipped. I know, I was there. They said, "Yes, it's easier to use and it looks nicer, but it doesn't give me the same power and control that I get from the command line." Then they'd go on to demo some incredible feat of file management or document formatting that they could do with a dozen keystrokes that would take 30 mouse clicks on a Mac.

They were right; any new UI always causes productivity losses in some areas. But on balance, the good interfaces create more productivity than they destroy. That will be the basis on which we should judge Windows 8, when we can finally play with it.

Tatil said...

Is there going to be a cost associated with running the old Windows environment in the background? Windows as it stands, requires more diskspace, more memory, more powerful CPU and larger battery to feed them all. This will probably make Win8 machines thicker, heavier and more expensive than iPads, Kindles or Android tablets. Accurate touch screens will make netbook class computers more expensive unless Microsoft makes touch screen optional. That about limits the target market to people who would buy a regular laptop anyways, who may not need a tablet if Win8 is good enough. That is a shrinking market at the moment.

Windows with touch screen capabilities is better than one without, but it will not be revolutionary. Fantasizing about a laptop that can be a real laptop and a decent tablet will not make one happen. If Microsoft could make the footprint of the current Windows less demanding, it would have done it already. I see Win8 machines to make either lousy tablets or underpowered laptops.

Anonymous said...

Great, the human race will evolve into people with fat buts, skinny legs and over developed fore arm muscles used for flipping stuff around on the monitor. You know the top of the monitor has to be at eye level if it is to be ergonomically safe.

Dheeraj said...

It really sounds funny. But the silent death of Windows is never possible. Because there is no other alternative of Windows like High end user interface for non tech people

Commerce Department said...

I agree with dheeraj. It really sounds funny

Darin N said...

>>I think they're absolutely right to maintain compatibility in their new product. It's really their only choice.

THANK YOU! I have been waiting for someone else to make this point. I think a lot of bloggers (Gruber and others) seem to pick on MSFT b/c they are an easy target, but they dont really understand MSFT's business model. They see everything through apple-tinted glasses...Thank you for objective, spot-on analysis :)

Jim said...

I'm beginning to get the distinct impression that with Windows 8 we are finally going to see the full potential of the .NET framework unleashed.

Anonymous said...

Lets not forget that for millions of people computer is something more then a toy. We use computers to WORK! Can you imagine an accountant moving her arms all around for 8 hours instead of simply using keyboard? Can you imagine a touch driven software development environment? Sure touch devices are great. But some applications must relay on keyboard and pointing device of some sort.

Anonymous said...

Surprised nobody mentioned the value of multiple displays in a workplace. Windows 8 Desk based machines will likely want a touch display to complement the existing displays and input devices. There is a question of replacing or complementing the mouse and connecting via USB3 or LAN. The new 'touch what you see" interface should be ideal for many applications and most routine office tasks. Today's multiple veritcally mounted displays become more exclusively the home of work product: documents, images, video, spreadsheets, software ...

Plumbing said...

This is really a great idea. This will be a boost to Microsoft Windows and this will be fun.

Anonymous said...

the windows 8 they have not said it you will beable to play games and not the ones that come with windows
and with what i have seen of the ad's for windows 8 it is going to SUCK sorry but that is what i think they say it is going to run on old computers but i do not think so and a lot of games are having trouble installing pc games in windows 7 and we know windows 7 is vista so windows 8 is vista 3

Brennan said...

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article.

Bob said...

This is a great blog post. I like your statement "Windows was our past, the web was our future." Yes, web and mobile applications are our future

Anonymous said...

"I don't care about the underlying OS kernel; that's just plumbing."

Actually you do care. Try living in a house with bad plumbing for a month and you'll discover that plumbing is more important than almost everything else.

It's the same with the OS and the kernel level. Nothing above that can ever be faster, more fluid, more efficient, less resource-hungry, more flexible, etc. than what it is built on top of.

High level problems and the design decisions made to work around them are often rooted in the very low-level architecture and capabilities.

Two examples: fast sleep/wake, and the ability to quit applications instantly. High-level, user-faceing behavior wholly dependent on the integrity of low-level architecture.

Anonymous said...

Sorry optimistic folks, but from the standpoint of an ordinary consumers, all I can see is a snowball's chance in hell for Windows 8 to succeed, at least in the tablet competition, the platform for which the OS offers the best user experience and probably the main reason for its development.

Certainly you guys and I have seen the tablet running the Windows 8 os. To be honest, I thought the whole thing looked clean, clear and decent enough, and if I really have to admit, it appeared to be a bit intriguing as well. But that's it.

In my humble opinion, it might be wrong to, well, define the ipad as a tablet. What's a tablet again? Is it supposed to be the touch-screen, portable replacement of a pc, or at least a laptop, in certain task, like the Ipad? I don't know. All I know is that it might not be right to call the iPad a tablet, but on the other hand, the iPad totally defines what a tablet is, at least up to now. MS is clearly trying to promote windows 8 by stuffing it into the very narrow gap left between the Ipad-defined tablet market (Androids included, of course!) and bona fide laptop's. Basically it's an attempt for users to be able to experience the much more interactive, familiar and much less restricted Windows environment on the fluid, responsive, beautiful...whatever multi-touchscreen. And that's where the real problems come in. As a rational customer, I can't see myself paying for something along the lines of an Ipad's to get an Ipad-killer or whichever way they like to call it. In short, if I want a tablet, it means I want an Ipad. Same thing happens with customers who're looking for something that allows them to perform much more elaborate task than what they can do on an Ipad. A laptop from the same price range brings you much more storage, processing power, better gaming controls,etc... and please admit it, you can't ignore the safe, secure feelings of using the traditional keyboard for typing and other objectives rather than taking four or five times that amount of time to diligently tapping on you W8 tablet while running a high risk of messing the whole thing up. And for people whose brains actually pop out this question:" What if I got a laptop already?". Well, I believe you wouldn't pay to experience the same OS twice, with the only exception of a touchscreen. An ipad or any android tablets out there would be a much safer and refreshing bet.
My guess is that while the W8 might interest some here and there, it would fare no better than its mobile counterpart WP7, at least on a tablet.

Anonymous said...

Awesome Review.

Anonymous said...

The author seems to have a blindspot for the mobile and touch interface. but he forgets that PC is not dying off anytime soon, at least not for the next decade and the current touch interface is so deficient when it comes to true productive work that it is really a joke. So MS is doing the right thing in a sense ... by supporting the mouse and keyboard interface while incorporating the touch interface. What I rue is that they are support the touch interface but has make it so MUCH MUCH harder to work with when using the keyboard and mouse, increase the number of steps needed to do a simple task, which always has been the bane of touch interface.

Hakan said...

To me this increased optimization is borrowed from the positive fedback they got from doing the same approach with Windows Phone 7. Now the whole Mac vs PC debate just got even fiercer because Windows 8 devices will be optimized just as Macs are.

Anonymous said...

How fortunate we are that computers are now so cheap. I can now have an iPad, a mac desktop and a pc for much less than my first autocad running pc back in 1989
All have their merits and I intend to continue having them all in the future.
Wast of time arguing about relative merits. Get everything you need and enjoy!