This is the week that Windows 8 is released to the public. And this is the event that will unlock the launch of many new Windows 8 devices. So I thought it’d be a great time to discuss some of my early thoughts.
Windows 8 is a radical change for Microsoft. It introduces two new paradigms.
The first is Windows as a combined device/OS/apps platform. After laughing at David Mitchell’s “going forward” rant I’m resisting using the awful “ecosystem” to refer to these platforms. This change matches the lead set by Apple and followed by Google and Amazon.
The second paradigm is a new type of application, or should I say app. Applications are so, well Windows 7. This new app is a touch-friendly program that uses Microsoft’s “Metro” design language. You know the one first seen on Windows Phone with the big colourful tiles. Microsoft recently told everyone to stop calling it “Metro” but the alternatives are too awful. So lets stick with metro as its nickname. These are not just a new look of app; it’s a whole new OS, new runtime, new development approach (though thankfully Visual Studio remains but for some unknown reason exists as a whole separate edition just for metro apps. Weird).
Of course the traditional Windows applications remain, but are kept separate from metro. So Windows 8 welds two different OS together: traditional desktop OS and metro OS. And apps are incompatible between the two sides. This makes it feel both transitional and unwieldy for desktop users. It’s a bit like decorating a house to have a super-cool minimalist zen living room and also deciding to have a traditional farmhouse-style kitchen. You might spend most of your time in the kitchen but its still a shock every time you go into the living room. It doesn’t gel.
Microsoft is making a bold step. They are releasing Windows as one product to fit all devices: the same(ish) for desktops, all-in-ones, laptops, tablets and phones. No one else is doing this. Is this because it’s a bad idea others rejected? Maybe, time will tell. But it feels like Windows 8 is a transition step to Windows 9 or Windows 10 where metro will be the only OS remaining.
So is it any good? Well I haven’t yet played with a Windows 8 device – they are not released yet. So I’ve no opinion on the devices yet. Undoubtedly they will bring innovation, led by Microsoft’s own Surface tablet. But already there is a confusing selection of devices and possibilities: Surface Pro, Surface RT, Win8 Pro tablets, Win RT tablets, tablets with keyboards, laptops, desktops, all-in-one desktops, etc. Will this sweet shop selection model really help buyers?
Stop. I’ve managed to write 500 words without telling you what I think. I guess I’ve been doing too much pre-sales this summer. Given this is meant to be a “thoughts on” blog, here’s some thoughts:
1. Metro is not ideal for business apps. We’ve been trying to build a metro healthcare app for Win8. And the results are not great. Everything is so flat and simplistic. How do you translate a tree structure for a patient into metro? How do you layer different functionality traditionally done with tabs or sections? The answers are not apparent. It seems to me metro is better for simpler consumer apps. And for phone apps.
2. There is close to no reason to deploy Win8 on a desktop. In fact there are many reasons to stick with Win7. Being forced to switch to metro-land for your start screen is weird on a desktop. Being forced to start with metro on a desktop is weirder. Finding some control panel settings is difficult because some are in metro-land, some aren’t.
3. There is close to no reason to deploy Win8 on a laptop. See Win8 on a desktop.
4. There is close to no reason to upgrade to Win8. If you’re on XP, upgrading to Win7 seems a better choice.
5. Windows 8 is immature. You might well say that’s pretty obvious. But the documentation one-month before launch was startlingly scant. We tried to find out how to deploy a metro app to a Windows tablet. This is surprisingly difficult if you don’t want to use the Windows Store for your app. We found this type of side-loading deployment is possible though difficult, but only works with specific editions of a Windows 8. Beware.
6. Which Windows tablet to buy? Well depends what you’re going to do with it. The emerging marketing positioning seems to be WinRT as consumer tablet, with Win8 Pro as a prosumer/business tablet. WinRT needs to be as good as an iPad 3. Win8 Pro needs to be better than an iPad 3. It remains to be seen how good they will be.
7. The first key software advantage of Windows is Office. All other tablets struggle to bring productivity apps as good as Office. Both Windows tablets have Office compatibility of some kind. But is Office any good on Windows tablet? I’ve got doubts. Office 2013 is touted as touch-optimised. But in fact it’s just got some bigger icons for touch. More importantly if Microsoft prioritise Office over Windows (as many hope they will) Office will soon arrive on iPad and Android so diluting this Win8 advantage.
8. The second key software advantage of Windows is compatibility with earlier x86 and x64 Windows applications. This is a huge software catalogue. Yet WinRT has no compatibility with Windows applications – it is a new OS after all. And it will be managed differently to Windows devices. This means WinRT has no significant software advantage except for a cut-down edition of Office.
9. Price. WinRT Surface tablets have been announced last week as comparable to iPad 3 Wi-Fi pricing. This seems odd. The devices need to be as good as iPad – yet the software catalogue is tiny and there is no Windows software compatibility. Win8 Pro Surface tablets still have no announced pricing yet but we do know they will be more expensive than Surface RT. How will its pricing work? Will Win8 Pro tablets become the new cheaper Windows laptop? Who will buy a Windows tablet? I’m not entirely sure. Serious Office users certainly but beyond this group who knows?
Originally I thought Microsoft would blast past Android tablets to become the #2 tablet behind iPad. Having seen Win8 I’m not so sure they will blast past anyone. Undoubtedly many will buy a Windows 8 tablet, especially those who want a better Office experience on a tablet. But will enough people want a Windows 8 tablet for the same price or more than an iPad? I don’t see anyone displacing Apple as the tablet of choice for quite a while.