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Windows 8: Worth the wait, but is it too late?

September 14, 2011

The release of Windows 8 is now in the home stretch, and the vast majority of the world’s computers are about to begin getting the digital equivalent of a complete makeover.

The newest form of Windows — which, despite all the attention Apple gets, still operates more than 90 percent of computers — has a couple of things going for it. It supposedly will run anything that runs on Windows 7 so there won’t be that awful, elongated period when software is suddenly no longer compatible with your machine.

More importantly, Windows 8 borrows heavily from the relatively new user interface metaphors for tablets, which will make it much more palatable for tablet makers to offer Microsoft what could be a third strong contender (along with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android) on this surging device vertical.

If there is a heaven, this version of Windows will no longer be what has been seen by many as cavalier attempts to force a bad variation of full-blown Windows on mobile devices, tablets and smartphones. Instead, Microsoft seems to be walking away from the Golden Goose that has been its OSstrategy. In a way, there is no clearer acknowledgement of the direction the computing world is going.

It’s sort of make or break for Microsoft in a long-term sense. The company that first touted the tablet as the wave of the 21st Century but couldn’t close the deal is now going all-in based on momentum which eluded them a few short years ago but was brilliantly exploited by Apple.

Microsoft is a sort of widows and orphans company in tech: They pay a dividend, take in lots of money from software sales, leases and support, and have an overwhelming lead in the installed base sweepstakes. But in the hearts and minds of the self-anointed technorati, Microsoft has not been synonymous with cool for a long time.

For a while that didn’t really matter. When you print money and are a virtual monopoly, it’s almost better not to be on the tip of anyone’s tongue (especially government regulators) and be a grudging favorite of IT departments and people for whom cost is the main consideration, given the Apple cost premium for traditional computers. For a long time, the only credible competitor was Apple, a gnat in terms of market share (even now in the traditional space) and prospects (back in 1997, when Microsoft helped to bail its competitor out).

This isn’t like the time this sleeping giant decided to wake up to the Internet revolution, finally take Netscape and AOL seriously, and start a war which pushed aside upstarts and extended their dominance in the browser space they had largely ignored. There is a mobile Internet revolution going on, Apple is setting the agenda, and there are a thousand small players who could change the game at any time.

We will only know when the PC era has ended in retrospect. It won’t just be when other kinds of computers outsell laptops and desktops — it will be when college students, grandmas, road warriors and cubicle slaves use one only when they are forced to a public library or some Internet cafe in a Middle Eastern backwater village.

We aren’t there yet, because tablets don’t do everything we need to do, and we don’t think of them as complete replacements. I am writing this on an iPad, and have used one since before they were available to the public, but even I can’t do everything my computing life requires on it. I reach for my iPhone to do many things — some that even a tablet seems cumbersomely inappropriate for. And if I have to do a lot of things, quickly, and use a keyboard a lot, and read a lot, I still go to a “real” computer.

The thing is, I can see the writing on the wall, and so can Microsoft. Until now, its mobile strategy hasn’t resonated nearly enough, arguably because the need to support the cash cow that is Windows has imposed design parameters for mobile operating software that objectively makes no sense. With Windows 8, Microsoft is taking a leap — not of faith, but with its core strategy.

It’s the right — and only — call to make. The question is, will there be any room for error, and yet another re-boot with a future (horrors) Windows 9?

Windows 8 video demo screengrab | YouTube

 

Comments
12 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

It’s PC-Plus Era …. Bro! We are not late because we are ahead of everyone .. Go figure….

Posted by wembergcarlo | Report as abusive
 

Lead in statement is factually incorrect: “The release of Windows 8 is now in the home stretch.”

The developer preview was just released. The various beta versions will not be available for months. The final version is at least one year away. Hardly qualifies as “the home stretch…”

Posted by LarryKahm | Report as abusive
 

From the tone of your article, I take it that you do not use Windows 7. Your take on Windows 8, other than the fact that it’s different and designed for tablets and mobile devices as well as desktops and laptops, is oddly absent.

Why is that?

One of my closest friends, in the design and software space, has been a staunch Apple user since the early 80s. They have added Windows 7 boxes to run Adobe CS (Creative Suite), which is now their preference.

My son-in-law, an Apple diehard fan had a coup de fordre with Windows 8.

During my wait for Windows 7, I was on the brink of switching to Apple, but Windows has won my heart back and & is on all of our machines. And Windows 8 will replace Windows 7.

Let us not forget that when Apple was on the brink of death, it was Bill Gates who saved the day. As Steve Jobs said, “Microsoft is our oldest and one of our best partners.

This is a long race with no finish line.

Posted by GSH10 | Report as abusive
 

The Xbox, Windows phones, Windows, Windows Tablets, etc. ALL use the .Net Framework.

Basically that means that I can write ONE piece of code that will run on all these platforms. If I am a smart developer, and I create an application for Window PC, then to take that application and create it such that it runs on Windows Phone (for instance), all I will have to do is create a Windows Phone Interface because I already have all the behind the scenes code (reusable from the Windows PC application).

Because this is (mostly) true, any surge by Microsoft on one platform will cause a surge in the other platforms as well. Without a doubt this is true to some extent, to WHAT extent this is true, well, time will tell.

Posted by xJonx | Report as abusive
 

Wow, the promsises sound great! But is Windows 8 going to be another VISTA-like, bug-ridden MS product rushed to market? After VISTA, Microsoft is at 2.9 strikes with even their most (once-upon-a-time) loyal users.

Posted by LYSANDER_0 | Report as abusive
 

The platform for windows will need voice recognition asap.
The tablet or some wearable device is next. The text/type generation will soon end. The race is to that end.

Posted by rogolf | Report as abusive
 

I’m running win7. Win8 has to answer the one big question that I ask before any upgrade: “What does this operating system do that my current doesn’t?” If the answer is only “tablet” features, I don’t need it. Admittedly, that’s just me.

Posted by SilentBoy741 | Report as abusive
 

*Why* did you write this on an iPad? That’s the bit I don’t grasp in the whole tablet frenzy. You half-acknowledge this in your post, but I just can’t fathom people’s desperation to move away from 3840×1200 and a separate pair of input devices to XVGA at best with half the screen taken up with a keyboard and covered in finger smudges. As a device for consuming other peoples’ output in a fairly passive way, sure, but for any kind of authoring beyond two-line emails it always looks to me like a dog walking on its hind legs.

Have you measured your productivity comparing iPad to regular PC? I watch colleagues trying to manage their workload on iPads and wonder if they’re as envious of my ability to have several sources of information open in front of me at the same time as I am scornful of their return to the single window at a time of DOS.

I’ve had an iPad since they were first released. I’ve really tried to see it as a business tool (we even prototyped a Citrix-on-iPad version of our cloud desktop product in an attempt to have our cake and eat it) but at the end of the day I use it to watch movies and play Angry Birds, with occasional checks of my email.

I’m sure it’s a great way for Joe Average to facebook (is that a verb yet?) but I can’t see tablets, or tablet-like interfaces, making much difference to the spreadsheet-jockeys who really make the world go round.

Wonder why we can never see hype cycles while we’re riding them?

Posted by BenRapp | Report as abusive
 

I hope the author knows that Windows 8 is just in a developer state. I think its probably a year away if everything goes well for PC’s. Probably earlier for the Tablet. But then again they are already way late to the tablet market. I can only comment on the PC side of it. But for me and I think others. Windows 7 will be the XP for the future. I think Microsoft will have a hard time selling Windows 8 to PC users. Simply because of the delayed acceptance of Windows 7 and the continuing use of XP.

Posted by jscott418 | Report as abusive
 

I was a LONG holdout w8th XP, and never tried Vista due to bad press, but was finally convinced by the reviews and my own experience with Windows 7 beta, and found 7 to be an excellent O/S. I’ll be hard to convince to leave the WIMP (Windows icons mouse-pointer) interface for the phone-type one, though. I have a huge 27″ landscape-aspect monitor. I almost always have multiple applications open, and copy-paste between them, etc. Win 8 is supposed also to support that interface, so if that’s true and can be made the default interface, I’ll be happy. Otherwise, I’ll stay with 7.

Posted by Helge | Report as abusive
 

I liked Vista, I just replaced Vista 64 bit with windows 7. The only reason I went with windows 7 is because I just replaced my hard drives with SSD’s. Windows 7 works well with SSD’s (trim). I never had any problems with Vista.

Posted by jorge62 | Report as abusive
 

“We will only know when the PC era has ended in retrospect”
The future is either quantum computers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_co mputer) or DNA computers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_comput ing).
The present PC is the intermediate phase.

Posted by nuernest | Report as abusive
 

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