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Windows 8: Big Changes, Big Gamble

A tech pundit opines that Microsoft's decision to adapt its desktop OS to the mobile world raises a question about Windows 8.
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Ever been in one of those situations where you're doing or thinking something and then the perfect song comes up on the radio or jukebox that sums up exactly how you feel about the situation?

A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk using Windows 8, which I've done pretty much daily since Microsoft made a developer preview of the new OS available for public download. At the same time It's The End of the World as We Know It by REM started playing out of my speakers due to a random shuffle playback in iTunes.

At the time I didn't think anything of it, but it must have stuck in my head because the more I use Microsoft's latest OS, and the more I learned of the Redmond giant's plans for the platform, the more I've become convinced that Windows 8 will be the end of the Windows platform as we know it.

OK, I'll be straight with you, I don't have access to a crystal ball (not a working one at any rate) and I haven't dug up Nostradamus, bought him back to life with some extra strong smelling salts and interrogated him.

So what information am I calling on in order to make this bold prediction? Well, to be honest with you, it isn't one thing, but a whole host of different aspects about the new platform.

Desktop vs. Mobile Interface

Let's start with that touch interface. Microsoft has been caught with its pants down by the sudden and quite unexpected popularity of tablets. Apple's iOS-powered iPad and Google's Android platform have broken into a market that Microsoft has been trying to make mainstream for over a decade.

Yes, Windows-powered tablets have been available since the turn of the millennium. Problem is, no one ever really felt that enthusiastic about them, so they pretty much withered and died on the vine. But now that tablets are hot stuff, Microsoft needs a platform in order to be able to continue to compete.

The logical solution for Microsoft would have been to take its current mobile platform – Windows Phone – and modify it for tablet use like Apple and Google did with iOS and Android respectively. It makes sense because Windows Phone was both designed from the ground up for both touch use and small screens.

But Microsoft isn't doing this. Instead of expanding its mobile platform to a bigger screen, Microsoft wants to take its dominant desktop operating system and make it work on smaller screens. And to do this it needs to heavily modify it so that it can be driven by both mouse/keyboard and the far less precise finger.

(By the way, why did Microsoft choose not to modify the Windows Phone platform for use on tablets? My betting is that the main motivation is money – Microsoft makes more per Windows license than it done per Windows Phone license. So it doesn't want a tablet surge eroding its bottom line.)

Microsoft’s decision to make its desktop OS work on smaller screens doesn't make sense to me for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Windows is a platform that's primarily used on desktops and notebooks.

Apart from the overwhelming success of the iPad, and modest success of Android tablets, there's no real evidence that there's a demand for Windows-powered tablets. In fact, there's plenty of evidence to the contrary. Windows-powered tablets have been available for over a decade and no one seems to know that they exist outside of geeks and a small number of enterprise users.

Yet despite this, Microsoft is going to make every Windows users, irrespective of what device they’re using, have to suffer a user interface designed for tablets. This sounds like a massive gamble to me, especially in light of how users shunned the Vista OS for pretty much no reason.

Users are fickle, and aren't interested in having gimmicks shoved down their throats. For folks with hardware that isn't touch-capable, that Metro user interface that's been designed for fingers rather than a cursor is going to be nothing more than a gimmick.

Purchasing Touch-Enabled Hardware

But won't Windows 8 encourage PC buyers to purchase touch-enabled hardware, which will fuel touch desktop computing? I'm not convinced.

Buyers – consumer and business alike – are price sensitive, and touch adds a significant bump to the price tag without really adding much in terms of usability. (Sitting in front of a display and prodding it with your fingers isn't really all that intuitive…if you don't believe me, try it at home).

Now, having read this far, you might be thinking that I don't think that Microsoft needs to modify Windows to make it ready for touch. Nothing could be further from the truth.


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Tags: Microsoft, Windows 8


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