Coming attractions: Windows 8

John Moltz writes a brief overview of Windows 8 from the perspective of a Mac enthusiast with a lot of Windows experience:

So, Microsoft’s big hope for getting into the tablet space is an operating system with an attractive but flawed front end that’s incongruously tied to a legacy desktop, and will require different versions of applications depending on which hardware you have.

I’ve heard there’s a growing belief amongst Windows users that you need to give every second major Windows release a miss. Windows 2000 sucked, Windows XP refined it and sucked less. Windows Vista sucked, Windows 7 refined it and sucked less. Following this, Windows 8 will suck and the whole mixed metaphor business will be fixed for Windows 9, which will be the one that sucks less.

The problem for Microsoft is they can’t afford to wait until Windows 9. They need to get this stuff right now, this year, with Windows 8.

The enterprise will guarantee Microsoft some business for the foreseeable future. But Windows 8 doesn’t look like enough to lure consumers back from the iPad.

Software for the future, hardware for the past


David Chartier:

Microsoft touts its upcoming OS as a jack of both trades: you can touch and swipe through books, news, and videos while carrying your tablet around the house or the park, then sit down at your desk and plug the tablet into a USB keyboard, external disk, or perhaps a dock or hub so you can really start cooking through some Excel or other demanding work.

[But] how thick and heavy must a Windows 8 tablet be to empower the touch computing of the future and yet shoulder the burden of the past 30 years of traditional computing? Where do we draw the tablet usability line when it comes to design, weight, and the very portability that defines the category?

This is something I certainly hadn’t thought of when I applauded Microsoft for their flexibility. I guess time well tell, but it seems extremely unlikely that Microsoft’s partners could get anywhere near existing tablets’ weight and portability if they need to run what is basically Windows 7 with a shiny shell.

(Source: chartier, via chipotle)

Windows 8 is fundamentally flawed… from a certain point of view

John Gruber’s criticism ( of running applications like Excel in a touchscreen interface is spot on. Having worked with tablet PCs for a number of years, I know that bolting a bunch of touch extensions on top of what is ostensibly a mouse-oriented interface does not make for great user experience.

Yet I don’t necessarily see Windows 8 as trying to do exactly what the iPad is doing, and I think that’s it’s strength. All the “iPad killers” so far have just been mimicking the iPad, and not really offering anything different. You can’t beat Apple at their own game.

So what Microsoft has tried to do is what they always do. Be flexible. This flexibility certainly comes at a cost of elegance and ease of use, but in a strange way that’s their strength.

Apple makes their software and hardware tightly coupled. This gives the customer less choice and flexibilty (such as no bluray drives on Macs) but ultimately a more carefully designed user experience. Microsoft allows their software to be run on a huge range of hardware. This gives the customer more choice and flexibility, but with that comes the pain of drivers, compatibilities, and other usability nightmares.

Apple made a new operating system so that it was completely focused on touch, yet still has the Mac OS that is completely focused on the mouse. To that end, Mac OS is excellent at being a mouse-based operating system, and iOS is excellent at being a touch-based operating system, but they’d be terrible the other way around. Mac OS will never be a touch-screen operating system, and iOS will never be a mouse-based operating system.

Windows 8, on the other hand, is trying to be a jack of all trades. And of course, with that could well come the flipside: master of none. While you can run mouse-based Excel on the touch-screen, it will suck. But at least you have the flexibility to do it. And I’m sure there are some apps on Windows 8 that work great as touch-screen apps, but suck with a mouse. But feel free to go nuts with that.

So ultimately, I think the way it’s going to work well for Microsoft is the flexibility. With the iPad, Apple created a computer that was so easy to use your grandma could do it. That same grandma would struggle to use Mac OS. With Windows 8, Microsoft has a platform that is also so simple your grandma could use it… as long as they don’t install any “advanced” apps like Excel. Yet that same operating system could be used by an expert to do advanced tasks… but grandma is once again out of luck.

Time will tell if the lack of tight hardware integration is as bad for novice users as it is in Windows 7 and below. This would, of course, throw the grandma argument out the window. It also remains to be seen if the somewhat limited multi-tasking abilities of Windows 8 will threaten the expert users; though it seems Windows users for the most part prefer running things fullscreen (more on this observation in a future post), so it may not be an issue at all. It’s also entirely possible that over time, advanced applications like Excel will become more touch-friendly, and the line between basic user and expert user becomes more blurred.

On the whole, I reiterate that I think Windows 8 looks very promising. Instead of trying to out-Apple Apple, Microsoft has perhaps realised its success can be in emphasising the ways it is different from Apple. Apple is the best in the industry when it comes to user experience, but Microsoft can’t be beat on flexibility.

Windows 8
Looks very interesting. I really think the Windows Phone 7 interface, and this new Windows 8 interface that clearly takes inspiration from Phone, is some of Microsoft’s best work in the last decade. It’s really refreshing to see them not just copying Apple like they’ve previously done, but actually coming up with their own concepts and different approaches that actually seem really workable and nice to use.
This is what Tablet PCs could have been if not for Microsoft’s ineptitude earlier in the decade. Then it would have been Microsoft, not Apple, that was responsible for the tablet era.