On Windows 8...

Submitted by Lo Yuk Fai on Fri, 2011-09-16 19:26

I don't usually comment on computing stuffs these days, since there're a lot more important things in life. But, this could be proved to be another major turning point in the IT history so... Extreme Swiss Army knife
Credit: Jesse Sneed

To me, Windows 8 looks like a train wreck in making.

I have been using Windows since the days of 3.1, and don't remember using any Apple Inc. produced products other than the Apple ][e when I was maybe 5 or 6. In recent years, I always suggest to people that iPods, iPhones and iPads are unnecessarily expensive gadgets for most of us.

But give credits to Steve Jobs and Apple, they're very focused and adept in making products that provide a good user experience, and are also very skilful in marketing. That's why I think people are sometimes willing to pay for Apple products that, hardware and/or functionality-wise, can be found for half of the price.

(I must admit, despite the stronger-than-gravity and sometimes borderline hideous Reality Distortion Field, I do enjoy Steve's presentations from time to time. Besides, some researchers found that "Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith", maybe it will usurp Ronald McDonald as the new antichrist?)

Microsoft, on the other hand, never seems to be able to catch on the user experience thing. Take an example, the controversial Ribbons UI, is in my opinions a half-baked effort stuck on the pile of legacy Office codes. Excel 2010 remains a MDI application despite hacks to make it looks less so.

And now they decide to do something similar to Windows, to make it compete in the new tablet market.

Corporations, to a certain degree, always try to push an "one-size-fits-all" agenda. One may argue that Apple is no different, and probably even worse in this regard. But when your product has more than 80% of the market share, such a significant change, for better or worse, will be strongly felt, and while it could expand your territory, it could as well break your kingdom.

This is not the first time Microsoft steps into the "tablet" arena. I'm writing this on a Tablet PC, first arrived in 2001 with the introduction of Windows XP Tablet Edition, but has since been integrated into the mainstream Windows distro.

I do find the added pen functionality useful, and use it everyday. But I also have to admit that it's a niche market, and I'm not sure if there will still be any convertible Tablet PC when this one breaks down, or upgrade time comes.

However, the current, new tablet paradigm is different. What defines it, in my opinions, are (in no particular order): Instant boot-up; Portability; Touch-centric; Relatively long battery life; And limited but focused functionalities. Take away any of them, and a product will fail in this market.

These characteristics are more inline with a smartphone than a PC.

That's why I think Windows 8, a desktop OS after all, will not succeed in getting into this new tablet market, and by forcing the Metro UI onto its desktop users, Microsoft risks shooting itself in the foot.

It's going to make the Vista fiasco looks goods by comparison. (And to Vista's defence, I don't think it's that bad. Windows 7 is to me a Service Pack for Vista.)

Make no mistake, Microsoft will still sell a truck load of it, by bundling it with new computer sales. But it will not, in meaningful sense, enlarge Windows' foothold beyond the desktop and server OS market.

The enterprise users will just keep running Windows 7, or XP. The consumers will have no choice but to adapt, or switch to Apple/Mac OS X, or maybe even Linux with a more sensible desktop UI.

Some argued that users always want more power, but they failed to realize that, users of this new tablet paradigm usually have a desktop/notebook PC for the more demanding tasks.

Some argued that, with the ARM-architecture, Windows will be able to level the playing field, especially with regard to boot-up time and battery life. But then you lose the compatibility with existing apps, and makes it not unlike the younger platforms (e.g. iOS, Android) in terms of apps availability, with all of these build on top of an overly complicated UI for this new tablet paradigm.

It's in my opinions that, Microsoft is overreaching with its current approach on Windows 8.

Does anybody seriously think the SwissChamp XLT is useful on a daily basis?

Update on 2011-Nov-05

CNET has published a 2-part article on how Courier, another tablet idea from Microsoft, was killed (part 1, part 2). It (the Courier) seems to me a better idea. Although its emphasis is on content creation rather than consumption, my take is that it would fare better than the current Windows 8 UI approach (serving both tablets and desktops with the same UI).

Will Microsoft succeed in merging the tablet and desktop experience? Or will it have to provide 2 different UI after all?

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