Great Debate: Is Windows 8 headed in the right direction?

Summary:Ed Bott and Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols debate whether Microsoft's next operating system is headed in the right direction.

Ed Bott

Ed Bott

Windows right

or

Windows wrong

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Best Argument: Windows right

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Squarely in the right direction

Ed Bott: There are a billion PC owners in the world. If you think they're going to toss their systems in the trash and replace them with tablets overnight, you're dreaming.

If, on the other hand, you think that people worldwide will be using an increasingly diverse variety of computing devices over the next 5-10 years, you've got a much firmer grasp of reality.

That's the vision of Windows 8, which replaces the traditional PC core and user interface with a lighter, faster alternative that should work comfortably on small, medium, and large devices, with or without touch capabilities.

The biggest improvement in Windows 8 is that it's simpler overall. That makes it better for developers, businesses, and consumers alike.

Windows Vista was the wrong direction: bigger, slower, overly complex. Windows 7 was a much-needed course correction. Windows 8 is aimed squarely in the right direction.

Direction is more of a death spiral

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Microsoft sees Windows 8's Metro interface and applications as the future. When I look at Metro, I see gaudy colors, boxy designs, apps that can either run as a small tile or as full screen with no way to resize or move windows. Where have we seen this before? Windows 1.0!

If Metro was just a tablet interface, I might pass it -- except that Android and iOS already have better, more usable interfaces. Besides, bread-and-butter Windows users already know the Windows interface. Sure, you can use a more Windows' like interface, but Microsoft really seems to want everyone to move to Metro.

Windows developers can't love this either. After years learning .NET, WCF, WPF, etc., now you have to learn WinRT and Jupiter/XAML? And since you'll need to rewrite your app for the more traditional Windows-style desktop, your workload has doubled.

Microsoft is headed toward another Vista-sized fiasco.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks for tuning in

    The debaters will post their closing statements tomorrow and I will render my verdict on the winner on Thursday. Remember to vote and post your thoughts in the comments.

    Posted by Jason Hiner

  • Great Debate Moderator

    PC-mobile convergence is the next step

    Convergence between mobile devices and PCs is coming (think of the Motorola Atrix as an early prototype). I've written a lot about this recently and even cited it as a big opportunity for Microsoft: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/hiner/microsofts-one-big-opportunity-in-mobile/8893 Does Windows 8 show that Microsoft gets it and will have the right strategy for it?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    That depends

    There's no question Microsoft has a well-thought-out *technical* strategy for mobile devices. I don't know any serious analyst of mobile tech who isn't impressed with Windows Phone 7. In Windows 8, you can see a very large amount of that DNA. So anyone who uses the full range of Windows-powered devices next year, from phones to tablets to multi-monitor desktops, will have a consistent experience. They'll also have an app store that serves all of those customers. Having used that full range of devices, I think they're on the right track. Now, as to the *marketing* strategy, that's another question. After a year, Microsoft still has no traction with Windows Phone. They really need a Windows 8 halo effect to attract buyers for mobile devices.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Windows right

    Ballmer? Vision? Do these things go together!?

    I think Microsoft is showing some vision. Ed's right about Sinofsky. He's pointing MSFT in new, interesting directions. But, again, I don't see Metro as being a good direction. I think Metro's going to annoy too many developers and users. That in turn is going to mean that Microsoft???s hardware partners are going to be much too scared of cannibalizing their revenue from their PC and mobile devices by creating a converged device, Also, keep in mind that very few vendors make both PCs and mobile devices equally well. Samsung might be able to do it, but I'm hard-pressed to think of another that could pull such a device off. Add to that, the state of the economy, and I think MSFT would have a hard time getting anyone to committ. That presumes, of course, that MSFT would buy into the idea. So long as Ballmer is CEO I can't see it. A pity, it Might work. It certainly would be a bold step forward.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Windows wrong

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The tablet question in Windows 8

    Windows 8 is going to run on tablets. Was it a good move to scale down Windows 8 to tablets or would Microsoft have been better off scaling up Windows Phone 7? The fact that the first prototype Windows 8 tablet from Samsung has a cooling fan is a little disconcerting, isn't it?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Two classes of tablets

    Microsoft is betting that there are two buyers for tablets. One wants a full PC that can be used as a tablet when needed. The other wants a dedicated tablet device that's a companion to a full PC but doesn't replace it. That first idea has been around in hardware form for a long time as the Tablet PC, but it's never had an operating system that was designed to really work well with touch. I used that Samsung device for a few days. Yes, the fan is surprising at first, but the device proved the concept. Now it's time for Samsung and other hardware companies to build cooler devices (in both senses of the word). I'm really looking forward to seeing the ARM-based tablets, which definitely won't have fans and should have a nice long battery life, like an iPad. That's a few months away, though.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Windows right

    Tablets FTL

    What people forget, even Windows fans, is that Windows has actually had a long, good run on tablets. It's just that they've always been vertical market tablets. What MSFT could never do was make a popular tablet. I don't see either a Win 8 or WP7 tablet doing it either. With that out of the way, I think by pinning its hope on tablets that won't even ship until late 2012 at the earliest, MSFT has made a strategic mistake. Today, the iPad owns the tablet world, but Android tablets are finally making inroads at lower price points. By Dec. 2012. will anyone really want a Win 8 tablet? I can't see it. They'll all have IPads or Android tablets.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Windows wrong

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Evolving the PC ecosystem

    Of course, Windows isn't just about Windows, it's also about the complex ecosystem that has emerged around it. How is Windows 8 going to impact the ecosystem -- hardware makers, developers, enterprises, systems integrators, etc.?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Remember what I said about iPads?

    The iPad is a great start, but I hope we see hardware makers doing more than just clone it. The thing to remember here is that you can combine touchscreens and processors and input devices in an amazing number of ways. If Windows 8 has an Achilles heel, this is it. Microsoft's hardware partners have a checkered track record of producing devices that consumers and businesses fall in love with. They've bought billions of PCs, but they don't have the brand loyalty that Apple-branded devices do. So I'm hoping that the vision and design sense that have gone into the OS can be matched with some visionary hardware. Will we see breakthrough devices that take advantage of the OS? We won't know how that works out for a year or so.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Windows right

    Time for a switch from the fat-client desktop

    I see Windows 8 as a non-starter on the eco-system. MSFT has yet to show that it can be a player on either smartphones or tablets. Why should Windows 8 be any different? So, what do you do if you've been in the Windows business for years, decades, and you're not going to be shipping or using much Win 8 product? Well, you can do an HP, and abandon the PC business???albeit I think they did that for entirely different???and dumb---reasons. Or, you can move to other platforms. I see a lot of ISVs, integrators, and businesses looking long and hard at cloud-based operating systems???Chrome OS, Android and iOS???applications, hardware, and systems. Curiously this will benefit MSFT in one way. I see the next version of Server having potential to be a real player in this cloud, Internet-based world. It's just that those Server-based apps may not be running on Win 8 desktops.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Windows wrong

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Microsoft's view of the future

    I've been pretty tough on Microsoft about its lack of vision lately (and others have, too). What does Windows 8 say about Microsoft's vision of the future of computing? Is Win8 a purely reactionary move, or is there a legitimate vision emerging here?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Windows, reimagined

    You can divide Windows history into two eras: pre- and post-Sinofsky. When Steven Sinofsky took over Windows development in 2006, that was the first time in a decade that someone with actual vision had been in charge. We saw a hint of that vision in Windows 7, but mostly that release was about fixing the mess that Vista left behind. That work is done (and very successfully too). With this release, Microsoft gets to "reimagine" Windows. Even outsiders are paying attention to what Microsoft is doing with Windows 8. The Mac-centric John Gruber of Daring Fireball, who normally ignores or mocks Windows, is paying attention and has written some thoughtful and positive analyses of what Sinofsky and team are doing. It's a genuinely new approach to user experience with a very compelling and consistent design sense. I'm glad to see it.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Windows right

    Reactionary MSFT.

    Ed said it in his first reply. Win 8 is a response to iPad and Android. In a broader sense, it's a response to the move away from the desktop to smartphones and tablets. It's reactionary. That said, I give them credit for the idea of having a single interface for desktops, phones, and tablets. I just think that Metro is a lousy implementation of a good idea. I fear Apple, which shows signs of taking iOS to the Mac desktop will win in the long run.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Windows wrong

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The biggest changes in Windows 8

    For those who are just getting up to speed on Windows 8, what are the most significant changes in Win8 (for better or worse)? Give me your top 2-3.

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Metro, apps, and great backup

    There's the Metro interface, of course. It's addictive and almost impossible to understand until you use it. One thing I've found after living with it for a few days is it definitely requires a change in rhythm, and I think we'll see significant changes between now and final release. The new apps are only there as a tease right now. Literally every sample app that came with the Developer Preview was written by a student intern. I think they give a hint of what's to come, but we won't appreciate the immersive apps until we see some professional efforts. And then there's a bunch of under-the-hood stuff. My favorite sleeper feature is File History, which brings together some backup features that have been in Windows since Vista but are finally getting a usable interface. But there's still a lot of missing pieces.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Windows right

    Something for the better... ah... ah...

    I see Metro as a terrible mistake. Leaving aside that I think it's a dreadful interface for desktop computing, my real concerns about it are for application development. While both the conventoinal app side and the Metro side share common programming languages, such as C, C++, C#, Visual Basic, HTML and Javascript, the APIs which you use to write the applications to ??? the frameworks, the function calls, all of the things which make up a complex software program such as Microsoft Word or Excel are totally different. Seriously, app. developers out there, do you want to write two versions of every application? Users, do you want to not only re-learn the desktop itself, but learn how to use a new rendition of your old favorite application? I don't think so! I honestly don't see anything to recommend Windows 8. I can see the good things in Windows 7 and XP SP3. Win 8? I'm sorry, to date, it's a non-starter as far as I'm concerned, and I suspect I won't be the only one to see it that way.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Windows wrong

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Windows 8: What does it need to accomplish?

    Okay, we've got over 140 comments before the debate has even started, so the audience is already juiced up for this one. Let's start by talking about what Microsoft needs to accomplish in Windows 8. Why does Microsoft need Windows 8, and more importantly, why do we need Windows 8?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    It's about the iPad and Android

    Can you say iPad and Android? Microsoft can, and thats why they need Windows 8. Many of the tasks we used to need a PC for are done on phones and tablets now. That trend is only going to accelerate. We need Windows 8 because the old ways of interacting with PCs are getting tiresome, and a lot of the baggage of legacy Windows needs to be thrown off the train. The change in the underlying app model makes a whole bunch of good things possible: excellent power management, communication between apps, much greater security. It also comes at the short-term price of introducing a new interface and learning how to use it. That might be disruptive in the short term. But I think in the longer term its a good thing for everyone. It worked fine back in 1995, remember?

    Ed Bott

    I am for Windows right

    Need a new copy of Windows? I don't see any "need" for most folks.

    Gosh. Why does MSFT need Windows 8? Because its business model depends on you needing to buy a new operating system and copy of Office every five years or so. It's that simple. Now do we, who are not MSFT stockholders need to do that? I don't think so. Look at all the people who are still running XP. If it's not broke, you don't need to fix it, never mind replace it.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for Windows wrong

Closing Statements

Place your bets!

Ed Bott

Is Microsoft going in the right direction with Windows 8? Yes.

Will they succeed? Place your bets!

Look, we all know the future of computing involves devices of all sizes and capabilities: smartphones, tablets, laptops, gaming rigs, monster graphics workstations, developer consoles.

To work on those smaller devices you need a simple app framework and a simple user interface.

Microsoft has built that interface in such a way that it scales to larger platforms. Look at the Windows 8 Start screen and Metro-style apps, and then look at Mango on a Windows Phone. Same DNA, same developer story.

The real test will be how many companies follow Microsoft's new direction. If developers fill the Windows 8 Store with great new apps and games, Windows 8 will be a success. Let's meet here same time next year and check the selection in the Windows app store. That will tell the story.

The end of Windows

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

There will be more people running Windows in 2015, years after Windows 8 shows up, than all other operating systems combined.  But, they'll be running Windows 7. 8? Not so much.

Windows won't be replaced on the desktop, but I don't see any compelling reason for end-users, businesses, developers, or OEMs to move to Windows 8.

I spoke to Linus Torvalds yesterday and he said, “Breaking the user experience in order to 'fix' something is totally broken. If you break the user experience, you may feel that you have 'fixed' something , but you fixed it by breaking the user.”

Microsoft wants to “fix” Windows to be the universal interface for PCs, smartphones, and tablets. But, that will break users' Windows experience. That, in turn, will alienate their core audience, and the tablet and smartphone audience will already be committed to Android or iOS.

Windows 8 looks to a dead-end.

My verdict on Windows 8: Affirmative

Jason Hiner

Let's be honest, this was a home game for Ed, and Steven was a big underdog.

Nevertheless, both Steven and Ed put a lot of points on the board and I think they represented the views that we hear from a lot of commentators and technology professionals in the trenches.

In the end, I have to give the nod to Ed.

The Windows franchise is under serious pressure from mobile devices and Microsoft has to do something dramatic with Windows in order to stay relevant in the long term. At this point, we have to give Microsoft credit for being bold -- and watch with interest to see how it plays out.

Doc's final thoughtsIN PARTNERSHIP WITH Ricoh

Doc

It’s always a little sad to see Microsoft’s new offerings, as the folks in Redmond are usually playing catch up to Apple. In Windows 8 that trend continues, with a heavy emphasis on a new look and new compatibility with tablet devices. Trouble is, Microsoft doesn’t have the iPad or the legions of Apple developers on its side, and it’s a little late to the tablet party – after all, it’s all about the apps. But for those tablet buyers who will insist on a Windows operating system, I suppose Windows 8 is a step in the right direction. Still, the touch-screen-optimized Metro tile-based interface already looks dated, reminiscent of a 1980s brochure for some sort of health care organization. Also, it’s debatable if a one-size-fits-all strategy is appropriate for today’s variety of computing devices.

And as far as traditional Windows desktop and laptop users go, is there really much interest in yet another new look for Windows?  It’s hard for me to get excited about this latest attempt by Microsoft to be more Apple-like, even if the effort is nimbler and more memory efficient. And while Microsoft promises better inter-operability between apps in Metro, that also sounds like a potential sinkhole for conflicts. Yes, there is support for ARM processors, but legacy apps won’t run on them without being re-written. Also in the me-too category is enhanced support for multiple monitors and, at least in the Metro interface, a lack of support for Adobe Flash.  Big whoop. Windows 8 could certainly breathe some life into the rather stagnant Microsoft franchise, but revolutionary? It hardly seems so from what we’ve seen thus far (which admittedly has been limited).

Doc remembers back in 2000 when Microsoft showed a prototype tablet PC from Compaq running an optimized version of Windows, and was extolling the virtues of e-books. Back then the company was ahead of its time. Now it seems like just another also-ran.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.