Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

Summary: By the end of the day tomorrow, we'll know much more about Windows 8. But some questions will remain unanswered, even after a thorough demo. Here are the top five on my list.


By the end of the day tomorrow, after the first day of Microsoft's BUILD conference is in the books, we'll know much more about Windows 8. That will certainly answer some of the questions that Microsoft watchers have been asking over the past few months.

But a few larger questions have yet to be answered and may not be addressed in full this week. Here are the top five on my list. I'll be collecting clues this week in Anaheim to see if I can come closer to answering them.

How will Microsoft manage the transition to a new interface?

Windows 8 will include two interfaces: the "modern" Metro-style interface and the traditional desktop as embodied in Windows 7.

That has to be nerve-racking for two groups. Business customers will be totaling up the training costs and worrying about potential backlash from users. Developers will be doing risk-reward calculations to decide which interface to invest their time and energy in.

It's a tightrope act for Microsoft. If the new interface doesn't get traction quickly enough, early adopters are disappointed and developers go broke. At a developer-focused conference like BUILD, I expect to hear lots of conversations about this topic.

Where’s the cloud strategy?

Microsoft has spent the past few years methodically building up its cloud-based offerings. With a Windows Live ID, you can get 25 GB of online storage for documents and photos. Confusingly, you can sync a separate 5 GB of data to SkyDrive using the Windows Live Mesh utility.

But the missing pieces are even more noteworthy. There's no easy way for apps to retrieve a file directly from SkyDrive. Online storage is walled off from Windows Explorer, and has to be managed in a web browser. And so far Microsoft has said nothing about its strategy for uploading your music collection into online storage. Google and Apple have already gone public with their cloud solutions.

Will the cloud picture get clearer this week? We'll see.

Can a credible Windows-powered tablet really wait till mid-2012 or later?

This is probably the question I hear more often than any other. The stunning success of the iPad means there's some urgency for Microsoft to respond. But a hasty response can be worse than none at all. Just ask HP, which abruptly canned the TouchPad less than two months after rolling it onto the market. Or ask anyone who bought a current-generation Android tablet and is now struggling to make it work.

Based on those competitors' experiences, Microsoft's decision to wait until it can release a combination of hardware and software that works well together is the right one. One theory I've heard is that Windows 8 could be delivered in two releases: one version exclusively for ARM-based tablet devices, early in 2012, followed by the full Windows 8 release for traditional PCs later in the year.

I think that scenario is unlikely, but it could happen.

How much will it cost?

This question is actually a twofer, because you can't answer without also defining the list of Windows 8 editions. Will Windows 8 be delivered in multiple SKUs? Absolutely—at a bare minimum you need one for consumers and another for businesses on enterprise networks. But if history is a guide, it will be months before we know the exact lineup.

And asking this question also raises the question of Apple’s $30 upgrade pricing, which it introduced with Snow Leopard and continued with Lion. Microsoft and Apple are in different businesses, of course. Apple makes its money from high-margin hardware, and it can afford to break even on an OS upgrade. Microsoft makes its money selling software through partners, and a $30 upgrade could be a profit-killer.

Most copies of Windows are sold through hardware manufacturers on new PCs. I don't expect that to change in the Windows 8 timeframe. Given Microsoft's decision to engineer the new OS to run on existing hardware, it wouldn't surprise me to see an offer of cheap upgrades for Windows 7 users. But we won't know those details until next year, at the earliest.

Where’s Office?

Earlier this year, when Steven Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green showed off Windows 8 at the All Things D conference, the showed Excel 2010 running on the legacy Windows desktop. When Walt Mossberg asked why the Office team didn't rewrite Office for the new touch-first interface, Larson-Green responded, "Well. They may do something ... in the future."

I suspect that was a nice piece of misdirection by Microsoft. If you remember the playbook for the Windows 7 launch, Office 14 (Office 2010) was in beta and available for testing along with the new OS. I suspect Office 15 will follow the same schedule, and we may even see some clues about how a "modern" version of Word, Excel, and the rest will look in the next wave of Office Web Apps.

And that's my list. What questions are you hoping to have answered this week? Leave them in the Talkback section.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Tablets, Windows

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  • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

    Program compatibility. Will I be able to run my old programs on ARM devices?

    Not sure if that question has been answered or not.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

      @Cylon Centurion

      Didn't see an answer to that one either but my guess is that .NET apps will run on x86 and ARM with little or no modification.

      Native apps on the other hand, very unlikely, unless you can get x86 Windows to run as a VM or something.
      • .Net applications are bloat and slow, but yes, exactly because of that ...

        @CarlitosLx: ... (.NET basically being interpretor) these can be run even un ARM.
    • They said no already

      @Cylon Centurion

      ...that is, unless the applications use a cross-platform API. If applications are developed in .NET/Silverlight, then you might be in luck. Native Win32 applications likely won't work though. They said there would be no emulation layer for x86 software to run on ARM otherwise.
      • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

        @Joe_Raby The ARM processor lacks the power to emulate an x86 with reasonable speed. Applications that run on the CLR should be "fine" (assuming they don't require a massive amount of performance).

        I think it most likely that the best applications for ARM will be those coded with ARM in mind.
    • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

      @Cylon Centurion
      It is obvious you can't.
      Not only ARM are strongly underpowered compared to x86 CPU, and especially the Intel ones, but i don't think that there would be that many ARM based Windows 8 devices, besides Tablets, netbooks and netbox.
      Heck, there won't even be Hyper V for ARM devices assuming the requirement for this feature.
      Thus Intel was right about the limitations of ARM based Windows 8 PC. Windows 8 for ARM is way more limited than Windows 8 for x86. However this could imply that ARM based Windows 8 tablets could be way better competitors for the iPad than x86 based Windows 8 tablets.
      • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

        I think that is why hyper v is integrated into windows 8. Far fewer boundaries when you virtualize the program. I'm betting it can be done.
    • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

      @Cylon Centurion
      x86 programs will need to be ported to ARM for it to work. MS is already in the process of doing just that and has showed off FULL Office 2010 up and running on ARM devices. Expect the same for Zune Software, Windows Liveand others. However, 3rd party programs like PhotoShop might not be there day one for ARM.
  • Question 6

    Should I Care?
    • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

      @His_Shadow Answer: Yes you should. This affects everything
    • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

      @His_Shadow You should care if you have any significant investment (time or money) in Windows.

      Even if you don't give two hoots about tablets.
      • Ironically...

        @Jeremy-UK : you should care even if you don't give a rats arse about tablets, as Microsoft has clearly stated that this is a successor to 7 and that it will run on every type of computer, not just tablets.

        After the announcement, most enterprise groups were worried at Microsoft decision to support touch as this hindered Windows 8 productivity on normal "legacy" PC.

        With that in mind, it remains to be seen if Win 8 will <i>speed, stall or stop</i> migrations to Windows 7. I bet it will speed Windows XP users but stall Windows Vista and enterprise users. Ironically 7 might be Win 8's worst nightmare.
      • cosuna, where was it said that

        [i]most enterprise groups were worried at Microsoft decision to support touch as this hindered Windows 8 productivity on normal "legacy" PC[/i]?

        I have heard just the opposite, that enterprise users where awaiting the release of Windows 8, that touch, though talked about, was secondary to the standard UI which is completed and functioning.
        Tim Cook
  • Cloud strategy is key

    I know there are some cloud storage services that allow users to map logical drives to their storage, but Google and Microsoft are not among them yet (as far as I know). My school district uses Google Apps for Education and student attempts to save their documents in Google Apps have been a nightmare. What we need is a "home folder" in the cloud. If MS would do that, I'd fight tooth and nail to get rid of Google.
    • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

      Cloud strategy will be a roadblock....
      Think volume, data size and carrier bandwidth caps with LTE and 4G....

      ugly picture..
    • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

      @bgetreu I find DropBox excellent for this reason! I can finally have my word or excel document on any pc, anywhere!
    • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

      @bgetreu - They do, it is called live@edu or SharePoint. We have our kids home folders accessible thru SharePoint with OfficeWeb apps available. And yes you can map a SharePoint Document library as a home folder.
  • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

    Unless MS gives users the choice during an install as to which interface will be the default on booting up, there will be a lot of "trouble in paradise." Users, not MS, should determine which interface (touchy-feely or mouse/keyboard) is the default boot up interface. Forcing mouse/keyboard users to go through some kludgy routine to get to the traditional interface is not going to go over well for businesses and serious PC users. So far, MS has said nothing about this. Not a good sign.
    • Hot Key It

      Make is so I can switch seemlessly between front-ends with the click of a button / icon / menu / ribbon / .....

    • RE: Five unanswered Windows 8 questions

      I disagree. MS only need provide a way for K&M users to get to the desktop ASAP, and fro the looks of it...they have. The start screen is a great way to provide the end user with glancable info that doesnt require button presses to experience...the desktop tile would only then be a click away. In fact, one could make the desktop the only tile on the start extra click yes, but its better not to confuse end users.