Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

Summary: The beta release of Windows 8 is just a few weeks away. It should be nearly feature-complete, and expectations will be high. So what's keeping managers in Redmond awake at night? Here are my top five questions.

SHARE:

Microsoft released the Windows 8 Developer Preview in mid-September of last year. Within three months, the full OS—a very large file—had been downloaded more than  3 million times.

That's an awful lot of interest in an unfinished operating system. As a point of reference, that number is larger than the total number of downloads for the feature-complete Windows 7 beta in January 2009.

Within the next few weeks ("late February" is the official target), Microsoft will unveil the next Windows 8 milestone. Technically, it's a beta, but it will probably be called a Consumer Preview edition.

In contrast to the incomplete Developer Preview, it has been designed for use by a broad audience, and it will undoubtedly be downloaded far more than 3 million times. More than 10 million? I wouldn't be surprised, given the level of interest I've seen so far.

The Windows 8 Developer Preview isn't really suitable for full-time use: Although you could try, it's missing some big pieces and has few real apps. The coming beta release should be nearly feature-complete, with full implementations of features that have only been demoed so far.

Expectations will be high for this release. So what's keeping managers in Redmond awake at night? Here are my top five questions.

Will customers adjust to the "reimagined" Windows 8 UI?

Microsoft has received plenty of feedback about the biggest change in Windows 8, the new Metro style Start screen and search box. Those features and changes that are a direct result of feedback, have been outlined thoroughly on the Building Windows 8 blog. The four separate blog posts on the topic have garnered 2,108 comments so far.

The discussion over file management was equally spirited, with some 2,200 comments to date. I love this picture showing how the results were tallied, although an Excel product manager is probably in tears over the thought of hand tallies.

In the demos I saw at CES, using relatively recent builds, the behavior of the Start and search screens had been changed in subtle but significant ways. It's probably not enough to silence the grumbling and occasional outright yelling over the changes.

I suspect there's a hard core of Windows fundamentalists who will never accept Metro style, or will resist it for some period of time. They'll just have to deal with it, because I'm told the final release will not include a "classic" option with the Windows 7-style Start menu and search behavior.

When will ARM devices arrive? How much will they cost? What will they do?

OK, that's three questions, but we'll count it as one.

Last year at the D9 conference Steven Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green showed off Windows 8 for the first time. One thing Sinofsky said during that interview has stuck with me. Interviewer Walt Mossberg began asking a question: "And every program that runs in desktop Windows will run on ..."

And Sinofsky interrupted him to say: "It's Windows."

That's a theme I've heard repeatedly from others on the Windows team. The ARM edition is being developed on the same track as the x86/x64 versions. It will ship at the same time, and it will look and act just like its cousins on other chipsets.

What's different is that the code is hardware-dependent, and there isn't any Windows 8-ready ARM hardware available here in the outside world yet. That adds to the mystery around these exotic devices, and more questions that won't be answered until that hardware finally shows up in the wild.

Apps, digital media, and revenue -->

<-- Previous page

Will there be enough apps?

The Windows 8 Developer Preview includes 28 sample Metro style apps. As I noted back in October, "Those sample apps do their job, which is to demo specific features so developers can get some idea of what Metro style apps can do. They’re fine for 30-second demos, but they don’t hold up for long-term use."

For the beta, the full suite of Windows Live apps shown off back at BUILD in September should be available. The list includes Metro style apps for Mail, Calendar, Photos, Messaging, and People. I'm curious to see whether the Mail and Calendar apps connect to Exchange servers. In a September blog post, Chris Jones, VP in charge of Windows Live engineering, said "Mail connects to multiple mail accounts, at home or at work. Calendar connects to your work and personal calendar..." One would think that Microsoft's definition of a "work e-mail account"  includes Exchange servers.

There will be third-party apps, too. As Mary Jo Foley reported last week, some developers are getting more recent builds of Windows 8 so their apps can be ready when the Windows 8 app store opens with the launch of the beta:

Microsoft is holding a First Apps contest to encourage developers to start building Windows 8 apps now for inclusion in the Store. The finalists are currently working with a private newer Windows 8 build to tailor their apps for the beta.

What will the digital media experience be like?

The Developer Preview includes no Metro style music or video players and no hooks to any online services. At BUILD, Microsoft confirmed this it was bringing Xbox Live to Windows as a primary source of games, music, movies, and TV shows. (Previously, Microsoft had announced that Xbox Live would be "the pervasive media service across devices"—including Windows PCs.)

The question is whether that service will be ready when the Windows 8 beta is ready.

Oh, and for the 25% of 6% of Windows customers who use Media Center, there's no backtracking: it will be available in the final release. (That odd statistic is courtesy of a Building Windows 8 blog post on the subject, in which Sinofsky used telemetry data to measure the actual size of the Media Center enthusiast base.) But the questions of how it will be delivered and whether it will be included in the beta release are still open—licensing of Dolby technologies is still a sticking point.

Will Windows 8 be able to sell at a price high enough to keep Windows revenues from sliding further?

It's a long way until Microsoft details the specific Windows 8 editions it will offer. But that's a crucial back-office calculation.

The success of Windows isn't just about selling units. It's also about getting the right mix of those units on the market, with business and enterprise buyers paying a higher price and consumers paying lower prices, usually indirectly as they purchase new PCs with Windows preinstalled.

A weak PC market depressed Windows revenues in the last quarter. Corporations will continue upgrading to Windows 7, but among consumers the biggest growth opportunities are in emerging markets, where prices are by necessity lower than in developed markets. In addition, there's the lower-cost ARM tablet category, where Windows 8 is expected to cost less than it does on x86 platforms. Growth in those two categories could shift the average price of a copy of Windows down further, meaning more pressure on revenues.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. There's a beta due in a matter of weeks. Even if it doesn't answer all the questions, it will give us plenty to talk about.

Related posts:

Topics: Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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

Talkback

177 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

    I'd be happy if Window Media Player would finally provide native support for common media files like flac. I'm not holding my breath but it would be nice.
    dcagle9891@...
    • FLAC common?

      @dcagle9891@...

      Keep dreaming.
      Joe_Raby
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @Joe_Raby
        It's so common that I have never heard of it.
        dhays
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @Joe_Raby

        http://lmgtfy.com/?q=flac
        SpikeyMike
    • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

      @dcagle9891@...

      And can they put a simple Aspect Ratio option. Some videos are in wrong aspect ratio and I like being able to switch it in a second.
      lepoete73
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @lepoete73 - try modifying the zoom setting in media center - it allows you to handle movies with different aspect ratios?
        bitcrazed
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @lepoete73 <br>How about 100% backward compatibility with all programs back to Win98/XP or incorporate a painless VMware capability to accommodate 8/16bit programs/loaders? MS copied Norton/Stacker in DOS6.120 why not VMware! <br><br>I like most of Win7's new stuff except for the 32bit loader/pgm limitation imposed and how they screwed up HomeVersion network setup and hiding properties. Hence, I will operated XP until MS gets off their ego trip (unlikely though, so Linux here I come using WINE).

        Understand I'm a Sr EE Eng, I use my PC's for work not just browsing/entertainment/music, I need my old tools - they work, just not in WinVista/7 and likely not Win8. MS is screwing the Scientific/Eng community for browser money.
        Kuby
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @lepoete73 use media center has all the zoom options you need not sure why media player hasnt got these options but thats the main reason i used media center now
        SonicLogic
      • Backward Compatibiity

        @lepoete73
        It would be nice if they would do that. If you buy a car you can still use the same method of driving it, the same method of brakes, gas, clutch, whatever.
        Windows 7 messed that all up. I use Windows 7 just for my HAM Radio stuff and doing backups every night of our network. It took a while to get the 64 bit drivers to work for my ham stuff, but it now works. I finally got it to see the best OS Microsoft ever came out with, Windows 98SE. It seems that they have also taken the 98 updates off of their website. Like somebody said here earlier, I am not going to hold my breath. If Microsoft would get their act together, Linux would probably not be so popular. My 2 cents worth since they first started with DOS. Whatever happened to CPM?
        Progress is a wonderful thing if implemented properly. The first computer I built had no keyboard or monitor. We have come a long way.
        Something to think about though, aren't all Americans Greedy? Why not Bill and company? So sad...
        joe@...
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @lepoete73

        Media player offers this functionality, it's just not obvious. In WMP press Alt + T, Select "Options". In the "Options" dialog click the "Devices" tab. In the Devices tab select "Display" in the devices list and click the Properties button. Here's where you can set a custom aspect ratio.
        PollyProteus
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @lepoete73

        Media player offers this functionality, it's just not obvious. In WMP press Alt + T, Select "Options". In the "Options" dialog click the "Devices" tab. In the Devices tab select "Display" in the devices list and click the Properties button. Here's where you can set a custom aspect ratio.
        PollyProteus
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @lepoete73

        Media player offers this functionality, it's just not obvious. In WMP press Alt + T, Select "Options". In the "Options" dialog click the "Devices" tab. In the Devices tab select "Display" in the devices list and click the Properties button. Here's where you can set a custom aspect ratio.
        PollyProteus
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @lepoete73

        Media player offers this functionality, it's just not obvious. In WMP press Alt + T, Select "Options". In the "Options" dialog click the "Devices" tab. In the Devices tab select "Display" in the devices list and click the Properties button. Here's where you can set a custom aspect ratio.
        PollyProteus
    • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

      @dcagle9891@...

      As long as third party codecs are able to be used and are freely available, what difference does it make?
      Michael Kelly
    • Characterizing FLAC as

      @dcagle9891@... Characterizing FLAC as "common" may be excessively exuberant. FLAC may be well known to musicians who collab and audiophiles, but to most users, FLAC is something blown off by grenades.
      Mac_PC_FenceSitter
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @rbethell ... naw, that's shrapnel. FLAK is shrapnel from anti-aircraft air burst shells. But it's similar. And it's more common than FLAC; you're right about that. I'd rather see some Windows acknowledgement of open data formats, native pdf's, and ogg audio files--they could look at the rest of the world, you know.
        berninghausen
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        [i]I'd rather see some Windows acknowledgement of open data formats, native pdf's, and ogg audio files--they could look at the rest of the world, you know.[/i]

        If they can't buy it, control it, monopolize it or make money off of it, then that will never happen
        ScorpioBlue
    • They don't want to pay for that

      @dcagle9891@... If you want something that "just works" get a Mac. Of course, if it doesn't work on a Mac, chances are you'll never ever be able to make it work, but you do get Codex and bouncy icons. I'm not shorting the Mac for that either. Its a gummy-fun machine and most of us love gummy-fun happy-song solutions.
      A Gray
      • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

        @A Gray OSX doesn't have native playback support for FLAC either.
        vel0city
    • RE: Looking ahead to Windows 8: five big questions for Microsoft

      "I suspect there???s a hard core of Windows fundamentalists who will never accept Metro style, or will resist it for some period of time. They???ll just have to deal with it, because I???m told the final release will not include a ???classic??? option with the Windows 7-style Start menu and search behaviour."

      Just like the thousands of people who reverted to the Windows 9x Start Menu right through to Windows Vista.

      You can currently get it back using a registry alteration. It'll be interesting to see if this is removed.
      bradavon