Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

Summary: Microsoft's biggest risk with Windows 8 revolves around the familiar themes that always haunt the company: Reverse compatibility and the need to make Windows the Swiss Army knife of computing.

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Microsoft's demo of Windows 8 showed the company's path to tablets, a unique user interface and a lot of promise. But Microsoft's biggest risk with Windows 8 revolves around the familiar themes that always haunt the company: Reverse compatibility and the need to make Windows the Swiss Army knife of computing.

At AllThingsD's D9 conference Windows chief Steven Sinofsky highlighted Windows' future, which revolves around UI found on Windows Phone 7. Microsoft's Live Tiles are sweet and a welcome addition to both tablets and PCs.

Can Microsoft manage all the complexity under the hood though?

Microsoft's Julie Larson-Green, vice president of Windows Experience, provides a set-up to Windows 8 that sounds great in theory, but ridiculously hard to pull off. Larson-Green noted "effortless movement between existing Windows programs and new Windows 8 apps."

Then Larson-Green got on the reverse compatibility train.

The full capabilities of Windows continue to be available to you, including the Windows Explorer and Desktop, as does compatibility with all Windows 7 logo PCs, software and peripherals.

Although the new user interface is designed and optimized for touch, it works equally well with a mouse and keyboard. Our approach means no compromises — you get to use whatever kind of device you prefer, with peripherals you choose, to run the apps you love. This is sure to inspire a new generation of hardware and software development, improving the experience for PC users around the world.

Related: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

Mary Jo Foley adds:

This immersive UI is the new start screen for all versions of Windows 8: The tablet versions, the laptop/notebook/netbook versions and the desktop PC versions. Users will be able to switch between this UI and a more conventional Windows Aero type interface, it seems.

Sounds great right? Except for the complexity. There's a reason why Apple has the iOS and the Mac OS. The devices those operating systems run are distinctly different. There are trade-offs involved. The iPad doesn't do everything. Microsoft---and to a lesser extent Android---want tablets to do everything. They want tablets to be PCs.

Daring Fireball's John Gruber gets to the point. Gruber likes the Windows 8 UI, but doesn't see Microsoft answering the iPad bell. Why? The Windows 8 model is too complex. Gruber writes:

Windows 8 is trying to have it all, and I don’t think that can be done. You can’t make something conceptually lightweight if it’s carrying 25 years of Windows baggage.

From a business perspective, Microsoft's approach is totally logical. You can't simply cut off the Windows base. That works for Apple, but won't fly with Microsoft, which has to reach back to support older platforms. Maybe virtualization ultimately helps this time machine support, but that approach can be clunky too. Perhaps if RIM's frankentablet works I'll be a believer.

Add it up and it's hard to do it all. Microsoft may be able to pull software engineering perfection, but no compromises usually means there really are some for users in the delight department.

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

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  • Are you wearing your flame proof suit?

    Just in case? ;-)
    Economister
    • Microsoft's Way of saying....

      @Economister

      This is Microsoft's way of saying, "We don't understand our market, and we HATE YOU ALL"
      jparr
      • Sure it is. Was that your way of saying you hate all things MS?

        @jparr

        ;)
        Will Pharaoh
      • You clearly do not speak "Microsoft" and have no clue.

        @jparr
        I don't get guys like you, I mean, if your actually serious.

        First off, clearly Microsoft understands their market way above and beyond what most companies do. We know this as an absolute fact for a few reasons.

        Its not like Windows has only been around for a few years and the public is still making up their mind if Windows is something they want to stick with. The public has stuck with Windows for over 2 decades and the only ones complaining seem to be a weird core block of anti Windows people, who actually don't use Windows (unless on certain occasions they must for work purposes etc.) but are Apple and Linux users instead, and thats not to say at all that all Apple and Linux users are part of this group.

        And that brings us to the point that we are in a market place here where there is a free and fully functional alternative, Linux, and still the public decides to stick with Windows. No other product market has a situation anything like this. Think about it; computer's are in use by the many hundreds of millions around the world, they need operating systems, and people are sticking with the one that cost money, that is Windows, and are not interested in the free alternative. The only way possible to keep that up for 20+ years is if you understand with some keen precision exactly what your market is and you repeatedly hit the nail at least pretty close to the head for twenty years running. There is not a realistic or even plausible alternative explanation.

        And now we see Windows is going to be touch screed compatible, well, there shouldn't be any doubt they just hit that nail right square again, everyone I know cant wait for Windows 8 with touch screen.

        Good play Microsoft.
        Cayble
      • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

        @jparr

        Sure they do... Microsoft has been doing this for well over 30 years. Same with Apple. There is a reason they have a huge market share and they are not going away despite what the flavor of the week blogosphere might think.

        Not only do they know their market but they've been doing ARM for years through CE, not to mention Embedded, Micro Framworks, etc.

        Microsoft spends more on R&D than like Google and Apple combined. They have something like over 800 PhD level researchers working on various projects around the world.

        So anyone that says that Microsoft doesn't know what they are doing when it comes to technology or can't create an OS that "does everything" simply hasn't been paying attention...

        This was coming... Anyone could see it a mile away. There has been a convergence between Mobile, Desktop, and Cloud going on for years. ARM processors have gotten to the point where they are as capable as laptops and desktops. There is no longer any need to separate the two. Which is why we see things like the Motorolla Atrix, Apple including iOS features in Max OSX Lion, companies like Asus, HP, etc creating their own Windows Slates with custom touch interfaces. You could even argue that Microsoft has been doing this for years through it's touch friendly Media Center UI that people love.

        So convergence was obviously happening. Microsoft just finalized it and beat everyone to the punch.

        Instead of whining you should be thanking them for coming out with a flexable OS that you can do whatever you want with.
        oolong2
      • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

        @jparr No this is a reply to Cayble.

        Cayble you are so wrong. I will defend Windows as the best OS available, and it is mostly all I ever use. HOWEVER! However, that fact does not stop me for thinking that MS reached a high point with XP64 SP2, and has gone mostly all downhill from there. Most other windows users pretty much agree, they just don't talk about it much. After all, for us windows fans, the last 5 years have been pretty depressing. Why do you think XP is STILL so very widely deployed. Hello?
        public8
      • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

        @jparr, I don't know if hate is the word I would use. What MS has done is tried to make a "Jack of all trades" and since Vista they have added more and more fluff without any real substance. As a IT Professional and a MCSE since the days of NT all these new operation systems after XP basically do so much more fluff, please only individuals who have no clue about memory management love those pretty little sidebars. A new Windows 7 machine needs at least 2 gig of ram to just go to windows with all that BS built into it. What about the control panel and the old classic menu. Lets not even get me started about legacy programs and hardware. Yes we do need to move forward; I agree although majority of the real companies and even the US Gvt is taking so long because those huge HP printers are no longer on the HCL. Internal and self wrote programs are not usable in Win7 since it does not like majority of those programs and you will get a error message. For the non-tech types Win7 is the best since it will not allow them to screw themselve due to stupid mouse clicks and accident deletions etc.... For those who really know Windows and its internal workings know that the last great OS by Microsoft was WinXP and Server 2003; the rest is just MS pushing out changes that really are not needed since it was not broken.
        guitarest
      • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

        @jparr Well here we go M$ should just drop this and go to Win 9. We all know every other upgrade MS does is for S***. So lets get on to the next flop.
        Par-Pro
      • Sarcasm?

        @all of you
        WOW, you people really don't understand sarcasm. I've been a Microsoft champion (and at times of my life 'fanboy') since before most of you knew what a personal computer was.

        A few of you mention all the great things Microsoft has done, but what you fail to understand is that all of these things represent Microsoft's potential.

        When I had my first Windows CE device, I thought "THIS is the way of the future". And now? Not so much. It just didn't go anywhere, because there was no market driver for it. Likewise, Microsoft's vision of the palm top was so fractured, and lacked continuity between releases, that people didn't want to deal with it.

        So it's funny to see a multi-billion dollar company crap away its market share and make itself vulnerable to a disruptive technology (that, admittedly doesn't exist at the desktop yet) like they did with "smart phones".

        The reality is that until there is a "killer app" for touch, it's just a neat gimmick.
        jparr
      • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

        Oh, and.....

        What is my vision of "the desktop of the future"? ChromeOS! (NO I'm NOT kidding)

        - it doesn't do anything but boot to Chrome
        - it always just works
        - it's simple
        - it's resilient
        - it has a rapid development and deployment cycle without obsoleting hardware (remember, PCs sell Windows, not the other way around)
        - All your "data" (are belong to us?) is stored in the cloud
        - Gramma can sit down and use it without training
        - Continuity from desktop to portable to tablet to handset (although they blew it with Honeycomb)

        Linux has its purpose and IT IS NOT the desktop. I love Linux, and I have a linux desktop, and I DO NOT USE my Linux desktop.

        Mac is.... more of a religion than a desktop.

        Windows is disconnected from reality:
        - Bloat drives hardware (although admittedly, so does Adobe bloat)
        - Different rules and features for different device classes creates a lack of continuity -- my neighbor got a laptop with a "multi-touch" touchpad -- I can't even begin to recoil in horror fast enough!
        - Too expensive and too many versions
        - No "evolution" - each version tries to be revolutionary (which creates continuity and training issues)
        - There is a wizard for everything, but half of them don't work right or don't do what I want (Set up secure wireless lately???)
        - Gramma CAN NOT use it. Gramma calls someone like me, to work around all the crap that doesn't work right and all the crapware delivered by the hardware vendor.
        - "Hey, I can help Gramma with RDP!!" Nope!
        - "Hey, I can help Gramma with Netmeeting!!" Nope!
        - "Hey, can I help Gramma with 'support assistant'?" DO NOT even get me started on how bad this is.
        - Why do I have to load VNC or 7-Zip on a brand new computer? Or any "must have" utility for that matter? Why isn't it just built in?

        BECAUSE MICROSOFT IS CLUELESS.
        jparr
    • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

      @Economister Anyone who has used a WP7 for any length of time understands that the tile UI is the future. I enjoy my iPad, but the time of static icons (a red number over an icon doesn't make it dynamic IMO) is past. I can't wait to get my hands on one of these!
      clcrockett
      • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

        @ccrockett@... More to the point, I think the time of devices hosting stand-alone apps is over.

        I too recently bought an iPad. The iPad is a beautiful device, physically. But having been a very happy WinPhone user for some 8 months now, the iPad's isolated app experience is jarring.

        The WinPhone "Metro" experience is fluid and sequential - I can go "back" to things I was doing earlier quickly and easily so my daily actions pop on and off my stack as I progress through my day. By comparison, iOS' <i>use an app, back to the desktop, start another app, back to the desktop, start another app which opens Safari ... back to the desktop to re-open the app I was in before ... now, which app WAS that?</i> experience is just cumbersome and unhelpful.

        in Windows8, apps will be able to share data (with the user's consent) and will incorporate some of the best parts of the Metro UXP including a sense of history so that I can flick back to what I was doing earlier. This is a major and fundamental shift that many tablet users will REALLY come to enjoy.
        bitcrazed
      • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

        @bitcrazed

        Doubletap the home button on your iPad to switch apps without having to go back to the desktop each time
        JaylorZD
      • Message has been deleted.

        john_gillespie
      • Actually...

        @ccrockett@... I have a Windows 7 slate and use it regularly and have no problems using it at all. In fact, there's a whole community of people who do this with few problems.

        I think Win8 will be a nice addition - but ONLY if it doesn't get in the way of the apps I actually want to use.
        TheWerewolf
      • Standalone apps

        @bitcrazed...<br>"The time of devices hosting stand-alone apps is over"<br>Yeah right. You just need to go through a few devastating earthquakes that throw out your Internet connections before you figure out that being able to carry on independent of the cloud is really quite useful.

        [Written from Christchurch, New Zealand]
        genghis7777
      • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

        @genghis7777 - what has your internet connection got to do with a user experience that flows seamlessly across applications as you use your device?
        bitcrazed
      • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

        @JaylorZD - double-tapping the button on the iPad is not only not easily discoverable, but all it does is gives me a list of currently running apps. It does not give me any sense of where I have been and nor does it give me a good way to step backwards to something I was doing earlier.

        It just gives me a way to jump from one app to another using one more click than before!!
        bitcrazed
  • And that is the dilemma

    MS is too tied to legacy and Windows cash flow to make a major move in a new direction. The competitors do not have that problem and can adjust almost instantly to new market realities.

    In the end, the iron grip that MS had on the PC world may be their undoing, and that is how the economic universe is supposed to unfold.
    Economister
    • RE: Can Microsoft's Windows 8 really do it all?

      @Economister I'll go even further than that. Apple completely rewrote their OS to take advantage of Unix/Linux stability quite some time ago. The longer Microsoft puts off doing the same, the more irrelevant their OS becomes.
      bobjones2007