Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

Summary: Microsoft has given us its first public demo of Windows 8. It looks flashy, but Microsoft is still trying to marry tablets with desktops. This time, it could ruin the standard version of Windows in the process.


Microsoft has given us a first taste of Windows 8. Unfortunately, while it has some attractive visual elements, Microsoft's approach shows that the company hasn't learned much from its product failures over the past decade.

My first impression is that there are two big problems with what Microsoft is doing in Windows 8, but there's also one change where the old software behemoth is on the right track. Take a look at Microsoft's first five-minute demo video of Windows 8 and then read my analysis below.

The Windows 8 demo

The video below was released on Wednesday evening to coincide with Windows President Steven Sinofsky offering the first public demo of Windows 8 at the All Things Digital conference (a.k.a. D9). In this video, Jensen Harris, director of program management for the Windows User Experience, provides a quick walk-through and promises that more video demos will be coming soon.

One thing right

Alright, first for the positive. Microsoft is finally getting serious about multitouch, which users love for its simplicity. The new UI that it showed off at D9 and in the Web video obviously draws a lot of influence from Microsoft's recent work on Zune and Windows Phone 7. Although Microsoft says this new Windows 8 UI will be used for desktops, laptops, and tablets, the demo is on a 10-inch tablet and it's pretty clear that this is Microsoft's answer to the iPad, which has been doggedly eating into the sales of Windows PCs. The UI looks clean and self-evident, and it introduces some nice UI innovations for multitasking that a lot of tablet users will appreciate.

Microsoft has been doing touch interfaces for a long time. The original Windows CE (a.k.a. Windows Mobile) had basic touch. Microsoft Surface has sported advanced multitouch gestures and a multitouch UX. But, Microsoft has allowed Apple, Google, HTC, Samsung, and others to outflank them in winning over the masses to multitouch devices.

Think about this. At the D5 conference four years ago when Microsoft's Bill Gates and Apple's Steve Jobs shared the stage, both of them had forthcoming multitouch products to boast about. Jobs had the iPhone and Gates had Microsoft Surface -- and, at the time, the tech community was excited about both. The iPhone has sold over 90 million units since then, and spun off massive sales of the iPod Touch and the iPad as well. The Microsoft Surface is now available in a dozen bars in Las Vegas.

Two things wrong

There are two big issues with what Microsoft is trying to do in Windows 8, although they both boil down to the fact that the company is still trying to be all things to all people, and as a result it's unlikely to make any of its customers fully happy.

First, let's talk about Microsoft's shotgun approach to product development in Windows 8. On Wednesday, Windows president Steven Sinofsky said, "It's 'no compromise' and that's really important to us."

When I hear "no compromise," it usually means "no discipline." Microsoft has always been afraid to offend any of its potential customers, so it typically piles tons of features on top of the existing codebase and ends up with a Frankenstein monster like Microsoft Office.

When I first heard about Microsoft's Windows 8 plans on Wednesday night, I posted on Twitter that my translation of "no compromise" was a lack of discipline. I got several great responses from tech professionals who agreed, but the best was from @dgackey, who wrote, "When you say 'no' to nothing, it usually means you know nothing about your market."

What Sinofsky is referring to when he says "no compromise" is that tablets running Windows 8 will run tablet apps, HTML5 apps, and traditional Windows apps, and that Windows 8 itself will run on both traditional PCs as well as tablets.

I would have thought Microsoft learned its lesson here. It has already tried to take the full version of Windows 7 and run it on tablets. These "slates" -- as Microsoft calls tablets -- have gotten trounced by the iPad. Now, Microsoft has decided to take the full version of Windows and make sweeping UI changes so that it's much more tablet-friendly and then apply all of those changes to the standard desktop/laptop version of Windows as well. Say what?

That leads me to the second big issue with Windows 8 -- it just might ruin the core Windows product that powers most of today's laptops and desktops. A touch-based UI focuses on large icons and images and imprecise actions (to accomodate different sized fingers). Meanwhile, a traditional UI for a standard mouse and keyboard has much smaller, more complex, and more precise actions and navigational elements. By forcing the tablet-focused Windows 8 UI on traditional Windows, Microsoft could end up removing much of the power and precision that most users rely on to do their daily work.

Microsoft would be much better off just creating a tablet OS, while continuing to tweak and innovate its desktop/laptop OS for users who demand the power, precision, and versatility they get from it. Sure, there will be a lot of users who only need a tablet, and there will be plenty of users who will want a tablet as their secondary computing device. But, declawing the standard version of Windows in order to better compete with the iPad is not the right answer.

Also read

This was originally published on TechRepublic.

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

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  • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

    Its simple common sense that microsoft will allow the traditional desktop settings for business as default. Windows 8 is almost an year away from production status and its really funny that so many blogging sites has passed judgements that Win 8 is 'ugly' and 'wrong' or things like that. I am sure those bloggers are getting paid for spreading FUD by competing companies or are fanboys of those companies. These people have done the same for Windows phone.<br><br>Look out for todays Apple announcements, everything Jobs going to say will be praised and 'magical'. What Apple is going to announce already exists in Windows Live mesh services/Skydrive/Zune. But the press is going to paint apple's stuff as an 'Industry first'.
    • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

      @owlnet: 100% agree.. <br><br>@Jason: Don't unnecessarily try to identify problems in Windows 8.<br>You can customize it according to your needs ie.<br>Either make it 100% tablet friendly or 100% Business friendly (mouse/keyboard).
      • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

        @hims2smart No you can't. Its UI is application dependent, you run a "Windows 7 Application" (Microsoft's words) then you get Aero - which is hopeless if you're using fingers rather than a trackpad/mouse/pen. You run the new applications you get something that looks like Metro UI, which IS optimised for fingers, but doesn't look like something you'd want to run on a traditional desktop.

        Now I know you can run these new applications as a kind of "sidebar", but isn't that Microsoft added desktop widgets?!

        What we have is something quite confused, if you load up ONLY new applications then it might work on what Microsoft calls a "Slate". If you load up Windows 7 applications then you get something much like Windows 7 that runs quite well with a mouse/trackpad/pen...

        So why one product? This split personality seems to suit nobody. I know some people will say "I'll add a keyboard and mouse when I want to run Windows 7 applications - I only need one computer". I don't buy this. If I'm running traditional applications I probably want a machine with quite a bit of "oomph", but for something that's a "slate" I want something light with a good battery life. These don't sound like the same machine. It can't be "ARM powered" if I want to run existing applications at all... This just doesn't make sense when it's all the same Windows.

        There seems a huge risk Microsoft will screw up the desktop product and still not crack the "slate" market. It isn't that either UI is horrible - quite the reverse, but they don't belong next to each other on the same product; each should have a product of their own.

        I think Microsoft are believing the hype that the iPad is going to take over the whole industry - it isn't true, there are plenty of things that the iPad can't do (or can't do well). Apple know this, they've not decided to kill the Mac, or add a multitouch UI next to the traditional Mac UI. They recognise the limitations (in fact, they see them as a virtue).

        My huge worry is Microsoft will rework Office as one of these "new Windows 8 applications", and lose sight of what makes Office useful today. The biggest problem of Office over the last few releases has been the weight of the UI (we had collapsing menus, now the ribbon to address these issue - the ribbon seems to work fairly well, after that initial period of confusion users go through when they make the transition). I can't imagine that Office could have a light UI for multitouch without losing a lot of functionality. But without Office can a "slate" PC claim anything from "legacy applications"?

        I think it should worry all of us that Microsoft might "iPad the PC" - this would seem a fundamental mistake.
      • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong


        Interesting post. My thoughts when I saw this is that it is firmly consumer-focussed as most consumers now don't buy desktops or tablets, they buy laptops. A touch UI on a desktop machine doesn't work as the screen is too far away to be comfortable, but on a laptop I think it could work. I think MS have taken a look at what applications consumers use on their laptops and have likely found that apart from MS Office, which is coming to ARM, pretty much everything else done on a laptop is either browser-based or can be provided by apps.

        What I think will be a lot more telling than Windows 8 in itself will be the form factors that the OEM's come out with. I think tablets with slide-out keyboards or docking stations or hybrid laptop / tablet devices could be successful.
      • I think it'll be even simpler than that.

        The installer that will ship with Win 8 will no doubt detect the hardware being installed and install the interface depending on what it finds. No touch screen, but a mouse/KB? No problem Install those devices and the UI to match. Touch screen but no KB or mouse? No problem. Install the appropriate UI elements and controls.
      • Hardware abstraction


        I think what you (and Jason Hiner) missed is the architectural changes that make this system feasible. These are not simply additions to the codebase, they are moving functions between the various operating system componenents. The touch and desktop systems are platform-agnostic. The hardware abstraction layer is the only part of the system that "sees" the platform. It's interesting that the NT kernel has come full circle since incorporating a HAL in NT3, fusing the HAL functions into a monolithic kernel in NT4 (in response to the puny desktop hardware of the day), moving back toward a modular architecture starting with Vista and bringing it to full fruition in Windows 8.

        The desktop mode is not simply triggered by using desktop applications. The demonstrations showed a desktop environment launched from a touch app.

        The amount of "oomph" required to run an application is not a function of whether it is a desktop application or a slate application. ARM on battery power might not be well suited to intense graphic work, but it is well suited to lots of other desktop tasks.

        Slate apps running as a sidebar to a Windows desktop are capable of much more than the old desktop widgets. The user can be in desktop mode with touch functionality on tap.

        I think we'll see that slate functionality and desktop functionality are not mutually exclusive under any situation where the hardware is capable of both.
        Lester Young
      • I think you've missed the point

        @ jeremychappell

        I think you've completely missed the point of Windows 8, which is to offer one device with two operating modes: one mode for 'tablet' apps and another for 'desktop' apps. The fact that both can be run at the same time doesn't in any way imply that that's the intended usage scenario, or that it's what Windows 8 users will actually be doing.

        As a Windows 7 laptop user who hasn't yet bought a tablet because I don't want to carry and synchronise yet another device, a Windows 8 tablet looks like exactly what I'm waiting for. It has to be as good as a Windows 7 laptop when a keyboard/mouse are attached (possibly in some sort of case/dock, or maybe using Bluetooth), and as good as an iPad when they aren't. If it is, it'll be a 'killer device' that can replace both laptops/netbooks and tablets.

        If I do get a Windows 8 tablet, I expect I'll use it in both 'tablet' and 'desktop' modes, but I very much doubt that I'll be trying to control touch apps with a keyboard and mouse, or desktop apps with the touch screen. They're two different classes of apps, designed to be used in different scenarios -- and if Microsoft want to succeed, I think they'll have to market it that way. Having said that, I do think we'll eventually see dual-UI apps that can run with either a touch UI (tablet and maybe even mobile phone) or a desktop UI, depending on the available hardware. The ability to re-use the app core with different user interfaces is another advantage of the single-OS approach.

        The one puzzle is the Windows 8 shell (the Start screen, etc.). It's still early days, but it looks like it was designed for touch. Since it's going to be the default, Microsoft had better make sure that it's convenient to use with a keyboard/mouse too. Apart from the shell, it makes sense to clearly segregate apps (or their UIs) into desktop and tablet versions -- and I could even imagine switching shells too, if the touch-friendly one doesn't work well with a keyboard/mouse.
    • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong


      I think Jason missed an important point, which is that Windows 8 is not trying to be the iPad. It's trying to compete against the upcoming Lion OS X. Apple has advertised that they have taken their best ideas and lessons from the iPhone, and iPad and transferred that knowledge and experience from those products to the new version of OS X. Windows 8 will be seen as old and antiquated if it stays with the old way of doing things. It's adapt or die, and clearly Microsoft realizes that Windows 8 had better be able to compete with the forthcoming Lion OS X which has strong similarities to the UI of the iPhone and the iPad. (Not an apple fan boi at all, I'm just saying that this is why Microsoft is going this route with Windows 8).
      • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

        @josh92 You have far overstated the importance of Windows 8 as a desktop OS for Microsoft's future is not "adapt or die" for MS, they lead the way in the OS market by such a stupidly huge margin and yet fanboys (or apparently not one in your case) are always going on about how MS is so "antiquated".

        If anything Apple better hope for one hell of an OS to even keep them around in the desktop/laptop market. Microsoft is probably just trying to do something different in hopes of grabbing the attention of some different customers as well as their current base.

        MS will lead the way in the desktop/laptop market for years and years to come no matter how Windows 8 performs on a desktop PC...people will simply stick with Windows 7 if it's really THAT terrible, just like a lot of people did when Vista sucked and people stuck to XP. And wow look, Microsoft is still on top with no signs of dying like you somehow predict.
    • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

      @owlnet No, if MS indeed was thinking that way, then why didn't the moron even mention that option in the video???
      • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

        Actually, I believe I saw another video (of an MS intro to Asian markets) in which one of the first things said was something like "Windows 8 will come with this beautiful new UI enabled by default."

        My memory kinda sucks, so I could be wrong, but that was what I took away from the video: that there would be a choice.

        Unfortunately, that choice creates a problem: you then have a divided market -- some who use the new UI and some who won't.

        I can't imagine anyone without a touch-screen wanting to use the new UI ... except maybe for the Start screen with all the very-handy widgets that keep you updated. But the rest looks ridiculously cumbersome with a mouse/keyboard ... or even with a multi-touch trackpad. So, enterprises with older (non-touch) hardware are likely to provision Win8 installations without the snazzy UI. And that's a HUGE part of the Windows market. So what UI should developers write for?
      • Message has been deleted.

      • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

        > Unfortunately, that choice creates a problem: you then
        > have a divided market -- some who use the new UI and
        > some who won't.

        And you don't get that when making entirely different operating systems like Apple does with OS X and iOS? ;)

        And you don't get that when going (for example) with the latest Ubuntu, which is also utterly confused now and offers two different GUIs ?

        Windows 8 will also be a blessing to nicely designed tablets THAT ALSO HAVE A KEYBOARD. ;) Best of both worlds, because I get to spend my money just once to be able to read a newspaper in the train tablet-style, and then go through e-mails with a proper keyboard.

        That's not confused, it's not ill-disciplined, it's common sense.
        Han CNX
    • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong


      After seeing the above video, I think Microsoft is going in the right direction. I don't see a problem with supporting legacy apps within the new OS and I don't know why anyone calls Microsoft Office a "monster". It's more accurately described as a "killer" since there are several free options out there and they all suck in comparison to in retro let's go back to 1995 suck.
    • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

      @owlnet I agree I am waiting for the magical moment. There is no pleasing these people MS could make the greatest tablet, PC, win phone, people will still complain.
    • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong


      "Look for today's Apple announcements..." They just arrived in my inbox. Lo and behold: "WWDC 2011: Apple Mac OS X Lion sports over 250 new features." Were that Windows, the headline would read, "Microsoft adds 250 new pieces of bloat to Windows 8."

      This entire article is laughable. Does the author actually believe that Microsoft isn't smart enough to deploy the appropriate user interface based upon the device that the OS is running on (or dynamically switch things around as the device evolves from one form to another, such as docking a tablet)? This isn't exactly a new concept nor is it rocket science at this point... if I go to on my Android phone I don't get the same user interface as I do when I hit the site using IE on my PC. Likewise, when I was doing web application development on a commercial software package, one of the last things we did was add some code that checks the request for the user agent, and if appropriate, deploys a mobile-optimized skin (read UI) which ran on top of the exact same code base as the traditional application did.

      Anyone that has ever developed commercial applications understands that maintaining multiple code bases that do substantially the same thing is inefficient at best. I applaud Microsoft for building a unified operating system that can run *efficiently* across multiple devices, and I believe that is what we are going to see with Windows 8. We should all look forward to the day when we can run the exact same applications regardless of which hardware platform we decide to use.
    • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong


      If all these so called tech bloggers were as smart as you, the articles would be off a much higher level.

      Cheers for this one
    • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

      "Look out for todays Apple announcements, everything Jobs going to say will be praised and 'magical'. What Apple is going to announce already exists in Windows Live mesh services/Skydrive/Zune. But the press is going to paint apple's stuff as an 'Industry first'."

      You didnt hear? Apple as rewritten history to show they actually invented everything to do with personal computing.
      Scarface Claw
      • RE: Windows 8 analysis: One thing right and two things wrong

        @Scarface Claw "You didnt hear? Apple as rewritten history to show they actually invented everything to do with personal computing. "

        Actually, long ago Apple took ideas from Xerox when it came to UI, so we can't say "everything".

        I agree with you and I think Microsoft deserves all the credit for making an effort to involve end users as they develop Win8. I also think they did a really good job with their new interface, and how they still consider backward compatibility with older apps. I'm not one who can afford an upgrade to software every time a later version comes out, so I think it's thoughtful of them to consider someone like me.
  • No. Make standard UI elements and OS variables customizable.

    <br>1) "Skinning" the UI.<br>
    ie:make Max/Min/Close icons variable size, so that fingers can actualy touch them easily when they are jammed into the corner of the screen on touch interfaces. And allow them to be left alone as small sized icons on desktops equipped with a mouse. This should be obvious.
    Apply the same customizing principle to file explorer and its expand/contract tree icons, and other UI elements; also Media Player, etc...
    <br><br>Customize OS efficiency.<br>2a) for low power devices with weeny processors -- footstomp (eg: deprioritized threading -- user or theme customizable) hungry processes that hog the weeny CPU -- such as flash. Ever get 100% CPU pegged on a netbook when the browser is bogged down with lousy & unnecessary flash ads & poorly developed javascript?<br>Same goes for Windows Update and anti-virus/anti-spyware apps that burn through battery with their endless hard disk churning.<br>When the user is doing nothing with her tablet, there should be no excuse for the CPU to be pegging at 100% or even 10%, and the hard disk churning through power. eg:"Do more with less hardware resources."<br><br>2b) in fact, in no way should the CPU ever be allowed by the OS to peg at 100%. It should always devote a significant share of CPU to allow for user interaction to allow the UI to be responsive. It should be about time that Windows UI freeze should no longer be acceptable (this is another DUH).<br><br>2c) Why is a movie running in the background & burning battery life in the demo? -- Such an inefficient use of power should be customizable through power management themes.<br><br>etc...<br>3) Don't obsess over imposing a new UI and think that this will solve all your problems. That's the wrong approach. Ie: Open your mind/focus on one hand clapping. It takes wisdom & tough leadership to design a good thing, while avoiding the noise that might accompany the social/psychological/political dynamics of group think.<br><br>etc...