Unless Microsoft pulls an Apple, they won't bet the company on Windows 8

Unless Microsoft pulls an Apple, they won't bet the company on Windows 8

Summary: The one thing that Microsoft must never imitate is Apple's restrictive policy about software that it does or does not allow to run on its systems.

TOPICS: Windows

Like many of us who ply the geek trade, I've been giving Windows 8 a lot of thought. Like you, I've been wondering about Microsoft's foray into whole Metro thing, and just how much trouble it'll make for us IT folks and users in general.

ZDNet Editor in Chief Larry Dignan's recent article Windows 8: Give Microsoft credit for betting the farm had me ruminating on this all weekend. Is Microsoft really betting the farm on Windows 8?

I don't think Microsoft's betting the company on Metro, for one simple reason: Microsoft isn't Apple.

Oh, sure, Microsoft has the potential to want to eat the forbidden fruit and follow Apple down the rabbit hole of enforced computing. If they do that, if they prevent users from actually using their systems in meaningful ways, then Microsoft is in real trouble. Let me illustrate.

See also: Windows 8 Metro UI and how previous attempts to revamp the desktop failed

Historically, Microsoft has always had a "thing" for finding the next big desktop UI innovation. Each iteration of Windows has had some "great" new mode or some "great" new way we'll all interact with our computers. And, with each new iteration, Microsoft got a few things right and utterly failed in other ways.

Take Microsoft Bob, for example. Microsoft Bob is now the go-to example of a failed UI experiment, but back in the days of Windows 95 and Windows NT, Microsoft really believed they needed a kinder, gentler UI instead of Program Manager for casual users. They were convinced Bob was the answer.

Uh, not so much. It was terrible. Now, if Microsoft had shipped Windows 95 with Bob as the only interface and if Microsoft's OS had been like iOS, there would have been no way to tweak the system, remove a stupid option, and go on with our work just like, if you'll pardon the expression, Bob's your uncle.

Then there was Active Desktop and Channels for Windows 98 (although it was hinted about for Windows 95). Oh, you don't remember Active Desktop, do you? It was the thing, the big Internet-transformative feature that everyone would use with Windows 98.

You could lock Web pages and widgets onto your desktop and they'd always be there for you. Oh, goody! It was PointCast for the Desktop, and like PointCast, no one cared.

Sure, there are still high-profile, productivity transforming downloads like the Louisiana Bikini Team 2003 Desktop Calendar 2.03 still available in ZDNet downloads (seriously!) for your Windows 98 Active Desktop, but what was once a central push is now long forgotten.

Of course, if you were forced to only use Active Desktop, like Apple forces you to only use the iOS icon interface, Windows might not have grown in popularity the way it has.

Even the powerhouse known as Windows XP had some silly UI enhancements, although they were not nearly as intrusive as Bob, Active Desktop, or Metro. Microsoft took a page from Bob and gave us Clippy in Office, and animated Search companions like Rover, Earl the surfer, and Merlin the magician.

Vista was a universally reviled release. But if you waited a year or so after golden master to install it, until the various drivers worked, it was actually quite a fine OS. Vista introduced the Aero look, which was fine except it took too many CPU cycles for many of the computers of the day, giving everyone the impression that Vista was slow.

But, more to the point, Microsoft also introduced the Windows Sidebar and Desktop Gadgets, again reasoning that we're all about having little panes or gadgets on our desktops so we can always know the weather at a glance.

No one cared.

Not to be undone, Microsoft came out with IE 8 and "WebSlices". This was going to be a whole new way we all wrote Web pages, because darn-it-all, we want widgets on our browser home page.

No, no we don't.

By now, you can probably see a trend. To Microsoft, the forbidden fruit seems to be these widgets/slices/gadgets things, because they've been trying to tell us how important they are for over a decade.

None of us care. And now, Metro is all about the widget interface, front and center. And none of us care. Unless we're planning on giving up our iPads for a Windows tablet, no one will really care about the touchy-feely interface of Metro.

But that's okay, because those of us with real work to do need real desktop interfaces to do that work. And while Microsoft may ship Metro as the forced UI of Windows 8, some enterprising utility writer will offer a DeMetroifyer program within weeks of Windows 8's release.

We'll all run DeMetroifyer, and go on with our merry way, enjoying the faster boot times and higher reliability of the Windows 8 experience.

And that's where Microsoft differs from Apple. Apple will not let you modify your system. So even if those tiny icons on my iPad folders infuriate me, I can't change them. Even if I'd like to add (or even write) a better launcher program for my iPad, I can't, without jailbreaking the device.

But for Windows, all it'll take is buying or downloading a nice, helpful utility and the productivity inherent in a grown-up, big boy and big girl operating system will be back in our hands.

It's clear Microsoft has some Apple envy. It always has, otherwise we wouldn't have icons and windows that work the way they have since Windows 95. The one thing that Microsoft must never imitate is Apple's restrictive policy about software that it does or does not allow to run on its systems.

That -- and to a large degree, that alone -- would be a bet-the-company mistake.

Topic: Windows


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • You've overlooked one thing. What if the "next thing" is just as bad?

    This should be titled, "Unless MS is Stupid, they'll make something else." - But what if they ARE actually that stupid. In trying to defend all the reasons why Windows 8 isn't the death of Microsoft. You listed all the examples of miss after miss by Microsoft misreading technology trends the past 20 years. Think about this...What if the company has become so polarized that the only people that have any say in design anymore are either so technologically advanced they don't understand what average consumers need and marketing people so intent on making the OS an ad machine they can't give the consumer what they want.
  • Uncomfortably large bet

    I agree M$ shouldn't ... but W8 goes a long way towards imitating Apple.

    1. The ARM tablet corresponds exactly to the iPad: absolutely no room for the customer to manoeuvre.

    2. W8 desktop has far too many lock-in features: secure boot to W8 only; the constant thrusting towards the METRO UI; M$'$ obstinacy about a business version with a desktop default; .... everything points to a deliberate lock-down.

    3. The app store, requiring even businesses to use a special method to install their own software!

    Much as I like the W8 improvements ... I fear the worst. If W8 tablets succeed then I expect the lock-down to intensify.
  • A little misled....

    An interesting read, and brought back some memories of Microsoft trends through the years, but as for Apple locking down their devices and Microsoft not, I think there's some inaccuracies here.

    Apple in no way prevent users from customising the OS on their Mac range of desktops and laptops. They're ultimately built on a unix-based OS and therefore a lot can be done with/for them. They only lock down their iOS platform which is for their iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad devices. If you compare this to Microsoft... for Windows Phone, this is already locked down in the exact same way as iOS is locked on the iPhone you can't add/change the wallpaper of your start page on WP7 for example, you can only choose from a selection of solid colours, you also can't change the icons of system apps. And Windows 8 on ARM devices? It's only going to allow the Metro UI, you won't be able to drop out to desktop, or run fully desktop enabled apps. Exactly like the iPad.

    Yes, there's an argument that 'some' tablets running Windows will be Intel-based and therefore running a full version of Window 8, and naturally can drop down to the desktop for full experience apps - but these are fully powered PC's just in a tablet form, they're very different to an iPad, and very different to Windows on ARM (WOA) devices.
    • Close

      You are very close to what I am thinking.

      Metro is really more of a touch interface. I've been using Windows 8 on my portable, and I like it, but it still looks more like a touch interface.

      Windows 7 is doing fine, and MS doesn't really need a new desktop OS. They could easily coast on Win7 for another year or so. The problem is that MS really needs a tablet OS, if they are going to bring in part of the profits from the tablet market. Windows 8, and especially Windows RT are their bet in that market. MS won't lose money if they let continue selling Windows 7, which I think they might, like they did with Windows XP when Vista came out. But, no one in their right mind would choose Windows 7 over Windows 8 on anything with a touch screen. Certain elements of Windows 7 are just to small for touch, like the X to close programs.

      So, the point is that if you want touch, you want Windows 8, but for PCs without touch, it isn't a slam dunk, though it is very usable.

      Now, if you think about Windows RT on ARM tablets, and Windows 8 on x86 tablets...think ultrabook for size and weight, then I think Windows 8 could sell pretty well, without every ending up on a desktop or non-touch portable.

      But, it will end up on desktops, and by the time Windows 9 rolls around, lots of people will be used to the Metro UI. There won't be a learning curve, so that when businesses reach the point where they ought to upgrade to Windows 8, they will give it a miss and go directly to Windows 9, which will still have the Metro UI, only improved.
    • Microsoft is not thinking in Enterprise when they sell Win RT

      Windows 8 on ARM (Win RT)is not a business OS.

      Everybody knows that very few enterprises will use WinRT on their employees primary devices, Win RT does not support many enterprise features like joining a domain, mapping network drives (Samba), MS Project, MS-Exchange client, Sharepoint, Disk encryption services, Remote Desktop, Virtualization, etc.

      WinRT is for consumers that want to expand their Microsoft ecosystem by having integration on their living room'x Xbox 360, their Smartphone
      with Windows Phone 7.5, their Kinect device and that's why Metro apps will soon be the same for Xbox 360 for Smart TV's, smartphones and

      On the other side, many end users still want to buy a Windows 8 All in One PC based on x86 architecture so they can still use this device to see DVD movies, Blu-rays and install native applications.
      While Apple is not going to add optical disk to their new Mac Book Pro's, Windows will offer hardware with Blu-ray capabilities.

      I think overall strategy for Entertainment is better from Microsoft perspective, Apple is not focusing on home entertainment other than Apple TV, which is not as good as the Xbox 360 when you think about Kinect, Skype and Internet Explorer 10 running on your living room's tv.
      On the other side, Apple should be worried about Microsoft's success on entertainment industry
      Gabriel Hernandez
  • Exactamente

    You left out the Ribbon, which was surely going to be the calamitous mistake that was going to leapfrog OpenOffice over Microsoft Office.

    The detractors of Metro, or the app store, or UEFI, or whatever other nit that they find to pick are going to be disappointed when they look back in 2013 and found out their irrational complaints were for naught.
    Your Non Advocate
    • Oh, the #*%(@ ribbon

      Yeah, you're right about the ribbon. Personally, I can't stand it. Gets in the way and you can't say it's intuitive if the options dialogs are hidden under little, 4-pixel corner marks.
      David Gewirtz
      • I ditch the ribbon

        I ditch the ribbon with the freeware UBitMenu for Office 2007/2010 which gives me my classic menus back in a drop down.

        I also use a hack to re-enable the hidden QuickLaunch bar on Win7.

        But ostensibly Microsoft is ripping out all the legacy code that will enable developers to create 3rd party programs giving back the Start menu. They work right now in the Win8 previews but will not with RTM.
      • As a casual office user...

        the ribbon is a god send.
      • I like the Ribbon and I will eventually like Metro too!

        It definitely took some getting used to in Office 2007, but, once I did, I really liked the Ribbon. When I switched jobs a couple of years ago, my new company was still on Office 2003 and going backwards was a bad experience. Luckily I had some IT contacts and they upgraded me earlier to Office 2007. My new-new company is on Office 2010 (I switched jobs again last year) and it is even better than Office 2007. There is definitely no going back to menus for me. If you use the Quick Access Toolbar for the things you use the most, I do not why you don't like the Ribbon.

        As for Metro. I am one that sets up a lot of shortcuts (for applications, for files, and folders) on my Quick Launch Toolbar and desktop, so conceptually I like the Metro interface. I haven't played around with it enough yet, but I am sure that I will "get used to it" after I have used it for awhile and eventually really like it as I did with the Ribbon. I just think the average user that still drills down into Start\Programs to find that applications they use the most will have a hard time getting out of that mindset. But, I think they too will "get used to it" and eventually really like it too!
      • Ribbons and more ribbons

        [i]It definitely took some getting used to in Office 2007, but, once I did, I really liked the Ribbon. [/i]

        It's been just the opposite for me. After all this time, I still despise the overly-busy, in-yer-face ribbon concept.

        [i]I just think the average user that still drills down into Start\Programs to find that applications they use the most will have a hard time getting out of that mindset. But, I think they too will "get used to it" and eventually really like it too! [/i]

        Not sure what mindset you're referring to here, except a largely mythical one, as most users who advocate and utilize the start menu directory also make extensive use of (launch icon) shortcuts via the quick launch toolbar, desktop, or as pins above the dynamic start menu pane.

        The start menu directory is simply a familiar go-to hub to access ALL of your programs. Its [i]raison d'etre[/i] is mostly for little used programs that aren't tapped too frequently. Knowing they're all in one convenient location, and arranged in a freely customizable way, makes it a handy programs index and app launcher.

        Sure beats the mindless and cluttered lateral scroll that Metro blithely introduces.
      • +1 to David

        Yep; [b]hate[/b] the ribbon with a passion. It now takes me so much longer to find what I want when the location doesn't make sense.

        For instance: insert new page break is under the "Insert" tab, but [i]other[/i] kinds of breaks are now somewhere else, where I can never find them...
    • They want MS to do a Windows Mobile 6.5 all over again

      Many power users want MS to repeat the mistake it made with Windows Mobile 6.5. Rather than revamping Windows Mobile to tackle the iPhone, MS merely upgraded Windows Mobile, which later became a disaster. So then these power users see Windows 7 poor performance in the consumer market, and the touch based iPad soaring sales performance, and question why MS is responding to trends present in the computer market. These guys are unbelievable.
      P. Douglas
      • Exactly!

        What these small minded, short term viewing guys fail to grasp is that touch is the future and people will look back and wonder why it wasn't always there and why all the Luddites made such a fuss about having an OS optimized for it.
      • No.

        They want MS to do things which [b]make sense[/b] for a change!
    • UEFI

      UEFI was initially suggested and developed by Intel to make OS boot safer. It has been around since 2000 and Microsoft did not rush to use it until recently. Even Linux has been able to use UEFI since at least 10 years ago.
  • User experience, user experience, user experience

    The author pointed to periodic failures of Windows throughout the years, in the area of UI innovations. The problem is that Windows' UI adventures, were done or led by programmers, not user experience engineers with design expertise. This makes all the difference. This is why Windows Phone gets progressively better, and does not go through up and down cycles like Windows in the past; and this is why the Xbox does increasingly well, and does not go through up and down cycles like Windows in the past.

    Microsoft grew up as a company of software engineers, because that is what Bill Gates was, and the company's customers were primarily techologists. However, the computer market expanded to ordinary users, and Steve Jobs' user experience focused approach to computing, caught hold with this powerful constituency, which began driving the direction of much of modern computing. It is MS' realization of this point which now drives the company, and which causes the company to be seen more positively by the computer community.

    MS' user experience focused approach to computing has a short but excellent track record. There is therefore little reason to believe Windows 8 will fail. In fact Windows 8 Metro is by far MS' best work under the company's new approach. Many power users, settled in their ways think Windows 8 Metro OS is going to fail. The problem is that these guys are out of touch with the new, vast majority of ordinary computer users. It is this new majority of computer users which influence the direction of modern computing now, and they will exert extreme pressure on corporations to adopt the Metro interface in the near future, and by the time Windows 9 come around.
    P. Douglas
  • The customer is always right

    Exactly. I think this whole "bet the company" thing is way overdone. If people start walking out of Best Buy because they don't want "that new Windows," then Best Buy will start giving people "the old Windows." The PCs will be de-Metrofied before they even go on the shelf. Same at HP and Dell. Those guys aren't going to lose sales over this.
    Robert Hahn
    • they lost sales with Vista...

      Microsoft made it hard for "regular" computer users to downgrade to XP. Vista was on the shelf.
    • Tell that to Jobs

      The customer sometimes has no idea what's right.