Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

Summary: The bottom line is this: to do real work with real computers you need a real operating system. You need Windows. Nothing else, really, will do.


Listen, forget about smartphones and tablets for five minutes, will ya? I want to talk to you about real computers, computers that do actual work, not just play Angry Birds and help you check in when you're at Starbucks again.

In fact, I want to talk to you about Windows computers.

Windows. You remember Microsoft Windows, right? That's the operating system, that as of January 2012, is used on 92.03% of all non-phone and non-tablet computers.

Windows is important. Very, very important. I'm writing this article because my colleague here on ZDNet, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, wrote Five reasons why Windows 8 is DOA. And that, my Dear Readers, is an assertion that deserves a response.

In this dissenting opinion, I'm going to approach this discussion from two vectors: the importance of "real" computers and the Microsoft Windows release cycle. I'm not going to go after SJVN's individual points, because -- while some of them are valid -- it's the assertion that "Windows 8 is DOA" that needs to be explored.

Also, I want to say that I really respect Steven. In fact, he's one of the technology journalists I respect most in the industry. That said, here's my considered rebuttal.

The importance of "real" computers

The market for processor-based technology is huge. It ranges from appliances like slow cookers, that use small processors to replace arrays of logic chips, to the giant server farms that power Facebook and Google.

When it comes to the very small processor-based devices and the very largest servers, there are teams of engineers that make operating system choices based on engineering necessity. And while there are versions of Windows that will work at both extremes, let's leave those extremes out of the picture.

Instead, let's talk about the computing devices we've all come to know and love these last 35 years or so: PCs. We've used PCs for a wide variety of work, a whole pile of office productivity applications, creative endeavors, vertical market specialty work, entertainment, and -- with a huge surge in the last five years or so -- a high level of social interaction.

We mix our use, so that one PC might be used for programming at 3pm and for playing Star Wars: The Old Republic at 9pm. On Tuesday, we might be doing bookkeeping, and on Thursday, we might be in Photoshop, editing an image for a Web site.

With PCs, anything has been possible. But that broad range of possibility has come at a price: complexity. Not everyone needs a PC that can do everything. My Mom, for example, only wants to do four things: email, writing, Web browsing, and checkbook management. That's it. She doesn't care about or need to do anything else.

My across-the-street neighbor has a pile of kids. All they want to do is tweet and text and log into Facebook to see if they've been mentioned by the cool kids. For them, an iPhone or Android phone is all they need. Of course, when they have to do their homework, they borrow their Dad's PC (and download some tunes on the sly while they're at it).

My point is that not everyone needs the power of a PC. For many people, a tablet with a keyboard is enough (although, in a future article, I'll show you why it's still not really possible to live with just an iPad as your sole home computing device). For other people, just a smartphone is enough.

Next: A predictable, flexible OS »

« Previous: A dissenting opinion

So, where the PC (and I include the Mac in this, as well as Linux desktops) had complete dominance of the user computing experience from about 1975 to about 2005, the emergence of smartphones and tablets has peeled off a large portion of the appliance-user market.


Even so, many of us with real work to do will need real computers. We need these computers because the locked-down experience provided by iOS doesn't provide enough freedom to get the job done. And yes, I acknowledge that Android isn't as locked down, but only the very fringe of Android users are tweakers.

For a lot of real work (and you know what I mean, from full-tilt video editing, to software development, to serious office work, and on and on and on), we need fully powered machines with lots of available hardware configurations and options. We need machines where we can choose the amount and speed of RAM, machines with huge and fast local storage capabilities, machines with the ability to string all manner of wacky peripherals, machines that can communicate on a wide variety of transports and protocols.

Put simply, for most real work, you need a real PC. Today, that's a PC running Windows, OS X, or Linux. And it's this need that showcases why Windows is so important to so many people.

Apple appears to want to move away from flexible, general-purpose operating systems like OS X, in favor of the locked-down, sandboxed environment of iOS. There are benefits to this, the reduction of malware being a big one. But this strategy also eliminates the flexibility to use whatever software is needed to get the job done.

Take, for example, WireTap Anywhere, a Mac OS X program that's used to re-route sound between various programs. It's quite astonishing and something I wanted to use in the Skype Studio project.

But WireTap Anywhere won't work in OS X Lion. According to the company:

Changes in the latest Mac OS will prevent you from capturing application specific audio...We are investigating potential solutions, though it's not simply a compatibility issue, and it's not as simple as it might seem. We do have a solution that will work, but 1) Apple wouldn't allow it in the MacAppStore, 2) It won't work with applications that are "sandboxed".

Because Apple is locking down its operating system, utilities like WireTap Anywhere, tools real people need to do real work, are being shut out of the ecosystem. We don't know if we'll eventually see Mac OS X go away, but it's clear that the flexibility we had in previous versions is being systematically routed out of the system.

And that means that -- over time -- Mac OS X won't be able to do much of the real work we need it to do.

So that leaves Windows and Linux as our workhorse operating systems. Both are capable operating systems, but they come from very different places -- and have very different temperaments. Windows is entirely commercial, supported by Microsoft. Linux is free-wheeling, with some combination of commercial support and some combination of loyal, if nearly insane, user base.

Because Linux has many different distributions, all of which don't support the same thing, it can be virtually impossible to get anything done in a reliable fashion.

I wrote about some of the challenges in Why I’ve finally had it with my Linux server and I’m moving back to Windows and Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes and while -- as many of the commenters will assert -- it is possible to be productive with Linux, there's a whole lot more folklore than some of us busy folk are comfortable with. By the way, if you want to see some bile, read those comments. Whew!

Anyway, the point is that Windows is predictable, documented in the extreme, supported completely, and consistent, and it's backed by one major corporation that does its best to keep the system running. This is in stark contrast to Linux, which is backed by a lot of fringe companies and professionals who traffic in guild-level secrets and passed-along folklore to keep their systems running.

This all brings us back to Windows. Windows is mission critical in today's computing world. It's the only real solution that's completely flexible, is completely supported, and is expected to remain so going forward into the future.

Since we're always going to need to do real work (even though the appliance users like my Mom and my neighbors may well migrate to tablets or locked-down systems), Windows will continue to be necessary and relevant.

All of that brings us to the next vector in this rebuttal, the argument that Windows 8 will be DOA.

Next: The Windows release cycle »

« Previous: A predictable, flexible OS

The Microsoft Windows release cycle

Microsoft has always had a strange pattern with its Windows releases. One release is reviled by techies, and the next is celebrated. Windows 3.0 was mediocre, while Windows 3.1 was a home run. Windows 95 was a big change but had its rough edges, while Windows 98 hit it out of the park. Windows Me was an embarrassment, while Windows XP was an epic success.

Windows Vista was a disappointment, while Windows 7 was -- by virtually every measure -- an exceptional operating system.

Microsoft is a machine, a Terminator, the Borg. They learn from their failures, adapt, and refine. It's almost like one operating system release is a multi-year trial balloon beta release, packaged in a profit center, and the next incorporates everything learned, everything loved, fixes everything hated, and simply dominates the computing landscape.

By this metric, Windows 8 is a trial balloon, experimenting with ideas and themes, those themes to be adopted, tweaked, or dropped in Windows 9. The Metro interface is one of those trial balloons. Microsoft has tried others.

Remember Bob? It failed miserably, but the help system technology fiddled with in Bob eventually found its way into Office and lived there for years. Or what about the Windows Sidebar in Windows Vista? It was celebrated as a new UI feature, ignored by most users, and (although its still usable) pretty much vanished into history. And yet, some of what we see in the enormously popular Task bar of Windows 7 came from the sidebar (and was similarly inspired by the OS X dock).

The point is, Microsoft isn't afraid to experiment with UI advances, take the slings and arrows of criticism from pundits and purchasers alike, and adapt, creating solid releases that build from questionable or experimental ideas.

All that would seem to imply that I agree with Steven's assertion that Windows 8 will be DOA. After all, if Windows 8 is one of the trial-balloon releases, doesn't that mean it's predestined to be a failure?

Oh, if only I could have a failure like Windows 8 will be. Seriously. Almost no one contends that Windows Vista was a raucous success, and yet, by just October of 2007 (about 11 months into commercial sales), Windows Vista had sold 88 million copies.

88 million copies. Even if you factor in OEM sales and the various editions, you're still talking about 5 to 10 billion dollars in sales. In 11 months.

If Windows 8 is to be "DOA" like Windows Vista was a "failure," well, then I wish I had such DOA and failure experiences. I could give up this gig, build me a ratrod, make the most over-the-top trebuchet punkin' chucker ever, and never, ever have to read another email message again.

Back to our rebuttal

Steven says no one needs Windows 8 -- and that's probably true. But we always like improvement in our computing environments, and while we may not think we need more capabilities, we usually find ways to use them.

Here's a short story about that. Back in the early 1980s, my buddy Jim and I decided we were going to go into business supercharging IBM PC ATs. It turned out that you could swap out a crystal and boost performance by something like 50%. So we packaged up the crystals with some instructions, planted ourselves at the San Mateo Fair Grounds for an early computer fair, and tried to sell these early overclocking kits for something like 20 bucks.

We actually broke even, which was good for a first venture. But we also were shocked, because almost everyone we met couldn't figure out why we'd ever want the PC AT to go faster. After all, it was so very, very fast. It ran at 6 Mhz (not Ghz, Mhz, or a thousand times-ish slower than what we have today).

Someone saying we don't need Windows 8 is like that. Our failure of imagination doesn't mean we won't later see an opportunity for the product or a key capability. Of course, most of us won't rush out to get Windows 8. I probably won't run it in production for a year or more after it's released.

But that's not the point. Windows evolves into adoption. It slowly oozes into production. As one machine breaks down, new machines replace it, and those machines often use the new OS. No doubt there'll be a feature or two worth loving, and those will encourage further adoption.

Windows 8 will eventually make its way onto our desktops. It may not sell 88 million copies in the first 11 months, just because people now have tablets and smartphones. On the other hand, PCs are still selling and more and more previously marginalized populations are now using computer technology, so there is likely to still be substantial international growth in the desktop operating system market.

Many of us will install Windows 8 on a couple of machines, this year (if it comes out on time) and certainly in 2013. In a few years, we'll start hearing rumors of Windows 9, and we'll then move the rest of our then-aging fleet of Windows 7 machines up to Windows 9, and the cycle will begin all over again.

Will we also have Windows tablets and Windows phones as mainstream, major players in the market? Will we also have Arm-based machines running Windows? Probably, to some degree.

But the bottom line is this: to do real work with real computers you need a real operating system. You need Windows. Nothing else, really, will do.

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software


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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  • Real OS - Windows- HARDLY!!!!

    I can be 100x more productive on OS X or Linux than on Windows.

    Both OS's have lots of little niceties that make day to day usage easier and more productive.

    Sadly Win 8 is a step backwards in that regard.
    • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

      We all know you are Linux Fanboi, and everything you say is anti-Microsoft.
      Let me guess this is the year of Linux again.
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        @Blogsworth "Let me guess this is the year of Linux again."

        Your kind people are the ones who said that on the first place and even today continues that, even that Linux has more likely already your bedrooms, your kitchen, your car, your PC or Mac, your phone or E-Book.

        You are just searching and looking this "Wonder Linux" with totally wrong photo in your hands for what you compare every PC.

        Every day when you walk among people on streets of public transportations, it is more likely that at least every third of them has given a home for Linux. But you can not see it... you are just taunting "Year of Linux nah nah nah >:DDD" and you don't even realize what has happened.
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        @Blogsworth Actually my operating system mix is; Linux on the desktop and OSX on the notebook. Works very well indeed. Don't knock Linux anymore, as it is very usable. I have been using Linux on and off for the past 16 years. It was only in the middle of last year that I made the switch. It was Ubuntu 11.04 that did it.
      • Linux runs electric skillets?


        That, and maybe the crockpot and microwave, are the only "newer" devices in my kitchen...and even then, they're the 3-5 years old "el cheapo" versions available from the stores. No exotic programmable functions, just push-button functionality that requires the electronic equivalent of an early 1990s wristwatch. Bedroom is the same way, with cheap/older DVD player & VCR.

        Funny thing is, the local grocery store (Kroger) uses Windows for their U-Scan & other cash registers, so Linux apparently isn't in the grocery stores yet, LOL.
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        @SPDragoo,<br><br>Those registers are more likely to be running Linux. The back end certainly is.<br><br>And the poster you referred to was only making the point that most of the newer smart appliances and so forth are already using Linux. That includes cars less than 10 years old here in the US.<br><br>The point was that 'The Year of Linux' was 2000, and the Parent poster missed it.<br><br>Even Microsoft is using and selling Linux. Get with the times. When you outgrow Windows, that's when you move to Linux.<br><br>Haven't outgrown Windows yet? OK, keep with what you have. You will know when you need to move.<br><br>If you work for a midsize or larger firm, then you already use Linux every day, and just don't know it.<br><br>If you use the internet, then you already use Linux every day and just don't know it.<br><br>The revolution you are decrying and denying happened a decade ago. Get over it. Adapt. Microsoft has. You should too.
    • Windows 8 scaring the pants off of you?

      But then again you predicted that "Windows 7 = EPIC FAIL" (your words)
      and the now famous itguy10 prediction that "Kinect = EPIC FAIL".
      Or the other famous prediction, you know "Sharepoint = EPIC FAIL".

      Should I go on, or are you feeling dumb enough at the moment? :)
      William Farrel
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        @William Farrel
        Well now that you mention it, Sharepoint 10 DOES seem like an epic fail, but maybe that's just my end-user perspective. Features that used to work on 9 don't anymore on 10 - lots of fun. Had to write a ton of bug reports on our sharepoint based frontend when we switched to 10.

        My opinion on Windows 8: waste of money if you have 7, might as well upgrade if you buy a new machine. Microsoft will undoubtedly tie features like DirectX 12 to Windows 8, forcing an eventual upgrade for gamers and others will be forced to follow for other reasons. That effort failed with Vista because DX 10 added very little bang for the buck (in fact, Geometry Shaders only really became useful because of tessellation shaders, IMO, and that was the most useful feature).

        My two bits (as a platform agnostic - after 35 years of computing and a job that requires multi-platform support including tablets and phones, I have yet to find one that is perfect).
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        and that is fine as we all have ups and downs with any software - it's the nature of the beast.

        I'm just refering to itguy10 (his latest incarnation) trolling style, as he is the typical "make it up to make it look bad" anti-MS poster.

        Microsoft could find the cure for cancer with a 90% cure rate, and he would still be the most vocal against them as "they don't care about the other 10%, the greedy rush it to market greedy corporation" they are.

        He's fun to mock. ;)
        William Farrel
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        Sounds like an epic failure to do proper testing when perparing to upgrade to the new version of SharePoint.
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        @William Farrel [i]"Microsoft could find the cure for cancer with a 90% cure rate, and he would still be the most vocal against them..."[/i]
        While I don't disagree with you I find if very hypocritical that you don't go after the Apple or Linux haters that make similar predictions in the same way. Is it because it's only an issue when Windows or MS is on the receiving end?

        Personally I think all the predictions are a waste of time. Absolutely none of use know how well Win 8 or any other upcoming product release is actually going to do.
    • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

      @itguy10 <br>100x is hyperbolic.<br><br>There are many of us, though, who get real work done without utilizing Windows.<br><br>That said, 92% of the [insert inclusions] pcs is nothing to sneeze at, and Microsoft does a very good job of selling the new operating systems to its existing customers. Steven Vaughn-Nichols overshot his point by suggesting Windows 8 was DOA. Mr. Gewirtz [correcting a misspelling for which I apologize] continues his streak of provocation along the tangents of points. Usually I overlook his writing, but the headline sucked me in. Well played, sir. Well played.<br><br>But, oh, itguy10, let's not compound the travesties by engaging in our own little dudgeons and petty shillings.
    • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

      @itguy10 Windows 8 is a multi-device OS, it will be compatible with many kind of devices:
      1) Tablets (both ARM small screen light tablets and large screen productivity tablets)
      2) Laptop/Tablet convertibles
      3) All in One touch PC's
      4) Ultrabooks with touchscreen

      Windows 8 is not a OS suitable for:
      1) Desktop with no touchscreen (alternative = Windows 7, Windows XP)
      2) Laptop with no touchscreen (alternative = Windows 7, Windows XP)
      3) Smartphones (alternative = Windows Phone 7)

      The reason many people still use PC's like desktops or laptops in workplace is because the iPad and other IceCream sandwich tablets don't support productivity applications, many enterprises today use legacy software written for x86 platform, meaning an app won't be a replacement for a software of millions of line of code, for example Autodesk engineering software, Microsoft Project, etc.

      Conclusion: If Windows 8 supports legacy applications, the big enterprises will adopt this OS and it will become as popular as XP or 7.
      Gabriel Hernandez
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        @Gabriel Hernandez Actually not really. I installed Win 8 Developer Preview on my Acer Aspire 3620 with Celeron chip on it, it runs smoothly. This same machine always struggled with XP came with it, and could not run Win 7 at all. Of course I don't have touch screen on this old grand pa, so I simply turn off the Metro GUI. It behaved like Win 7, but with much less hardware/resource requirement. You could search for Aspire 3620 to see what specification it has, and all of you "tech guru" will understood what I am saying. For all those people who are criticizing MS and Win 8, try to test it and use it before reject it. It's not necessary that MS = Trash while Apple/Linux = Elite, all right?
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        @Gabriel Hernandez

        By the way, it is interesting to note, that Autodesk is going Mac. Also their sales model has gradually changed to subscription -- given the huge costs of their software. So, in a subscription model, you actually get the right to use the (then current) Autodesk application, I would guess on any platform you see fit. This is great for you, as a customer, because even if today you might like a Windows PC, tomorrow you might prefer Macintosh, yet few years afterwards perhaps an higher end UNIX workstation. You are no longer tied to single (limited in certain aspects) platform, such as Windows. So, you are more willing to spend money on such expensive software subscription.
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        @old_dave That's great, I thought Win7 was lighter than Win8, but if it's the opposite, then I think Win 8 can be very popular in no touch screen devices if the Metro UI is disabled.
        I'm thinking if Windows 8 is faster than Windows 7 it can be very popular in corporate desktops, laptops which have Windows XP and haven't upgraded to Windows 7.

        I'm thinking in home users also, this could sound weird, but there could be users that don't want to use the Metro UI at all, but want to have the latest OS from Microsoft in their non-touch desktop or laptop.
        Some new technologies coming from Microsoft are:
        1) DirectX 12
        2) IE10
        3) Kinnect for Windows
        If these technologies are not available in Windows 7, then it doesn't sound so weird and I believe many users would like to try Windows 8 to have new experiences in games, video call motion applications and brand new web applications based on HTML5 and hardware acceleration.
        Gabriel Hernandez
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        @Gabriel Hernandez

        Sounds like you've admitted that you don't really know very much about Windows 8.
      • Windows 8- Windows Phone

        @Gabriel Hernandez

        Actually, Windows Phone 8 will be using the windows 8 kernel. These two will be highly compatible and useful together. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/02/03/windows_phone_8_features_leaked/
    • I bet Jedi Knights would use Apples because they're cool...


      The Apple kids and the Linux kids together make up about 10% of the computer market. I wonder why?

      Because Microsoft is evil? Because you're 90% cooler than everyone else? Yea, that's probably it.

      I've used Linux, or at least tried to. But since I have a job, I can't spent three days trying to find drivers to make a printer work. And I owned an Apple once. I liked it very much, used it the entire time I was in college. An Apple II GS. After college, I sold it and bought a computer.

      So just sit over there and be angry, itboy. Keep telling yourself you're smarter than everyone else because you have Linux on your PC. I'm certain you're right and everyone else is wrong. It couldn't possibly be anything else.
      • RE: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

        @pishaw I have used Windows, Linux, and OSX. Until Ubuntu 11.4 I was not a regular Linux user because of issues like printer drivers...

        HOWEVER... I have a HP Color LaserJet 2600, and with Windows I had a heck of time installing printers and getting the thing to print. On Linux all I do is let Linux inspect the network and up pops the printer. Prints very well I might add.

        I am not trying to rub your nose in it. What I am trying to say is that in the past your critique was very much warrented. However with Ubuntu 11.04 that critique is not warrented and Linux as a desktop OS is very very usable. I can even use my Wacom tablet without having to unplug everything on Windows (google the problem as it is a Wacom + Windows bug).

        And OSX? Sorry but you have been living under a rock OSX is screaming higher. I am no Apple fanboy, but I do see the reality of the situation...