Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

Summary: Microsoft has begun given us the first official 'sneak peek' at it's upcoming Windows 8 operating system, and what we're being shown is a Windows operating system like none we've seen before.


Microsoft has begun given us the first official 'sneak peek' at it's upcoming Windows 8 operating system, and what we're being shown is a Windows operating system like none we've seen before.

What we're seeing for the first time from Microsoft is a version of Windows that isn't specifically targeted to the desktop, instead the Redmond giant seems to be gambling on making changes to the operating system that are tablet specific. The touch interface looks very different to what we expect of Windows. In fact, it looks more like Windows Phone than Windows.

Tiles, tiles everywhere!

Here's a touch-optimized Internet Explorer 10 in action.

Here's a thumb-operated keyboard that's designed to make tablet use easier.

Here are new Windows 8 apps coexisting with legacy applications:

The Ribbon UI, previously seen in Office applications, makes its way to Windows 8:

Here's a Twitter client with on-screen keyboard:

Here's the gist of what Windows 8 brings:

  • Fast launching of apps from a tile-based Start screen
  • Tiles feature live notifications
  • Fast switching between apps
  • Easy snap/resize ability to allow for multiple apps to be on the screen at one time
  • An app store
  • Touch-optimized browsing

The problems -->

Here's the problem I see though. One of the major complaints leveled at tablets such as the iPad and Android-powered tablets is that there's no legacy support. You're having to invest not only in new applications but also it takes time to get up to speed and get the workflow right. Microsoft fans have trumpeted the Windows tablet as a solution to this problem because Windows would offer legacy support on tablets and so you'd be able to take desktop apps with you.

A good idea in theory. But ...

Let's take a closer look at one of those screenshots.

Here we have Windows 8 and in the background Microsoft Word 2010.  Here's my question about Windows 8 and the whole touch support thing ... how will all this touch support work when it comes to legacy apps?

Take Office 2010 for example. It has the Ribbon UI which, on the face of things, will be great for touch. But the problem is that the Ribbon UI is only a veneer over a a very complicated program. If you want access to something that has not been made available on the ribbon then you have to start digging. And this involves clicking on little stuff.

And this isn't just a Word 2010 problem, or an Office 2010 problem, or down to any specific applications. It's a problem across the board, from standalone applications to web apps powered by Flash or Sliverlight and so on. Microsoft might be able to make Windows work with touch (and I still say 'might' given how little we've seen so far) but this does nothing to make all the legacy stuff that we would be moving to Windows 8 work any better with touch.

Now, a possible counter to this point is that new apps are inbound. Surely Office 2012 or whatever it will be called will be designed with touch in mind (let's assume that all the complexity of say the Office suite can be distilled in such a way as to allow it to be entirely touch driven), so that will solve things. Well, maybe, but you're having to buy new applications and train people to use them to make it work, which was the exact reason for wanting a Windows tablet as opposed to an iPad or Android tablet in the first place. At its heart Windows and Office (along with pretty much all the applications out there) are desktop centric and are designed to be driven with a keyboard and mouse and not a pudgy finger.

The problem once again is that Microsoft wants Windows to be everywhere ... on the desktop, on notebooks, and now on tablets. But tablets are a different animal to traditional desktops and notebooks, and the idea of trying to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach baffles me.

The tabletification of a desktop operating system and the issues surrounding legacy apps aren't the only issues I'm trying to get my head around with Windows 8. There's the whole issue of Windows being a desktop OS, and desktops have a lot more power at their disposal than tablets do. While we can rely on Moore's law to take up some of the slack, I worry that it's not enough. Low-power, ultra-mobile systems are a different animal to desktops and notebooks, and I'm far from sold on the idea that they seed the same operating system.

I know that the ARM version of Windows 8 doesn't have legacy support, and as such will eliminate some of these problems, but if you're dumping legacy support, where's the advantage of going with Windows? This alone almost by itself negates the need for tablets to be running the same Windows as desktops and notebooks. It's almost as though Microsoft, at its core, knows desktops and tablets need a different operating system, but that it lacked the confidence to separate the two. After all, Microsoft's fortune is based on selling Windows.  It doesn't know how to do anything else.

Another issue I have is that the problem with the tabletification of a desktop operating system is that it will push touch into devices that don't need it. Touch is nowhere near as effective as the keyboard and mouse. Touch on a desktop system is not something that most people want or need, yet is seems that we're being forced into a touch paradigm because of Microsoft's current obsession with tablets.

Finally, and it pains me to say this, but Windows 8 looks absolutely awful. I mean, seriously, purple!

I'm assuming that this is some kind of joke or one person's perverted color preference. I really hope so, because that's not something I want to be looking at all day. What if I want to see more than 10 things on my screen (because that seems like a pretty big waste of a 24-inch screen to me)? Why do I want to be looking at that huge 'Store' button? Sheesh, why not pre-click it for me ...

It's far too early to say whether Windows 8 will be a success or a failure. A lot hangs on real-world usability, pricing, devices, compatibility and so on. But one thing that is clear is that Microsoft can ill-afford another Vista-style disaster. It's clear how threatened Microsoft is by the success of Apple's iPad and Androidtablets and how desperately it's trying to remain relevant in a fast changing world. But after looking at the first official showcase of Windows 8 yesterday I'm left wondering just how much of this is being driven by Microsoft's need to compete/copy with Apple rather than being based on what people actually want from Windows.

The sad fact is that we could end up with a Windows that works on every platform, but that doesn't work well on any platform.

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Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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  • RE: Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

    I couldn't agree more. I think Microsoft have forgotten that there are more "PCs" than iPads out there. Or seem to have reached the illogical conclusion that there will be more iPads than PCs.

    I worry the baby has gone with the bathwater.

    The idea of running this on a 30" panel with keyboard and mouse fills me with dread. It looks like a "cartoon computer".
    • If you have to do more than just read it .....

      ....these toys are not for you. It's like complaining that a sports car can't haul your furniture!
      • IDC/Dataquest already predicted that there will be more ipads than PCs by

        @kd5auq: ... 2016; but not in 2012 yet, and power users will use their 24-30" screens much longer than even 2016 anyway.
      • RE: Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

        Love my 24" display; my truck rocks, why not make a sport touchpad as a control unit for remote desktop interface... to the desktop in front of me and set it next to my trackball. This would make file sync easier too. Now I can see running my desktop power from a touchpad from anywhere.
    • RE: Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

      Ah, but Steve Jobs told us this is the post-PC era! :-)
    • The Windows 7 UI is still there

      @ jeremychappell

      I really don't understand your complaint at all. The baby can't have gone with the bathwater because nothing from Windows 7 is gone. The Windows 7 UI is still there, and once you start a Windows 7 app, the Aero UI loads/appears. If you've watched the videos, you must realise this.

      I could easily see myself preferring this new UI, even on a desktop/laptop, provided the keyboard navigation is good and it's customisable (e.g. to get rid of the purple borders, change the number and layout of tiles for my screen size, etc.). I prefer my apps to use the full screen area (usually split for multiple apps), with a 'start screen' instead of Task bar and Start Menu. Nevertheless, if you're wedded to the old Windows 7 UI, it isn't going to go away.
  • RE: Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

    Hmmm.. you can switch off the touch view instantaneously and all the x86 versions of windows 8 will support all legacy applications.. Where is the problem for ordinary pcs/laptops..?

    And you missed an important point of arm incompatibility. Any application developed with new platform can be deployed in all forms of devices - that means all programs written for windows 8 immediately becomes tablet compatible..
  • RE: Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

    No question about it IMO Microsoft want to avoid Android being the market leading OS for Tablets as it appears to be for smart phones currently. I think it is early days yet but Windows 8 looks promising to me.

    Frankly I think Microsoft have little choice. Windows solely as a desktop OS does not appear to be enough now. Apple are raking in millions with iPad sales. Microsoft want a share of that.

    While tablet usage is many of us are ready to stop using a desktop completely? Yet Microsoft have to act now to get on board with tablets with a decent tablet friendly OS. They may be too late already but releasing W8 as a pure desktop OS would have been a terrible idea.

    I think the colour "purple" can be changed on the interface (I hope) :-)

    W8 appears to be a pretty good effort considering the unenviable task Microsoft has trying to provide design consistency across Mobiles, Tablets and desktops. As a dominant player in the desktop OS sphere for so long...suddenly Microsoft might be playing catch up in the new Tablet OS focused future. W8 I think is an attempt to lose as little as possible OS market share. But I don't see Microsoft dominating the Tablet space.

    Google in a strange way already have a huge head start with Android on mobiles. The transition for Android mobile users to Android Tablets / Chrome Books will likely be much easier than a Windows 7 (or earlier) desktop OS user trying to decide between an iPad, W8 tablet or Android tablet.

    Microsoft IMO will not dominate the OS landscape of the future on Tablets and ever more powerful mobile devices. Not even if a rumoured billion 19Billion dollar deal for Nokia's phone business is to be believed.

    Microsoft will remain a major player but not the main (OS) event IMO.
  • M$ windoze is DOA

    thanks to Android and M$ incompetence.
    GPL and OSS innovations killed windoze.
    Linux Geek
    • Message has been deleted.

      Mr. Dee
    • Billions of $$$ doesn't mean dead.

      XBox probably made more money for them than did all pure play open source software sales combined.

      Windows is long from being dead.

      Right now, on the desktop, I seriously doubt MS is worried about linux. Apple, yes but Linux no.
      • RE: Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

        Apple iPad made Linux look very dated. Win8 seems to have gone even further. It was hard enough to encourage Linux desktop adoption before; this will make it virtually impossible.
  • There are some pretty huge assumptions here.

    First, you assume MS will have only one interface. I think that's a silly assumption.

    Touch on a traditional desktop/laptop without touch hardware? Really? (laughing) No, the touch interface will be an additional one, much as the accessibility features are.

    Second, given Visual Studio it should be straight-forward for applications to be modeled against their targets. That means you can create the application and abstract its interface, using either touch (for applications needing limited interactivity) or keyboard/mouse (for heavy input applications). MS has been aiming for UI abstraction for years now, considering their web and WPF stuff.

    Likewise cross compilation for ARM processors (or any other processor) won't be that big a deal for *developers*, always keeping in mind most ARM devices are pathetic when it comes to horsepower. Windows 8 will do all the heavy lifting. That's what an OS is *for*, after all how many developers today have to worry about physical allocation of blocks on the disk drive, hmm?

    Conceptually Windows 8 shouldn't be that big a deal. Of course if you want to run Autocad on a *phone*... (evil grin)
  • Immersive Interface is not the only interface

    There is a tablet optimized interface as well as the standard interface.

    Apple and Open Source solutions create abandonware on a fairly regular basis. Apple ditched its hardware platform multiple times in the last decade, leaving its legacy customers with obsolete software and hardware. Open Source packages like Open Office and others end up abandoned by the consortiums that lead them due to sponsor company restructuring, disinterest by the lead developer, arrested for murdering his wife and a host of other reasons.

    As the market leader, Microsoft does not have the luxury afforded open source and Apple to simply deprecate its legacy software to abandonware. Microsoft has an responsibility and a duty to not only continue to innovate and lead, but to support the industries on which its innovation and leadership are based on.
    Your Non Advocate
  • The Ribbon UI is a nightmare

    "The Ribbon UI, previously seen in Office applications, makes its way to Windows 8."

    Just what I need. A UI that is cumbersome and ugly. Thanks a lot Microsoft.
    • Context-Sensitive Ribbon UI Rocks


      10 years ago when the only options for a file was to "Open", "Save", and "print", the antiquated menu system was adequate. However, with rich publishing capabilities and more features, the Ribbon UI in Office and in Sharepoint is fantastic. I can find the commands that I need effectively and efficiently without having to go through antiquated menus that are far too many layers deep.

      I can never go back to antiquated menus now that I have experienced the power and richness of the Ribbon UI.
      Your Non Advocate
    • You can turn off the ribbon

      @sismoc Just press CTRL + F1. Its a power user feature and will serve a great purpose. People have complained since Windows Vista that Windows Explorer has been dumbed down too much, the Ribbon should be a welcome change.
      Mr. Dee
  • RE: Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

    First of all AKH is creating a problem that doesn't exists in Win 8, its been clearly said that there is a dual interface. OEMs can customize the harware with different form factors and sell to the relevant crowd with Windows 8. Intel platforms will support legacy apps, so whoever wants legacy apps could buy intel stuff. Others who don't care about legacy apps could buy an intel/arm stuff.

    Windows 8 is going to a huge threat for other players who competes in the tablet space. One big company may even be out of business by this time next year in tablet space.
    • RE: Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

      @owlnet said:

      <quote>Windows 8 is going to a huge threat for other players who competes in the tablet space. One big company may even be out of business by this time next year in tablet space. </quote>

      Not seeing that. Apple will always be a niche luxury brand because Apple's walled garden approach and premium pricing. Although several OEMs may consolidate, that is par for the course.
      Your Non Advocate
      • RE: Microsoft's unanswered Windows 8 challenge - Legacy applications

        I don't think Apple will go away either. But I think they will lose much of their emergent Enterprise share and go back to the consumer toy space where they do so well.

        I suspect the losers will be the Android-based devices, now that Android is no longer free to use.