Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

Summary: Yes, but Windows 8 will be long gone and forgotten before 'rich' apps are gone.

TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility

The Windows desktop environment has traditionally been dominated by 'rich' applications that are feature-packed and multipurpose in nature (think of something like Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Word or Mozilla's Firefox), but with Windows 8, specifically Windows 8 on ARM (WoA) devices, the pendulum is swinging the other way, towards lightweight, single-purpose, touch-based apps such as those found on smartphones and tablets.

Will Windows 8 be the death of 'rich' apps?

I think that the answer is yes, but that Windows 8 will be long gone and forgotten before 'rich' apps are gone.

I've written before about how one of the strongest points of Windows is the legacy support it offers for software and hardware. I wrote this on the subject earlier this month:

First, legacy. One of the things that keeps people using Windows is excellent legacy support. Windows offers unprecedented support for old hardware and software. It’s one of the things that Microsoft is good at doing. This comes at the cost of bloat and bigger install images, but increases in disk capacities and processing power have offset that. With the move to ARM, there is no such thing as legacy. The word will not apply. The slate will be wiped clean and it will be a fresh start.

WoA hardware won't offer any support for existing x86 software (all the stuff that you've already bought and paid for), and the only source for apps that you'll have is Metro apps from the Microsoft app store or side-loaded enterprise apps (it'll be the same model as currently applies to the iPad), and it's unlikely that these Metro apps won't be 'rich' apps.

I'm not alone in thinking that 'rich' apps are dead. But I'm also not alone in thinking that the demise of 'rich' apps won't happen overnight. Here's how Patrick Moorhead, former VP of AMD and now president and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategy, sees the situation:

I’ve heard the argument that says, “rich” apps are yesterday and the apps of the future are like Metro.  To some extent they are right, but if you were around when the market moved from DOS to Windows, you know if took years to make the switch.  Many enterprises still use DOS-based apps in a shell today. Just like many consumers fought moving from DOS to Windows, many will fight moving from Desktop to Metro.  There are differences between then and now.  The biggest difference is that on WoA systems, users won’t be given both, they will only be given one choice, Metro.  Secondly, there isn’t a good way to make a dense layout work on Metro.  Some will be OK with it, some won’t.  Those who won’t will buy systems based on Intel or AMD.

WoA will mean the death of 'rich' apps on ARM hardware right from the start, and users will have to choose whether they're happy with this and buy into the platform or choose to stick with Intel or AMD based systems (although it's possible that this will still mean being exposed to the touch-based Metro UI, even on non-touch hardware). But Metro apps will also be available for Intel and AMD (x86) hardware, and users will have the choice of traditional 'rich' apps, or simplified Metro apps. Because Metro apps (like iOS and Android apps) will be significantly cheaper than corresponding 'rich' apps, this will mean that they will appeal to users (cheap always appeals). Also, the simplicity of such apps is likely to be attractive to many. Over time, cheaper Metro style apps are likely to erode the dominance that 'rich' apps have on the desktop, and as a result of this the landscape will evolve.

Note: Bear in mind that there is always a tendency to move towards complexity. As devices such as smartphones and tablets get faster, it's possible that Metro style apps could evolve into something that's between the simple apps we see today and the more complex 'rich' apps.

There will always be room (and a need) for 'rich' apps, but cheaper, simpler apps will be attractive to consumers and enterprise alike (assuming developers get on board). But I'm also willing to admit that it's quite possible that a few versions of Windows on from Windows 8 that Microsoft will have fostered an ecosystem that allows it to make Metro apps he default and relegate 'rich' apps to legacy.

That will represent a massive shakeup of the PC industry.


Topics: Hardware, Mobility

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  • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

    I have to disagree with this post. I've spent some time with the API and have to say that the amount of available controls, features and UI customization is really rich and expansive (look at the Build app to see some of the things).

    There's a lot more to it than Windows Phone Mango, or the sample apps on the Developer Preview and I'm sure that, with a bit of learning, "rich apps" like Photoshop, MySQL WorkBench, Visual Studio,... could easily be recreated (better) using the Metro UI.
    • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

      @kyeahy I have to agree with you.

      Also Microsoft hasn't announced all their intentions yet. If WINRT can run on ARM and x86, perhaps .NET can as well. Perhaps Microsoft will provide a way for developers to compile their .NET apps for multiple CPU's (considering there is already a switch in the VS compiler today for CPU choice). The fact that Microsoft already demonstrated Office and IE running on ARM, it's safe to say that if you really want to target ARM for "Rich" applications you can. It's really the "Legacy" applications that are in danger.
      • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

        .NET apps aren't CPU dependent today, yes, you can choose the CPU type but that doesn't do anything if you only have managed code in your solution.
      • Cratering the Income Statement

        [ul][i]Microsoft hasn't announced all their intentions yet[/i][/ul]Here is what one of their intentions is NOT: they do not intend to create an environment in which they will be forced to sell Office apps for 99 cents.

        This is what Adrian is alluding to. There's virtually no way to stop it, because somewhere out there is a startup that knows that a stripped-down Word knockoff that does 90% of what Word does (the 90% that is all that 95% of users ever use), and that is sold for 99 cents, will make a lot of money.

        Note that "a lot of money" in that sentence refers to the perspective of a startup. To Microsoft, a 99-cent Word replacement sounds like 30 simultaneous root canals.

        This is the stuff that kills companies. The new technology comes along, it threatens to knock the pins out from under the current Good Times, and so all the companies that are experiencing Good Times fight it with every fiber of their being. Meanwhile, The New Guys move in and take over the place using the new technology.

        You can bet that some of the most heated meetings at Microsoft these days have to do with how to keep the Office franchise the cash cow it is in the face of 99-cent apps that do one thing well. The truth is, there's probably no way, just as there was no way to keep the VAX profitable in the face of the 8086.
        Robert Hahn
        • OpenOffice or LibreOffice

          You mean, like OpenOffice or LibreOffice? Either of them have ALL of the commonly used features, and a lot of the less-frequently used features as well. The only M$Office app that doesn't have a counterpart in OpenOffice is Access - which is the only reason I haven't completely transitioned to OO.
      • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

        @Robert Hahn

        Have you used word? 90% of the features is a massive amount of features and would take a large development staff to pull off. 10% of the features? Perhaps. But Office Mobile does that already and I see no reason they wouldn't continue to include that for free with the OS. Especially the ARM version that's built for tablet devices. Much like I have on my phone. MS could easily sell the Office Mobile suite for $10 if it's not included and make tons of money. Then they'd also offer the full suite to power users.
    • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

      @kyeahy Rich apps still have a place, but Microsoft ill no longer be necessary to keep everything running. It could just be the demise of Windows.
      • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

        I call it "[b]iPanic[/b]".

        Legacy programs are Windows strength (Linux fans call it "Lock-in").
    • If rich applications disappear, so would Microsoft

      I agree with the proposition that if Microsoft defines the rich applications as "legacy", I think that it would be Microsoft that would be facing extinction, not the rich applications.

      If Microsoft decides to develop apps for the touch screen primarily, this, by definition, would lead to simplified apps that would be a mere shadow of the current ones. Can one imagine what a "Metro-style" Excel would look like? In order to utilize touch, the cells have to be large enough, reducing substantially what one can place in menus and the data displayed on screen.

      Obviously, those who have a need for "rich" spreadsheets, rich word processors and rich presentation software, are unlikely to stick around. Progressively, Windows PCs would disappear from the enterprise to be replaced either by Macs (assuming Apple retains its commitment to rich apps), Linux machines or other systems that would offer access to these rich apps.

      What would happen to Microsoft if it loses the enterprise? The company is unlikely to win as extensive a control of the consumer space as it had in the enterprise. In addition, it would not be capable of charging as much in the consumer space as it charges in the enterprise. Thus, the company would contract, potentially fragment, or even disappear. Who knows, actually Apple may buy it in a few years to make sure that decent versions of Office are available in Macs that are flooding the enterprise.

      Thus, Microsoft, in its monomaniac pursuit of the consumer, it is in grave danger of antagonizing power users and the enterprise and in doing so, it undermines the very foundation of the company. However, at this time, it does not seem willing to reconsider and it would charge ahead.

      My feeling is that Microsoft feels that it can "modulate" the future. If Win8 meets resistance, then it would keep on selling Win7 and even slightly modify it and present it as "Win8 Business" or something like this. But it would only backtrack if revenue following the Win8 experiment appears to be running well below projections.
  • I think this is patently wrong

    I do think that we will see an increase in "immersive apps" that maybe don't do everything, but rather one thing well. But "rich apps" if you will aren't going anywhere. What Photoshop does today fills needs that won't be able to go unmet ten years from now, any more easily than they do today.

    Nobody will be able to write a Metro app ten years from now without Visual Studio. The same goes for whatever descendant of iOS xcode is used for. Musicians who make music will still need their Pro Tools. Final Cut Pro or Avid will still be needed by video production people.

    Line of business apps won't be touch screen fart apps either, for that matter.
    • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

      Agreed with this post. Are we really delusional to think that "rich apps", will go away? I think this is as stupid as someone saying the traditional PC will go away. They've declined a little bit, yes, because there are users who really don't need them who finally realized that the iPad and Angry Birds/fart apps are their speed. Developers, serious task-oriented users and hobbyist will still have them.

      I've always though how stupid it would be if 70% of what I did with PC's would end up on a tablet. Not only how slow it would be for me to complete the task, but how I not have the right tools to do the job.
      Those who hunt Trolls
      • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

        @Those who hunt Trolls <br><br>Exactly. The best way to tell that someone has no idea what they are talking about is when they tell you the PC is 'so yesterday'. They've been saying it since 1996. Here we are. So shall we be.<br><br>I write. I use Word. If I wanted to use a word processor that had the look and functionality of a product created by a semi-smart sixth grader, I'd be using it now. And really, 99c apps? Sometimes it's true you get what you pay for. This is one of them.<br><br>In five years or less, a tablet will be as powerful as the laptop I use now. But I'll still need a keyboard. Why would I buy a tablet? So I can look cool? That's the hipster-doofus crowd.<br><br>Adrian, it speaks volumes about ZDNet that they pay you for this tripe. Why don't you, in your next column, explain how the battleship will always be the unchallenged ship of the line. Or if man were intended to fly, 'God' would have given him wings. Or Linux will replace Windows on home PCs by 2000. I've been listening to 'tards like you tell me the PC was dead since before you were born. It doesn't sound any better now than it did in the '90s. When will you learn?
  • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

    "Line of business apps won't be touch screen fart apps either, for that matter."

    Correct, they'll be terminal apps just like they are today.
  • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

    This blog post ignores one huge thing--cloud apps. Majority of the "rich" apps can and will be ported to the cloud within the next few years with "terminal" access apps from the Metro, Android or iOS. Apple, Google, and Amazon are already betting big on the cloud "rich" apps with Microsoft just starting to understand this while trying to milk the dying cows (Windows and Office).
    • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps


      Office 365 and Azure are far better than what Google offers as an alternative. So perhaps you should state Google and Apple are just starting to figure this out. Amazon is ahead of the game.
  • It's like the difference between a "meal" and a "snack"

    What you are calling "rich" apps are actually full blown programs and are much like a sit down "meal". Apps are more like a "snack", bite-size, quick, and easy to eat.

    We will always have a need for real "meals" (programs that are full-featured). Snack food (Apps) will not completely replace sit-down dinners.
    • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

      This I can agree on. Just like a good segment of the market will need a full PC as oppose to a tablet. There are many of us who can attest that we use more than email, facebook and fart apps as our software.

      I sure as hell don't like the idea of having to have 15+ apps to do a project.
      Those who hunt Trolls
      • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

        @Those who hunt Trolls Funny but true!
    • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

      @sismoc Someone who sees reality, wont be purchasing any dumb apps or what ever you call them.
  • RE: Windows 8 and the death of 'rich' apps

    The source of this apparent industry shakeup is the massive computer democratization that happened in the recent years.
    The transition to reduced-functionality applications is nothing but normal since the main target user group is now the normal consumer, the non-professionals.
    If Microsoft properly markets Windows 8, it will really target the two groups: Metro for the touch-first, tablet based experience with simpler application designed for the general consumer market. Then, the desktop Windows 8 experience for professionals, geeks and enthousiasts, with the PC-era style applications. This market will continue for a fairly long time since the day has not come where complex development environments, CAD, heavy video editing software, to name few of them, will happen on reduced experience systems.