Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

Summary: A day after Microsoft showed off an early version of its user interface for Windows 8 -- and I've actually had a chance to actually see it (via videos and photos) -- I've got mixed feelings.

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A day after Microsoft showed off an early version of its user interface for Windows 8 -- and I've actually had a chance to actually see it (via videos and photos) -- I've got mixed feelings.

For tablets, I like the tiled interface that looks like it has taken its cues from Windows Media Center and Windows Phone. I've used the tiled interface on Windows Phone and I think it will be a great way to navigate Windows 8 when installed on a touch-first/touch-centric device.

For PCs, I am not so sure -- especially for legacy PCs, like my two-year-old ASUS thin and light laptop. Why would I put Windows 8 on this non-touch-centric machine? Yes, I heard Microsoft execs say that the so-called Modern Shell (MoSH) will allow users to interact with a keyboard and mouse. And I believe users will be able to switch between the touch-centric mode and a more traditional Aero interface mode with Windows 8. But why should the default interface, optimized for gestures and touch, be required on a machine that I never plan to put my grubby fingers on? Some good places to see the new Windows 8 UI:

Istartedsomething.com

ZDNet

Microsoft's "Building Windows 8" video

Engadget

Microsoft made it clear last night that -- contrary to expectations and rumors -- the new shell is going to be the default on all Windows 8 PCs, and not just tablets. Many of us Microsoft watchers had believed it would be the default on tablets.

If I am a business user with Windows Vista or Windows 7 installed on my existing PC, will I want to upgrade to a touch-centric Windows 8? Even if it has faster startup/shutdown/hibernate, a better built-in data-recovery mechanism, or a Windows Store for purchasing/keeping track of my apps? I'm not so sure.

I'm starting to wonder whether Microsoft has decided to target users who are planning to buy new PCs preloaded with Windows with Windows 8, and to just let the existing base stick with an older version of Windows. Given the emphasis by Microsoft execs during the June 1 demo of Windows 8 on the new kinds of immersive applications that will be possible with Windows 8, it does seem that Microsoft isn't thinking about users with legacy/line-of-business apps with its coming Windows release.

(And as one of my readers noted, if you're a developer, do you now write apps to work with Windows 8 "legacy" mode or Windows 8 touch-mode? Maybe Microsoft's decision to push HTML and JavaScript as the way to write new Windows 8 apps dictates that decision for you....)

On the Windows 8 ARM tablets that are coming, Microsoft officials have said there will be no compatibility later enabling existing Windows x86 applications to run on those devices. (That's why Microsoft is having to rejigger Office to work natively on ARM-based Windows 8 tablets.) On x86 Windows 8 PCs, there will be support for (some? all?) apps and peripherals that currently run on Windows 7, according to Microsoft's own statement:

"We also showed effortless movement between existing Windows programs and new Windows 8 apps. The full capabilities of Windows continue to be available to you, including the Windows Explorer and Desktop, as does compatibility with all Windows 7 logo PCs, software and peripherals."

(Microsoft hasn't yet confirmed how/whether it plans to include some kind of virtualization technology as part of Windows 8, allowing users to run older legacy and line-of-business apps.)

For a company that has tried to blur the lines between tablets and PCs, I guess Microsoft's new touch-optimized shell interface makes sense. But for a company that continues to play up how many more PCs are being sold than iPads and Android tablets, the new Windows 8 default UI seems like somewhat of an odd choice. As my ZDNet colleague Larry Dignan asks, "Can Windows 8 really do it all"?

What do you think?

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

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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153 comments
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  • Too early

    It's too early to judge Windows 8's UI. I say wait until you actually get the chance to give it a try on a legacy PC. It looks like it might be awkward but I'm sure they've thought of this use case. There are millions of business users who spend a great portion of their time sitting at a desk with a standard PC using business apps, after all, and Microsoft is not going to ignore this market segment.

    The demo shows Office 2010 running on Windows 8 along with the standard Windows desktop (note the ribbon interface in Windows Explorer). I'm sure this is done without "XP Mode"-style virtualization.
    aaron44126
    • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

      @aaron44126
      Fully agree with you.. this is pre-beta stage. We all know that inthis stage the UI will go trough a lot of fine-tuning. With a bilion users on Windows-whatever, MS should know how to treat every stage their users are in, in order to get to Win8. Remember there are more hen 100 million netbooks sold, so that is also a category they need to have in mind. I trust that Steven Sinofsky (as usual) knows what he's doing and will proof all the nay sayers wrong.
      vhaakmat
      • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

        @vhaakmat

        Agreed. They wouldn't be going forward with this if they didn't have a clue what they were doing. Sinofsky is far from an idiot.

        Microsoft has too many legacy users to just forget about. Relax and we'll see what they are planning most likely at the BUILD conference later this year. :)
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • This is the first indication that MS has even the slightest clue ...

        ... about what the future of computer is going to be about. The touch-optimized interface looks unique and innovative. They have finally moved some of the better design cues from their consumer UIs into Windows and it's exciting.

        But this new UI seems like it is just a bolted-on presentation layer. Underneath it all is still regular old Windows. I have serious doubts that MS will continue to make really bad concessions to "legacy support". Windows 7 really suffers from this and as a result and remains merely good when it could be great.
        RationalGuy
      • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

        @Cylon Centurion

        "Agreed. They wouldn't be going forward with this if they didn't have a clue what they were doing. Sinofsky is far from an idiot."

        Danger, Kin, Courier, PlaysForSure, Zunes, Slate/TabletPC/UMPC, yup this company always seem to have a clue of what they're doing.
        dave95.
      • Exactly!!!

        @vhaakmat

        No way MS will throw yet another flop to market... They know exactly what they are doing... Granted they knew exactly what they were doing with MS Bob and Windows ME... And Vista... And the Kin... But this is different... This is Windows... Not that ME wasn't windows... and not that Vista wasn't windows... This is windows 8 and there is no way in heck that MS will throw us another flopper... They know exactly what they are doing... I have complete faith in Balmer and believe he will hit a homer with this one... yup... 8th ones a charm... This one will show them all... it will be slim, lean, and compact, and it will do both touch and mouse and keyboard, and will have everything windows 7 has and more, but wll also be smaller and faster, and better and run faster, and it will run on tablets and laptops and desktops and netbooks and smart phones and they will all handle it perfectly and it will be more secure and unbreakable and made of teflon and eggs won't stick to it and it won't be the bad kind of teflon but it will be the good teflon...No need to worry one bit... And when MS is done with windows 8 they will make a family car that will go 500 miles on a single drop of water and when not in use it will shring to the size of a matchbook and you can put it in your pocket and you will never have to worry about parking and then the MS Genie will grant your last wish. but make sure this is a good one and is non selfish so the devil doesn't get your soul because that one good deed will break the contract you signed with the devil and she won't get your soul and you won't be super sensitive and sing about dolphin safe tuna and windows 8 will be the best thing EVER!!!! You just wait and see all you non believers who didn't get picked up in the rapture that happened a couple weeks ago... SINNERS!!!!! REPENT!!!! Oh look!!! Squirrels!!!
        i8thecat3
      • Vista wasn't a flop

        Microsoft sold many more copies of it than OSX. So if Vista is a flop, so is OSX.
        Michael Alan Goff
    • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

      @aaron44126
      Exactly right. Too soon to tell.

      Looks promising, though, I must say.
      x I'm tc
    • "Windows Portal"

      @aaron44126<br><br>This isn't a whole new OS, it's really just a "portal" view into the OS... and it's a pretty thin layer. Once you click past the tile your app can be whatever it wants to be. This adds a lot of potential while being touch-friendly to boot, but apps that don't benefit from it can easily ignore it.
      scH4MMER
  • I think it works

    Based on my interactions with mouse & keyboard with the Zune Software UI & also Media Center I think it works perfectly fine. I would not be too worried about the 'working/not working' section of it. I would be more concerned if folks will redevelop (or at least rebuild) their existing Windows apps with the new UI paradigm & also how well will they work across x86 vs ARM
    arnavdesai@...
    • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

      @arnavdesai@... Agree with u...No issues what so ever in using Zune on desktop..I think it should be same with the new start screen
      harsha.cs11
    • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

      @arnavdesai@...
      The HTML/JavaScript enviroment means the 8 Apps will work without a hitch on either x86 or ARM. I think legacy apps are bascially a no-go for ARM, however.
      x I'm tc
      • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

        @jdakula I'm sure .NET apps will work fine.
        vel0city
      • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

        @jdakula. Legacy native code apps will need to be re-built for ARM ... just as Microsoft have done with Office. Interesting thing is that so long as your code is pretty neat and tidy and doesn't take any architecture-specific dependencies (e.g. endian-ness), then it should largely just require a recompile.

        .NET code, on the other hand, should run untouched ... so long as you've not included any unsafe code or code that is processor architecture aware.
        bitcrazed
      • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

        Agree with u...No issues what so ever in using Zune on desktop..I think it should be same with the new start screen. <a href="http://www.writinghelp.co.uk/essay/">buy essay</a> | <a href="http://www.writinghelp.co.uk/assignment/">Buy Assignment</a> | <a href="http://www.writinghelp.co.uk/coursework/">Buy coursework</a> | <a href="http://www.writinghelp.co.uk/dissertation/">Buy Dissertation</a> | <a href="http://www.writinghelp.co.uk/thesis/">Buy Thesis</a>
        jasonhawk
    • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

      When MS released Visa/7 they were promoting WPF/Silverlight as the UI of the future, now it seems MS is focusing on HTML/JavaScript for UI. I love WPF/Silverlight, will the new windows 8 UI not be nativly support WPF?. If so, it makes no sense.

      Update. I accidently put this post in the wrong section. I meant to be responding to @jdakula (a few posts down). sorry
      PriMinister
  • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

    But why should the default interface, optimized for gestures and touch, be required on a machine that I never plan to put my grubby fingers on?//

    Well the reason i beleive MS is doing this by deafult is to give app developers more users to target...If they make it as default it will be on 100 milion devices in no time...

    Otherwise wht would happen is they have to chase silly developer like Rovio (Angry Birds) to make damm app..
    harsha.cs11
    • Used to work in an office

      @harsha.cs11 around 1997, and every so often someone would say loudly "NO I don't want to turn my desktop in to a browswer". How little has changed.
      HollywoodDog
    • RE: Windows 8: Nice for tablets, but what about PCs?

      @harsha.cs11
      From what I gathered, that's not exactly the default UI. It's just new. I'm sure you'll be able to change it to the more traditional one. My desktop will use the old one, and my future Windows tablet will use the new UI. And switching between the two looked extremely easy.
      Darkninja962
    • I totally agree...

      To start; I am a Microsoft fan and developer as well. But I sometimes wonder who is at the wheel of MS. Sometimes it seems they have let the internet/cloud/java contingent hijack the whole ship. My customers are business users and this UI isn't going to go over well. I guess Microsoft has decided that the consumer market is where the money is. Remember Windows Mobile; they essentially abandoned the business side of it.

      If they are serious about getting business users they should at least have some demos showing someone using this thing who has to juggle daily a bundle of legacy apps (not to mention jumping over to the "green screen" to access the mainframe). People are not going to rewrite legacy apps for the Metro anytime in the near future. And the learning curve is pretty daunting. Color me puzzled.
      batpox