Five reasons why the Windows desktop isn't going away

Five reasons why the Windows desktop isn't going away

Summary: The speculation on the next version of Windows (code-named Blue) is getting out of hand. Based on a few screenshots and one offhand remark from a prominent Windows blogger, one of my colleagues is convinced that the Windows desktop is an endangered species. Nope. Not gonna happen.

TOPICS: Windows 8, Microsoft

I really didn’t want to write about Windows Blue this week.

For one thing, it’s the last day of my vacation. More importantly, there’s practically no actual information about Blue to write about. Microsoft is only talking in vague generalities. I’m not going to download bootleg software from questionable sources and try to reverse-engineer it, nor do I want to spend a lot of time staring at screen shots from people who are willing to do that.


But my ZDNet colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, who seems to write more about Windows 8 than any of the actual Microsoft experts here at ZDNet, has no such compunctions.

Vaughan-Nichols, on the thinnest possible evidence, is convinced that Microsoft is going to ditch the Windows desktop in the next major release of Windows. “No Windows desktop mode!? No!” he writes.

His post begins, “It comes as no surprise to anyone who reads my stories that I hate Windows 8's Metro interface…” Really? Well, at least we can give him some points for honesty.

No points for clear, factual analysis, though. Sorry.

I apologize that you had to read this nonsensical speculation on ZDNet. And even though I didn’t want to do this, I feel compelled to set the record straight.

No, Microsoft is not going to jettison the Windows desktop. Anyone who thinks that’s even remotely possible needs to just stop writing about Microsoft.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Let's start with the “evidence.”

Paul Thurrott, of Windows Supersite fame, has now published two posts about the leaked Windows Blue build 9364.

The first is based on screenshots from a Polish tech blog.

Let me repeat that: An American blogger looked at screenshots of a leaked Windows alpha build published in Polish and wrote detailed captions for them, adding a few morsels of speculation.

Paul then downloaded a bootleg copy of the software from who knows where and did a “quick run-through” in a second blog post. In that post, as an aside, he writes:

More, but not all, of the settings in Control Panel have been ported to the Metro-based PC settings, yet another indication that the desktop environment is on the way out.

There. That’s the line that has my colleague so concerned about the future of Windows.

Of course, I am just a wee bit concerned that his concerns about the future of Windows are less than sincere. This is, after all, the same man who earlier this month wrote Five reasons why Windows 8 has failed, following in the footsteps of his Five ways to skip Windows 8 (July 2012) and Five ways to avoid Windows 8 (May 2012) and Five Reasons why Windows 8 will be dead on arrival (February 2012).

Hmmm. I detect a pattern here.

In the same spirit as those posts, let me lay out the five reasons why the Windows desktop is not going away.

1. Four million desktop apps need to run somewhere. Back in 2010, at the International CES in Las Vegas, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer noted that four million desktop programs run on Windows 7. All of those programs run on Windows 8, too. Backward compatibility is the lifeblood of Windows. The idea that those legacy apps will be orphaned in a single release is ludicrous.

2. Corporate customers and OEMs would mutiny. Corporate customers need to write custom apps that run on Windows. Those apps need to do things that aren’t possible in the highly constrained Windows 8 app model. And those corporate customers with their volume licenses pay billions of dollars in license fees to Microsoft every year for Windows. Say what you want about Steve Ballmer, but don’t try to tell me he’s going to willingly give up one of Microsoft’s most lucrative revenue streams. And if you think that, well, then you probably think Richard Stallman is next in line to be Chief Technical Officer of Microsoft.

3. Refactoring old-fashioned dialog boxes into a more touch-friendly interface is an evolutionary step. The whole point of Windows 8 is to enable touch as a primary user input mechanism, alongside the mouse and keyboard. That makes it possible for Microsoft’s PC-building OEM partners to build hybrid devices that can smoothly shift from conventional PC to tablet and back again. (I looked at three such devices just a few weeks ago.) In the first release of Windows 8, a limited selection of Control Panel functions were converted to the new modern/Metro UI. Did anyone not expect that the long-term goal was to move more and more of these functions to the modern UI? Yes, that means the old desktop Control Panel is being deprecated, and that Windows users will probably need to drop to the desktop less often in Blue. It doesn’t mean the desktop is vanishing.

4. Removing the desktop would be more trouble than it’s worth. Many hundreds of thousands of words have been written about the complexity of Windows. Windows developers have spent years making the OS simpler, and more modular, with some success. But ripping out the desktop completely is, if not impossible, at least highly unlikely. Maybe in a decade the need for the desktop will vanish. But that day won’t come this year or next.

5. Microsoft already has a “no desktop” option: Windows RT. When Windows 8 shipped last October, Windows RT shipped right alongside it. Microsoft is committed to both platforms. One has the ability to run Windows desktop apps; the other doesn’t. Does anyone really believe that Microsoft would dump the OS that sold 60 million copies in its first two months and put all its chips on the one that has sold perhaps a million or two copies in the same period? If so, I want to play poker with you.

As for the leaked build of Blue, all we have so far is a superficial analysis of some UI changes. We don’t know what’s new in the WinRT APIs. We don’t know what changes have been made to the storage subsystem or the security model or the kernel or any of the other crucial Windows internals. For that news, we’ll have to wait just a few months, for the just-announced Build 2013 conference.

Meanwhile, I’m going to predict that bloggers who’ve been hating on Windows 8 and its radical new interface since the day it was announced are going to be dissatisfied with anything Microsoft does with the next version of Windows.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to the beach.

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft

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  • HAND

    Here's the pattern I detect:

    1. Windows 8 UEFI boot locked OS to PC.

    2. Rapid move to METRO.

    3. Expensive Surface devices: more expensive than iPad's!

    4. MSFT taking parasitic cut of developer profits a la APPL.

    5. Expensive Office 2013 subscriptions.

    6. Perlow telling me I am going to be assimilated by the cloud, like it or not. (I like it a lot, providing MSFT, APPL, GOOG or AMAZON aren't pulling the strings and dictating the costs.)

    The desktop may not be disappearing ... but it will have little focus in the MSFT's vision of the consumer world.

    We don't need SJVN and PT clutching at straws ... we need you to 'wake up smarter'.

    Have a nice (last) day.
    • Wrong...

      1. This has been discussed to death and proven wrong over and over and over again. Secure Boot does NOT prevent you from installing other OS options, if you so choose to do so. YOU have the option to shut off Secure Boot and do whatever you wish.

      2. Rapid move to Metro, even in this article, is for one purpose only... enhance the operational value of Windows in a touch environment. I've not seen one piece of evidence other than shift control panel items to suggest that the desktop is gone. Even Paul Thurrott says that everything is still there... right where it belongs, and moreover, I haven't seen that the old control panel elements are suddenly missing. And even a sudden shift to Metro isn't a bad thing as long as developers do it well. There are lots of great, well-done apps and lots of bad ones... just like on ANY OTHER PLATFORM.

      3. Wrong again. Surface RT with keyboard is cheaper than it's closest iPad equivalent by $100. Surface Pro is NOT an iPad competitor, it's a MacBook Air competitor, and it's cheaper and more functional than those too.

      4. So does Google. What's your point? At least Microsoft does it fairly and equitably, and the developers actually make more money per-app than other platforms.

      5. What you call expensive, I call better value. I get more storage, more functionality, more availability, and more devices licensed with one subscription than I have ever had before.

      6. Cloud sync is certainly an enhancement of the experience, but I don't see any indication that it's required. When I first signed on to Windows 8, I had a choice to use a Live ID or not. I don't have to use those options if I prefer not to use them. I happen to love them since I can sync everything between my Surface Pro and my Lumia 920. It's a far more seamless experience than other platforms, in my experience.
      • thanks...

        I was going to address this but you did it.
        • Ed Bott

          ...For President.

          Thank you for setting this topic strait.
          • I guess we witnessed

            the end of a beautiful friendship........:-((

            Regardless of that: I switched to Ubuntu (if I have to get used to another UI I might as well take the jump)
          • booooohooooo

            Let me cry a river on this.
          • Haha..

            I was looking for one of these posts.. Glad I didn't have to scroll for too long lol...
          • Water-man... any flavor of Linux is far superior to anything Surface relate

            But if your a Loverock Davidson or a Owlllnet1 type person you'll always be stuck behind the eight ball in a Windows world with no way out.

            At least with Apple & Linux you have choice.
            Over and Out
          • What choice?

            You use Apple's extremely limited hardware selection or you go with a hacked version, which isn't really marketed nor widely an option for the average Joe. Sure, you can install Linux on just as many or even more systems that Windows, but you still have tons of choices with Windows. Again, it isn't marketed for nor widely available as Macs nor PCs. Not to mention, with Linux you have a much more limited catalog of available software to stick on said system.

            It sounds like your on the opposite side as the two you mentioned where you have continual hate for anything Microsoft. You don't have to like something nor use it to recognize it's a move forward. I'll never buy a MacBook Air, but I recognize that it was the first product to fill that niche of ultraportable. I'll never buy a Chromebook, but I recognize it's a wonderful tool for schools and elderly people with a constant connection and very few needs simply due to its price.
          • Far superior?

            Let's see, outside of my job, where I mostly these days use Eclipse for GWT work or Visual Studio for Microsoft Web based (MVC is a fantastic framework, almost as good as Rails) stuff, I use the following applications regularly:

            1/ Lightroom
            2/ Photoshop CS6
            3/ Premiere Pro and/or Vegas
            4/ ProShow Gold
            5/ SonicFire Pro

            Some times I do

            6/ Digital Juice juicer
            7/ Looks Builder

            Of all of those, there is an equivalent on Linux for

            1/ None
          • And which one of those is available for Surface RT...

            ...just agreeing with Ed... if Microsoft kills the desktop, you'll be in no better shape using Linux than Windows....
          • software titles

            The software titles you mentioned, are apparently not yet available on Linux. There are other software titles that do the same thing, but you may not want to learn anything new, this is understandable.

            But most of these titles exist for Apple's OS X, except Visual Studio. So no, you are in no way tied to Windows. One can argue that if there is enough demand, Adobe will just port their software to Linux too.
          • except for

            The cost of re-purchasing already paid for software to run on newly purchased equipment. If these would run on Linux, maybe, but switching to OS-X would be too expensive.
        • Ed Bott is jealous of SJVN

          SJVN generates so many more mouse clicks than he does.

          • Journalist

            Ed Bott's approach is a true journalistic approach. Even his comments are based on facts. SVG’s posts on Microsoft related topic are motivated by his hate for Microsoft and this idea of his that every one of us should turn to Ubuntu. Knowing that, because SVG can’t control his emotions when posting on Zdnet, I can’t consider him a respectful journalist.

            Ubuntu might be nice and fast but the lack of drivers for many peripherals alone makes it unusable in the enterprise level. The very few software available and the total absence of a network of recognized professional supporting this platform are also major letdown for Ubuntu. These days, creating an OS is not as hard as it used to, but making it relevant is another. Windows and Apple OSX are the only professional grade desktop OS for these reasons.

            The fact that Microsoft is shifting Windows is a different direction, based on their view of what will be the next thing might not be well understood or accepted by many. Especially the ones that wants to see MS Dead. I don’t get their strategy completely either, especially the fact that there is no “Desktop only” version of Windows 8, but I do understand that we are not using computers the same way we use to. We don’t use them to get our emails and browse the web for an information like a few years ago. Now we do this on our phones or tablets. The reason why less new PC’s are selling these days is simply because we don’t need them like we use to and anyway, we spend a lot on Tablets and Cell phone. The relevancy it to me redone. The PC needs to reinvent itself. Windows need to reinvent itself also as a unified system that can run on any platform. For now it is a compromised OS but Microsoft is making it better as we speak.

            As for Ubuntu. We will see how it evolves but where not there yet.
          • MS changed to COMPETE with Ubuntu, don't you know that?

            Four years ago, Canonical came up with the 'unity' idea. Granted, the idea itself has been floating around since the late 1980's, and is a popular sci-fi theme; but Canonical made it a business plan, just read what Shuttleworth (sp?) says about it (was the article in Business Insider? well, you can google).

            So think: four years ago, 2008. MS started to do the same thing, but it was a bit slower and still struggling with Vista problems, Office 2007 backlash, etc. Then comes the obvious imitation, XBox interface in Win8, but still patterned after a 'unity' idea. Because, they have to compete with 'free'.

            I tried Ubuntu and rejected it after six tries, due to its lack of GUI customizability and S L O W N E S S, even on an i7 quad with 8 GB RAM. No appreciable difference between it on that, versus Core 2 Duo or even Xeon.

            Win8 is slower, too. Maybe the under-the-hood stuff is technically faster than Win7, but you can't really know that, since now your mouse can only move sideways, the glitz of waiting an extra second or two each time as your tiles waft majestically left when you 'scroll'. Now you have to type commands (yeah, like in the terminal), whereas in older MS versions it's a quick mouse-click and you're in your MULTIPLE windows.

            Not to mention, the befuddlement time cost. 'How do I' adds to the time it takes to do the simplest things, even shutting down the machine.

            So you've two slower choices, now: Ubuntu, or Win8.

            Think I'll stay on XP. :)
          • If you find linux slower than windows on the same hardware ...

            ... you are really doing something wrong.
          • Completely agree except for one thing.

            SJVN thinks Ubuntu's a dud too. He hawks Mint.
          • Ask around...

            Even us Linux users do not show much love for Ubuntu these days. Don't Know why SJVN is still pushing it. Seriously, try Fedora, CentOS, AntiX, Mepis, Suse, Mint, Debian and/or Slackware. Just DON'T try Ubuntu. Heck, go insane and try the BSD flavors. Ubuntu is starting to be almost spyware. Stay away from Ubuntu.
          • Device support

            Device driver support is a straw man argument. If you are doing a Linux deployment, you make sure you buy devices that work with it. If you are THINKING about making a hardware purchase and may POSSIBLY go with Linux in the future, again, check for Linux support before you buy. Frankly, only the low-end "Win" devices lack support, which mostly consists of cheap consumer oriented devices.

            I make purchasing recommendations for our clients which range in size from 2 person operations to organizations with hundreds of employees. They trust my judgement because it's backed with 20 years IT experience. The devices I specify either use open standards and mechanisms which are OS independent or are specifically supported by Windows. All our clients are ready for whatever the future throws their way.

            In regards to device support, really there are only a few categories that we have issues with, Win-Printers and Win-Scanners - which are the bottom of the barrel office supply store garbage. The "business class" hardware available at places like Best Buy, Staples, etc. is VERY limited and you have to be Very picky when making purchases there. Best to go through a REAL vendor that only deals with business-class equipment and not consumer level junk.

            By the way, that Win-Scanner you bought 10 years ago? It's (probably) not supported in Win7 or Win8. Just thought you should know before upgrading from XP (which many many businesses are still running including fortune-500's.)

            Bringing it all back to the topic at hand, Metro does not enhance the experience for any of our clients that have tried it. It reduces productivity on the desktop and really doesn't belong there. It's fine in a tablet environment however.