Windows 8 and Surface: Why has Microsoft gone so quiet?

Windows 8 and Surface: Why has Microsoft gone so quiet?

Summary: There are a lot of stupid Surface and Windows 8 stories about — and it's all Microsoft's fault.


If you have an MSDN subscription, you can get your hands on Windows 8 RTM today. Press F5 to refresh the page 8,888 times and it will appear, goes one joke making the rounds on Twitter, because no one knows what time it will be available.

And downloading RTM is the only way to find out exactly what's different from the Release Preview or what the desktop looks like without Aero Glass — because Microsoft hasn't been sharing many details since announcing RTM on 1 August.

Steven Sinofsky at Microsoft Build.
Windows chief Steven Sinofsky gave lots of details about Windows 8 at Build. Photo: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

The Windows RT version of Microsoft's impressive Surface tablet will be on sale 26 October when Windows 8 PCs ship. We have no idea how much it will cost, and rumours have put the price absurdly high and absurdly low by turns, with Microsoft saying nothing more than that it will be competitively priced.

The WinRT framework is supposed to be the same on Windows 8 and Windows RT, and we've been told all along that WinRT apps will run on both. You can call these apps Metro styled, Modern or, confusingly, Windows 8 apps. But WinRT is the clearest way to distinguish between apps that can use the nifty Share and Search contracts and those that can't.

About 90 percent of the WinRT apps in the Windows Store do run on both, which may answer a question I've been asking for many months. There's a subset of COM and Win32 that WinRT apps can access that we've known about since last September. Given that there must be some version of COM and Win32 in Windows RT to run the desktop and Office and desktop Internet Explorer, will apps using that approved subset run on Windows RT too?

I'm guessing the 10 percent of Store apps that won't means the answer is no, but I'm still waiting for an official response.

How many of the rumours and questions matter to people who will buy Windows RT and Windows 8? Directly, very few of them. Indirectly though, they affect the developers who need to build the applications that Windows 8 and RT have to have to succeed. If there's a background of confusion and frustration among more technical users it can easily filter out to the mainstream.

Look at the negative comments about Windows Vista circulated by people who turned out to have never used Vista — because when Microsoft showed it to some critics and claimed it was a secret new OS, they didn't recognise it and praised it to the skies. Devious? Sure, but as with libel and slander, I tend to think truth is a pretty good defence.

Information about Windows 8 has come from Microsoft in something of a reverse pyramid. For the press, the Build conference started with a full day of presentations and hands-on demos, plus a loan tablet to use for the week.

The conference sessions, the official blog and MSDN were crammed with information, and many people from the Windows team talked about the technology and principles of Windows 8 in detail. Over the past 11 months, the Building Windows blog has continued to publish in-depth and notoriously lengthy pieces about specific components, technologies and experiences. But the Windows team has said less and less in other ways.

Some journalists had the Consumer Preview early to prepare coverage, with detailed discussions of what was new and when it would be available. For Release Preview, there was much less time to prepare and much less opportunity to ask questions. For the RTM announcement, there was no notice at all and no information beyond the blog and press release that went out.

Microsoft might feel it's said everything it needs to say about Windows 8 and that the product can speak for itself. Not announcing a price for Surface RT means Microsoft can react to other products launching. If the iPad Mini is real, it might make more of a difference to the final price of Surface than the Nexus 7.

Saving the final look of the desktop for RTM gave the Windows and Office teams time to make their interface style match without pre-empting the announcement of the Office 2013 Consumer Preview or bringing up awkward questions about why Office and Explorer looked so different.

Microsoft seems to want to save nitty-gritty details about Windows RT for the launch of Windows RT and the next Build conference. But when Microsoft doesn't speak out, the rumours proliferate.

This level of attention is obviously good for Microsoft. Making people impatient to find out about your products? Great news.

Two years ago, even the most loyal Microsoft fan could hardly call the company cool. This week alone I've seen multiple stories saying Microsoft doesn't get enough credit for its designs, its workplace and its products. But I don't believe that there's no such thing as bad publicity. There's a fine line between anticipation and frustration, after all.

Topics: Microsoft, Tablets, Windows

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • Because only Apple is allowed to be secretive,

    tight lipped, quite, ect on it's products, and is praised for being so.

    Everyone else in the world must announce all their plans, pricing, ect as they are just the rest of the companies in the world.
    William Farrel
    • The difference is, Microsoft couldn't shut up

      about Windows 8 two weeks ago.
      • Why can't YOU shut up?

        • Why should I shaddup?

          Leave my sock puppet alone, fuckwad.
      • That's right. They gave enough out to entice, and then let it be

        As they, as other companies, don't have the press writing story after story about what the next iPhone or iPad will be, in essence, "talking it up, enticing people" for Apple.

        The end result is similar.
        William Farrel
    • So unfair

      You're right, the way Microsoft is treated is so unfair. Maybe we should chug on over to namby-pamby land, where maybe we can find some self-confidence for you, ya jackwagon.

      Robert Hahn
    • Re: Because only Apple is allowed to be secretive

      Actually, that isn't working so well for Apple any more, either. You may have noticed they suffered declining sales the last two quarters in a row, which hadn't happened before in about 5 years.
    • IMO there is one big difference

      In regard to MS you are talking about a product that has been announce and a release date set but they are being tight lipped. With Apple they might be tight lipped about upcoming products but only until the point they are actually announced, then all the details are released.
  • Windows 8 and Surface: Why has Microsoft gone so quiet?

    They have gone quiet because they don't need to leak every single detail. They build anticipation to garner interest. Such info will come when the time is right. Microsoft can't control the rumors and probably have no interest. They will just wow us when their products are released that way expectations are not above or below.

    "How many of the rumours and questions matter to people who will buy Windows RT and Windows 8? Directly, very few of them. Indirectly though, they affect the developers who need to build the applications that Windows 8 and RT have to have to succeed. "

    Developers shouldn't be building off rumors, they should be building off of specs. Things change, projects change, features change.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Surface..

      I believe it was announced so early so they could steal the tablet thunder from Google which announced the Nexus7 one week later and hopefully freeze people from buying current tablets until October.

      As cool as it was to see microsoft step up, they left way to many questions unanswered. For example, not letting anyone at the press event to actually type on the keyboard cover isn't a good sign of how well they were working.

      I don't see Microsoft being cool and collective about releasing info for windows RT, but rather unable to as there is still to much to work out.
      • I believe the Surface was announced when it was because...

        ...It hit the point where keeping it a secret any longer became impracticable. At some point, you need to talk to a much wider circle of people about a product (less tightly managed partners, possible channel partners, advertising agencies, etc). Once a company makes an FCC filing (to get the sticker on the back), some parts of a product become public knowledge.

        Look at Apple's original iPhone and iPad launches (not the recent ones, the original ones) - there were months-long lapses between the "unveiling" of the product and general availability. It's reasonably easy with V2, V3... Vn of a product to say "here's what this year's model is like, you can buy it tomorrow". That is *much* harder to do with V1.
      • at the risk of reigniting a flame war

        both Simon and I typed on working keyboards at the launch of Surface...
  • OMG, $199 surface pricing rumours abound

    over the last 19 hours, and MSFT hasn't responded yet!

    It's all their fault!
    milo ducillo
    • Well that's why we have you, milo

      To give us the blow-by-blow account.

      • Edit: But nevertheless, I agree with your sarcasm

        Well said.
  • I am glad Microsoft is opening the kimono carefully

    The way Sinofsky's org has designed, developed, marketed and released Windows is far, FAR better than the way Allchin flubbed the development and release of XP & Vista.

    I can understand bloggers & journalists being a little frustrated that they are not getting the inside access and frequent information dissemination they've been used to in the past, but I think it safe to say that the carefully controlled way in which Sinofsky is releasing information has resulted in far more effective communications than at any time in Microsoft's past.

    The Longhorn over-communication debacle followed by the very embarrassing reset and the rushed release of the ever-changing Vista was a very painful experience to work through.

    I for one am FAR more confident that when Sinofsky says that specific features will be released, and how they work, that those features WILL be shipped as described.

    We should stop expecting Microsoft to tell us every single microscopic detail of their product release strategy. They'll tell us when their plans and details are finalized and when they're ready to tell a clear story.
    • I wonder how many people will...

      ..."get it" when it comes to your subject...

      Either way, you're right, it is "open kimono", look but don't touch. Yet.
    • Overly confident

      Why would you blindly trust Sinofsky's words?

      What makes you think what he says might be true?
      We know, Hope leaves last, but still... This is business.

      Then, there is religion...