As Microsoft gets Windows 8 ready for the Consumer Preview coming shortly I am spending a lot of time thinking about the next OS from Redmond. There is a lot to consider given its multiple personalities. It's a desktop OS, mobile OS, tablet OS, and touch OS all rolled into one. Rather, all rolled into multiple SKUs depending on the hardware involved. I admit to feeling more uneasy about Windows 8 the more I consider what problem(s) it intends to address. Fact is I just don't see any.
Windows 8 is beginning to look like Windows 7 recycled on desktop systems. It will have stuff under the hood to make that better, but from a user's perspective it seems like more of the same. It's not clear what it brings to the user that makes it a must-have upgrade over existing Windows 7 systems, and that frankly is not a good thing.
The desktop market is firmly owned currently by Microsoft, so it can't be the company's primary target. Unless the strategy is to simply keep the current Windows market, Microsoft can't be planning on Windows 8 to grab new customers on the desktop.
The biggest change to Windows 8 is in the mobile space, with two major versions addressing that hot market. The x86 Windows 8 platform will bring the Metro interface and new app ecosystem to a variety of hardware types. Microsoft has made it clear we will see Windows 8 on everything from laptops to tablets at the very least.
The laptop market is not going to win Microsoft any new customers, it already has the lion's share of that market with Windows. The Windows 8 strategy must thus be aimed at trying to keep those customers from going completely mobile with tablets. Nothing I've seen of Windows 8 on laptops adds value over the existing Windows 7 offering.
Tablets are the hot market segment, and by addressing that market with not one but two different versions of Windows 8 makes it clear how serious Microsoft is about this space. They expect to see an entire ecosystem emerge of Intel (x86) tablets running Windows 8 to help compete with Apple and Google. The problem is these don't uniquely address any problems that a user might have, so why would they avoid the existing tablet solutions for these totally new offerings?
The Windows on ARM (WOA) tablets are the big story with Windows 8, as these are intended to compete directly with both Android tablets and the iPad. It is a totally mobile-focused OS coupled with a new mobile app ecosystem designed to take the competition head-on. For the life of me I can't come up with a single problem the WOA solution has over the competition, and that's the source of my concern over the future of Windows 8. What problem does it solve that isn't already being addressed by the competition?
Microsoft already owns the enterprise with Windows so at the very least Windows 8 shouldn't jeopardize that. The scattershot approach with Windows 8 to hit all computing types may do just that, and create more work for major corporations analyzing how to bring the new Windows into the workplace. That may end up clouding the issue of how to best leverage Windows 8 in the enterprise. It doesn't seem to solve any enterprise problems on the surface, so there may be a hard sell here for Microsoft.
The enterprise is beginning to deploy iPads in greater numbers than before, and perhaps the Microsoft strategy with Windows 8 is to stop that process. If so, that's likely the reason it is including a full Office suite in WOA, as that is no doubt a plus for the enterprise. The problem is, these companies have already determined that the iPad meets their needs, and that means the mobile benefits outweigh the office suite requirement. By the time Windows 8 hits the market the enterprise may have figured out the pure mobile solution of the iPad is good enough. They may already know that Windows 8 doesn't address any problems they have.
What's it all mean?
The folks in Redmond are trying to make Windows 8 be the OS that fits everybody's needs. No matter what type of device you may be looking at, laptop, tablet, or desktop, Microsoft has the solution for you. No matter what your needs are, mobile, desktop, tablet, or touch, Microsoft has the solution for you.
The problem is the competition does too, and often optimized for a particular user scenario. Most people believe that a solution tailored for a particular need works better than a generic one designed to do everything for everyone. They are usually right in that belief, and that is what Microsoft will end up dealing with in Windows 8. In its attempt to solve everyone's problems, it may end up solving no one's. The competition, and I include Windows 7 in that group, is already solving them handily.