Windows 8 – to be or not to be?

Microsoft has a track record for releasing horrible operating systems every now and then, as witnessed by the IT world more recently with Windows Vista. It begs the question, after a very successful Windows 7, what is in store for Windows 8? Will it be king, or will it flop?

My motivation for this article, comes from Mick Huxley’s blog post this morning, “Why Windows 8 will be a flop”. My views here are based on very little experience using the Windows 8 development release installed on a non-touch device and briefly playing with a co-worker’s Windows 8 Slate device, and I will relate my experiences  and views to Apple’s iOS/OSX family and successes.

To begin with, a history of Apple’s success. I am currently reading Steve Job’s autobiography, by Walter Isaacson, and draw some of my conclusions from this book, and my own experience, owning a number of iDevices from the iPod, iPhone, iPad and a MacBook Pro. Growing up, I lived in the Napster generation, illegally downloading scores  of MP3′s and burning CD’s to listen to on my portable CD player. Those were the days. Being the organisational / data obsessed person that I am, I always struggled to keep my music collection organised, with Winamp being my favorite media player at the time not having a “great” organisational structure at the time. Eventually I moved on from my CD player, moving up to various flash MP3 player devices and eventually, purchasing an iPod. At last, iTunes solved my problems of organising my music nicely without having to worry about it, coupled with the iPod device, quite simply, the best portable music player available in history.

And so began my fascination with Apple. As a teenager, I was very pro-Microsoft, anti-Apple. The iPod changed my mind, and continued to suck me in, with the release of the iPhone and iPad, and my purchase of a MacBook somewhere in the middle. My life is now controlled by Apple devices. They work seamlessly together, something Microsoft products have never been able to do for me.

To quote Steve Job’s favorite artist, Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a-changin””.

Microsoft struggled in the mobile market for a long time. I previously owned a HP iPaq device running Windows Mobile, and was suitably impressed with the ability to simply sync my email with Microsoft Exchange, something the iPhone also did out of the box with Australian releases of the phone (3G onwards). Microsoft, however, failed to make any market share with this humble mobile platform. It had all the right features, but none of the marketing, and a relatively boring interface and no “fun”.

Queue the Windows Phone of today. This quirky OS has, what I believe to be, a very slick and sexy interface. It’s no iOS, but the dashboard screen is by far, way better than that of Apple’s, and almost tempted me to make the switch back (until I tried to mess with the settings and was presented with ugly and confusing menus). The Windows Phone is now a step closer to being simple and fun.

Why is this important? Apple sees the future. The latest version of OS X, Lion, introduced what some are calling the transformation of Mac’s into iPad-like products. I share this vision. The way tablet’s of all sorts are  proliferating into the consumer market has ensured the future for touch based devices, the popularity of the iPhone and iPad lending a helping hand. Microsoft needs to catch up and present a device that meets the new  standard of consumerisation, which the Windows Phone has started to deliver in conjuction with Microsoft’s version of the Apple App Store. What Apple has demonstrated in the past few years, is the broadening of these consumerisation services, from the phone, to the tablet, and finally to the desktop, and aligning by beginning to align the three, you start to see how Apple’s “family” of devices can become the centre of your life. The “app” revolution is upon us, with the ever growing social network space spurring the app space, and games such as Angry Birds being massive hits across Apple, Google and Microsoft’s mobile platforms. The app revolution is ultimately one of the driving forces for each brand’s family of devices to “become one”.

Metro. The Windows Phone utilises this quirky interface, and I have to say, it’s wonderful. Windows 8, both in tablet and desktop form (which admittedly, is exactly the same), will introduce this to every PC users, albeit, more abruptly than Apple’s approach – Launch Pad in OS X Lion. Simple interface design makes technology fun, and Apple, by far, has exceeded in this space. Metro, like Launch Pad, introduces the idea of “apps” on the desktop, which will soon create a fundamental shift in how you think about apps. The desktop platform has always portrayed apps as bland, boring, rectangular windows, limited by menus and tables of data. Great for multi-tasking, the old aged window apps are not consumer friendly. The new age of apps, are consumer friendly.

A co-worker of mine has an Asus Slate device, running Windows 8, and kindly showed me some of  the features a few months back. I was suitably impressed by the use of gestures and simple display of information (and customisation of the Metro dashboard). Full screen apps are “where it’s at”.

This brings me back to Mick’s article. How will Microsoft be affected by this fundamental shift from non-touch devices, to an interface that is otherwise, not very inviting otherwise? Consumerisation. It is argued that with all prior releases of Windows, hardware has always been an issue. Windows Vista required a large investment to allow you to run the bare operating system “nicely”, if upgrading or moving from Windows XP. Windows 7 somewhat fixed this issue in terms of performance, and likewise, current CPU and graphic card technology will, in my opinion, exceed the requirements of Windows 8 for some time to come. Except for one important thing, touch. To get the full benefit of Windows 8, you need to start using a touch-based device, and the challenge Microsoft will have in this arena, is convincing consumers, that hey, you do need to ditch your hardware for this shiny new touch device.

Metro establishes the beginning of consumerisation for the Microsoft desktop platform. Without Metro, Microsoft simply cannot begin to compete in a consumer driven market, where the Apple App Store is king. For now. Apps for Windows 8 might soon turn this around, as consumerisation pushes into the enterprise, forcing enterprise companies, to adopt the app revolution, producing slick apps which present useful information quickly, and most importantly, simply.

Devices running Microsoft software, also need to become more openly interoperable. Dropping your tablet PC onto your home network will start to see some of the benefits Apple has produced by using their family of products together – the way iTunes integrates the iPod/iPhone/iPad, should also be the aim for Windows Mobile and Windows 8 tablet devices – regardless of vendor, or the type of connection (USB or WiFi). Windows 7′s Homegroup functionality begins to pave this path, in terms of sharing content between Windows PC’s on your local network, and Windows Media Center, Xbox 360, DLNA and UPnP technologies will also play their part in the push for content sharing in the home.

There are a number of other issues Microsoft need to deal with to ensure the success of Windows 8, and I have merely touched on the consumerisation aspects. All of my previous comments are purely speculation and opinion (and of course, some based on fact), but I think the way both Apple and Microsoft are approaching the next generation of computing are somewhat similar, time will tell.

To be, or not to be? Well yes, that is the question. And for me, consumerised IT will make Windows 8 a success, at least in the consumer space.

3 thoughts on “Windows 8 – to be or not to be?”

  1. Funnily enough Ash you have made some very similar points to me regarding the hardware that will make Windows 8 sing.

    Firstly that touch will be a major component of the OS and a device that both performs as a slate and for information worker will be a challenge.

    Secondly, Microsoft needs to make the interaction between their devices, in the home, easier. The Apple ecosystem has already achieved this, albeit in a completely controlled environment from the hardware to the OS.

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