Sunday, February 5, 2012

Windows 8 - Keep taking the tablets

So should I try the Windows 8 beta when it become available next month? That was the question following a very honest presentation given by Mike Halsey about the forthcoming Windows 8 operating system to the Manchester branch of the BCS. After having a few days to think about it, I can't see many reasons for upgrading from my current Windows 7 setup (and various Linux distributions running as virtual machines and an Android smartphone). This is very different to when Windows 7 came out, as it was a significant improvement from Windows Vista - I used the Beta version on my main machine until it was officially released when I then upgraded all of my machines to Windows 7.

Whilst there are probably many significant improvements behind the scenes, including support for new and emerging technologies such as USB3 and Thunderbolt, Windows 8's main evolution appears to be with the user interface, and the introduction of the new Metro interface. Mike had a pre-beta version of Windows 8 loaded onto a tablet and having a quick play on the tablet (start up time from cold was most impressive), the user interface was very similar to both Android and IoS. However, one significant change was that the application icons (or tiles as Microsoft would call them) could be different sizes and could also be live (so that they could show the weather or a stock price) without having to launch the application. This was first launched on the Windows Phone but I still think that this was a neat idea (although there are now similar products available for both Android and IoS).

2012 is clearly going to be interesting year for operating systems for tablets with Google's Ice-Cream sandwich (aka Android 4), Apples's latest IoS and Microsoft's entry in tablet space (Windows 8). There is clearly room for all of them but it is now very clear that operating systems that cater for  tablets must also work seamlessly with smartphones and other devices. With Microsoft being the last to release a tablet based OS, they are clearly playing catch-up and their success will clearly depend on the quality and takeup of the Apps in the recently announced Windows StoreWindows 8 is blatantly aimed at the consumer market, and is clearly trying to be a common platform across a variety of different platform types (desktops/laptops, smartphones, tablets and games consoles). This is is a bold strategy which no one has yet mastered. It is also promoting connected 'experiences' (with the cloud being a key part of the strategy) and clearly expects a 'touch' interface to become increasingly the primary form of interaction. Having said that, I understand it is still possible to get to the good old DOS window so that traditional user interface (command line) can still be experienced.

Will Windows 8 be a success? I don't know, but I think Windows 9 (scheduled for late 2015) might be the better bet as it will have the benefit of seeing how the integrated desktop/smartphone/tablet/games console world works. Microsoft are clearly betting on trying to develop a platform which can be common across a range of platform types, a laudable aim which will certainly deliver benefits in terms of product management (assuming it works!). However, I can't see any attraction for large corporates, many of which have yet to migrate from Windows XP. A big problem is in the application space in which applications developed specifically for Windows 8 cannot be run on Windows 7 (or predecessors). It was not clear to me if existing Windows 7 (or earlier) applications could run on Windows 8; if not this will be a huge mistake unless Windows 8 apps becomes priced at typical app prices (i.e. free or typically less than £1) rather than the several £100's that Microsoft applications typically cost.

Will I download the Windows 8 beta when it is available later this month? Maybe but only out of curiosity and it will be running on some old equipment as it don't see it as replacement OS for my primary machine.