Microsoft is trying to make Windows 8 be all things to all people. Or at least all operating systems to all devices. A risky strategy that has rarely, if ever, worked. This is Microsoft reaching for the future with one hand, while trying to drag the old-school stylings of its Windows operating system from the past along for the ride. Can this possibly work, or will Windows 8 fail?
Love it or hate it, Apple has changed the whole tech industry. The genie cannot ever be put back in the bottle. Is Microsoft doing enough to catch up? Or is it, alternatively, doing too much, trying to change the operating system which remains its main source of revenue when millions of people are happy with their non-touch way of working and non-tiled user interface?
Windows 8 is going to arrive some time during 2012. It’s just a matter of which quarter Microsoft decides to launch it. It’ll ship around three years after Windows 7. Three years during which Apple and Google have both affected the way we interact with our devices on a fundamental level.
Consider for a moment the world in 2009, when the iPad was still being forged at Apple under Steve Jobs’ controlling eye and Android 2.0 had just been released. At that time Windows did everything required of it, offering an accessible way of using computers with a keyboard and mouse. The iPad changed that, with its dismissal of all external inputs other than your fingers, and Android then exacerbated the trend. Windows was suddenly looking like a dinosaur waiting for the end of the world to arrive.
Microsoft knew it had to do something radical, and the company’s answer was to port the Metro UI from Windows Phone 7 over to Windows 8.
Microsoft faced a huge dilemma when it came to developing Windows 8. Windows 7 enjoyed a near-perfect launch, managing to move the operating system on from the Vista debacle in the minds of all but the most vehement Windows haters. Windows was set to carry on unhindered and unchanged for many years to come. And then the iPad arrived, and everything changed.
Microsoft itself was the architect of the push to get us all using tablet devices. But its efforts at the turn of the century (dubbed TabletPC) failed to move from being a niche to a mainstream product. Apple got it right first time, producing a truly great product which has eaten into the PC market ever since, and virtually wiped out netbooks as a form factor.
The Metro UI is Microsoft looking to the future, to the post-PC era that Apple is developing. It’s far from perfect, and it has been argued Microsoft has erred by trying to mutate it to its main OS. You can see for yourself by trying it in VirtualBox, with Windows 8 Beta Simulator, or with Instant Beautiful Browsing.
Windows 7 With a Glossy New Front-End?
The basic structure of Windows 8 is built on top of the current iteration of Windows, Windows 7. As has been true of all versions of Windows that have gone before. As with most operating systems, Windows is in constant evolutionary flux, with each new version meant to improve the UI while providing the tools needed for the present time.
To be fair to Microsoft, Windows 8 is the biggest evolutionary step up since Windows 95. But at least back then it was a battle being fought in just one, rather than multiple, arena(s).
The problem is that the whole computer industry is now changing at a rate of knots. Not in terms of hardware, as was the case for the whole of the 1990s, but in terms of how we relate to the technology and use it merely to access the Internet and all the services it provides. In some respects then, operating systems are becoming irrelevant. Or at the very least not as necessary to impress as was once the case.
Do People Still Want Windows?
The big question is whether people still want Windows. It has spent decades as the first choice operating system for the majority of people, but times are changing, and fast. As mentioned previously we’re now entering into the post-PC era, where mobile devices are becoming the default choice for most people, and capable of doing everything a notebook or desktop can do.
In this scenario, Windows in its present form looks set to lose much of its appeal. If Microsoft doesn’t alter Windows in a radical way then it risks becoming a niche product used by enterprise customers and professionals, but not by the mainstream. It cannot afford to let this happen or it faces a bleak future. With the exception of Office and Xbox, Microsoft hasn’t got much else beyond Windows to fall back on. Unless Windows Phone can grow beyond the expectations of most analysts.
The question then is whether Microsoft has done too much, too little, or just about the right amount of tinkering in building Windows 8 to go another round.
Looking To The Future
Will Windows 8 fail or succeed? I think we need a third option of “do mildly well but will hardly set the world alight.” Because that’s my honest assessment of how Windows 8 will perform.
Microsoft has done just about enough to stop Windows from becoming completely irrelevant by trying to please everyone, all of the time, but the two-tier way Windows 8 operates risks pleasing no one, none of the time. To stop the rot Microsoft is going to need to exhibit a willingness to change and be fluid in its approach to developing future versions of its key products. In other words, take a leaf out of Apple’s book.
Do you think Windows 8 will be a huge success? Or a massive failure? Or, like me, do you feel Windows 8 is just about good enough to keep Microsoft in the game while the industry changes around it? Personally I’m already looking towards Windows 9.