Windows 8: could it be more than lipstick on a pig?

So Microsoft has finally shown its hand, and opened the curtains on Windows 8, if only for a highly controlled sneak peek at the D9 conference. Some pro-Microsoft commentators have rambled on about how this was aimed at the audience of the D9, and thus the wider questions were left unanswered. Utter tosh. D9 was merely a vehicle for Microsoft’s PR machine. It was all part of a planned unveiling, and if you think the global audience watching the videos were not considered to be the primary target, then more fool you.

What has Microsoft shown? Of course, it’s easy to jump to conclusions on the basis of a few minutes of demonstration. The devil is always in the detail, and the product is far from ready for release. Have I put in enough tempering thoughts so that I’m not accused of leaping off into the unknown?

History will not be kind to the Windows team and its utter failure to predict the rise of the 7-10in tablet

Well, here goes. Windows 8 is the most important release since Windows 95. Back then, it brought a new UI and a move to proper 32-bit GUI programming. Today, we have the same basic UI, an OS in 32-bit and now 64-bit versions, and a crater-sized hole in the shape of the tablet marketplace.

History will not be kind to the Windows team and its utter failure to predict the rise of the 7-10in tablet. Worse still, it will be even less kind in its view of Microsoft’s ability, or rather almost complete inability, to respond to this emerging space.

The reason Microsoft was caught on the hop was down to history. The deal with the OEM partners was simple: the OEMs made the hardware, Microsoft made the OS, delivered the developer tools and fostered a development community. The reality is that the delivery of the development tools was almost a by-product of writing the OS and its own internal applications, both client and server. A development community happened almost without Microsoft’s input, because of the huge market share that Windows enjoyed. Of course, effort was poured into programmes such as TechNet, MSDN, the developer conferences and so forth. But the developer tools were a by-product of the larger Microsoft vision, not an end unto themselves.

Apple’s game-changer

Apple iPad

With tablets, Apple changed the rules. No longer was it a case of an OEM supplying the hardware, and Microsoft coming up with the OS, the developer tools and the third-party developers. Now it was an integrated stack – hardware, OS, developer tools and an application store. Not only that, you got a walled garden of security for the user. Apps were checked before being made available to ensure they had no malware. Style guides were enforced with a non-negotiable rigour. Credit-card handling, app distribution, versioning and so forth were all handled by Apple for a relatively small fee. But worst of all for the developers, the customer was an anonymous paying entity that was hidden away from the developer.

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