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

For Microsoft and its third-party OEMs, this was a bombshell. Try as they might to downplay its significance, it was the right solution at the right time. Worse still, the OEM vendors hadn’t seen this hardware revolution coming and were caught on the hop. They had nothing to compare, and took almost a year to get something into production. And what they eventually shipped was poor quality. Some of the hardware had truly disgusting screens, dreadful battery life, poor build quality and so forth. The choice of OS came down to a mutant form of a phone OS from Google or Windows 7 with some touch “enhancements” thrown in. The word “desperate” doesn’t even begin to describe this mess.

Do not be confused about the relationships between the hardware OEMs and Microsoft – Tense isn’t a bad word to use

For Microsoft, it was the worst of all outcomes. Not only had it dropped the ball by failing to have a touch-oriented OS ready to ship, but the developer tools story was confused too. Do we go with HTML5? Or Silverlight? Or something else like WPF? And the OEMs had committed the ultimate betrayal – they had looked away from Microsoft for an answer, found that iOS wasn’t available, and grabbed onto the only remaining solution. An OS offering from arch-rival Google, in the shape of Android.

Do not be confused about the relationships between the hardware OEMs and Microsoft. “Tense” isn’t a bad word to use. Long term readers will remember some five years ago when I sat down with a very senior director at Acer in Taipei, just before the launch of Vista. A planned 30-minute interview turned into a near two-hour tirade by Acer against Microsoft. Of course, this was planned and was the reason the company flew me out there, under the pretence of attending the company’s 30th anniversary birthday dinner. Clearly Acer thought the time was right to publically fire another shot across Redmond’s bow. The story went global overnight as I was flying back through Hong Kong.

And what was HP’s response to the Apple threat? It committed an even bigger sin in the eyes of Microsoft. It bought Palm, giving itself its own operating system, developer tools and so forth. A bigger act of treachery is hard to imagine, coming from what is a top-tier partner.

One true Windows

So here we are with a preview of Windows 8. You will have seen the demos, so I won’t labour on about what’s obvious to see. What is more interesting is what isn’t there.

Firstly, I confess I’m deeply disappointed. Before the Redmondians start sighing, and changing my internal PR rating from “negative/neutral” (a rating I’m proud to wear, because it means I’m harsh when I need to be and “neutral” is a grudging acceptance of being right, in PR speak) to merely “negative”. Remember all of those caveats I wrote at the beginning? Please just repeat them one more time.

I’m disappointed because it’s clear that Microsoft has an unswerving belief that One True Windows is the only way forward, and that One True Windows is the only solution that will match all the needs of the users. In essence, everything is still a PC. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Windows 7 desktop

Now before I sound too bitter and twisted, it’s possible that Microsoft is right. There are advantages to bringing forward the old legacy: lots of apps, lots of drivers, and it’s easier to migrate from Windows 7 to Windows 8. Despite the UI default being the new touch-tiled interface, you can bet that there will be a policy-based setting that lets a company turn this off by default if needed, especially on business desktops. From that point of view, Windows 8 will be just like Windows 7 with a few tweaks. Nothing to worry about, keep doing your upgrades. Training will be a cinch.

But if you go to the new UI, then old apps will appear in their own desktop. Suddenly you will move from New Windows to Old. This might not seem a bad thing, except that New Windows is targetted firmly at a touch interface, and Old most definitely is not.

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