Windows 8 - In with the old & new

Microsoft yesterday gave a preview of "Windows 8", the OS we all have been waiting for, an OS that takes the current Windows devices from being 'touch friendly' to being 'touch-centric', providing an alternative for iPad and Android Tablet devices. Here's what I liked.

  • Extends the Metro design to Tablet form factor
  • The Tiled Start screen, similar to Windows Phone like Live Tiles, much better than dumb icons as on iOS and Android devices today.
  • Ability to snap and resize an app to the side of the screen while running other apps side by side. Great design of presenting multi-tasking capability.
  • The new development platform is now based on HTML5, JavaScript and CSS so that opens up Windows platform to a whole new set of developers who don't need to know .NET/Silverlight etc
  • Controls are where they need to be, under your thumbs (especially in Landscape mode). On-screen Split keyboard is useful too although it will need some learning and adjustments.
  • Slick Performance.
  • Flipping to the traditional Windows is a snap. Your existing investments in software/apps continue.

Now to the dislikes. I also would have liked Windows 8 to provide simplicity by hiding desktop in atleast Slate kind of devices. John Gruber covers this nicely here. 

The ability to run Mac OS X apps on the iPad, with full access to the file system, peripherals, etc., would make the iPad worse, not better. The iPad succeeds because it has eliminated complexity, not because it has covered up the complexity of the Mac with a touch-based “shell”. iOS’s lack of backward compatibility with any existing software means that all apps for iOS are written specifically for iOS.

There’s a cost for this elimination of complexity and compatibility, of course, which is that the iPad is also less capable than a Mac. That’s why Apple is developing iOS alongside Mac OS X. 

While I initally thought that John nailed it and that simplicity could have definitely be addressed in a better way by hiding desktop in atleast Slate kind of devices. But I guess there is more to it.

  • One, Microsoft does not have to copy the current breed of tablet devices. Microsoft proved this with Windows Phone by revolutionizing the whole Metro design and live tiles. Microsoft is extending Metro to Tablets now and the Metro design principles are making more sense on larger form factors. 
  • Two, Microsoft is aware that 100s of millions of users have invested in traditional Windows and these users want to enjoy watching videos from their beds, read emails while traveling, read books while on a beach but when it comes to complex functions like replying to their bosses email with data in excel sheets, or approving vacations while flying using an in-house enterprise app, these users don't want to run to their desktops/PCs. Microsoft is targetting these users and believe me there are billions of such use cases out there (me included). And I am sure Microsoft like others would be spending efforts in making these entrprise tools more touch-centric. Same would be the case with enterprises. It would be so easy to make workflow based apps using HTML5/JavaScript which are touch-centric. Microsoft has inherent strength is extending the development suite to easily develop such apps and I am sure we will hear more about them in September. 

The only miss for me is the lack of support for Silverlight as a Tablet front end development tool (I am aware of the support for Silverlight in traditional desktop). Microsoft has invested a good amount in Silverlight on desktop and Windows Phone 7. Let there be support for Silverlight and let people use the existing investments. Also, not clear if there will be a way to use Windows Phone 7 Apps on Windows 8, something which iOS platform enables so easily. 

All in all, Windows 8 lives up to the expectation of a healthy competitor to iPad and it will be fun to see how they actually compete next year. Windows 8 allows you to shuttle between past, present and the future. In a winner takes all market, delays are expensive but design flaws are deadly. Microsoft seems to have addressed the latter, we now need to see the speed in which these devices reach market.