Windows 8: The Bipolar Schizophrenic OS

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[Note: this post was published in December 2011 and is commentary on the Windows 8 Developer Preview. It is assumed things will change as Microsoft releases newer versions of Windows 8 over time.]

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Windows 8 recently and the more I learn about it the less confidence I have. I get the idea. Apple had OS X on the desktop and iOS on the phone, and they decided to “scale up” iOS to the tablet. Microsoft is attempting the opposite. They’re trying to scale down Windows to the tablet. I don’t know which approach will prove to be better, but either direction seems reasonable.

Apple and Microsoft's approach to the tablet OS

I also think I’m in sync with what seems to be Microsoft’s vision of the future. The primary computing form factor for many of us has gone from a full tower desktop, to a laptop, and there’s no reason to believe in a couple years our primary computer won’t be the size of an iPad, or even a phone. Put it in your pocket when you are on the go, dock it to something while you’re at your desk. It’s logical that the device both support mobile touch-screen support and a full keyboard and the full Windows OS, depending on your mode of operation. If this is the future, I’m excited!

Intel and other manufacturers are banking on Ultrabooks being the next hot thing. Think a MacBook Air with a touch screen, or something like the ASUS Transformer running Windows 8. Touch-centric mobile OS when you’re on the go. Full-blown Windows when you’re at your desk. Totally make sense. I want one.

Imagine Windows 8 running on this ASUS Transformer

But I don’t want Windows 8.

I’d rather have a laptop running Windows 7+ and an iPad or Android tablet over some bipolar hybrid slate computer that’s no good at either. That’s what most of us at Headspring concluded, for now.

Metro has no place on the desktop

I don’t understand why Microsoft nerfed the Start Menu and turned it into a full-screen “app”. Imagine working in your desktop with several windows open, and you just want to get to the start menu to launch a new program. This is ridiculous:

Working along in the desktop.

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Clicked the Start menu.

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Dropped back to the desktop (if opening a desktop app).

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This is a schizophrenic way to launch an app when your sitting at your desk with a mouse and keyboard. There’s no benefit in having the Metro Start menu in this scenario. None.

It’s also mind-boggling that Microsoft is introducing the clean Metro design style to Windows, and at the same time has doubled down on cluttered desktop UIs, by doing things like putting a freakin ribbon bar on explorer!

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Make up your mind, Microsoft.

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But that’s just the start of it. I’ll be writing some follow-up articles outlining some other scenarios that make me completely question the viability of Windows 8 as a hybrid tablet/desktop OS.

The desktop has no place on a mobile device

I’m not proclaiming this as an opinion, but pointing out that it’s possible this will be a fact of life. Microsoft is keeping quiet, but there are tons of questions about Windows 8 on ARM-based devices. It’s not even clear that some devices will be able to run legacy Windows applications, and in these scenarios you lose the whole presumed benefit of Windows 8. Why not just use an iPad or Android device if the only applications you are able to run are Metro apps anyway?

Will the Metro side of Windows 8 be so great, that a device running only Metro will be as good or better than an iPad? It has to be if Windows 8 as a tablet platform will succeed.

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Just start with a tablet OS, how about that?

That’s my recommendation to Microsoft. The giant installed user-base of Windows users have desktops and laptop computers that don’t support touch. There’s no benefit of a business upgrading thousands of computers to Windows 8. Businesses will balk at Windows 8 more than they did with Vista!

There’s also little benefit in getting full access to Microsoft Windows in a tablet computer, at least for now. The idea sounds nice in theory, but in practice the experience is jarring and confusing. And I’ll follow up on some other huge problems here.

For now, just give me a killer tablet OS. I’d totally buy a $500 “Windows Metro” tablet if it had a more open ecosystem than Apple’s. Microsoft has some great potential here, but I’m afraid it will be broken to pieces as they try to smash together a mobile OS with a desktop OS.

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