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 Tuesday, March 13, 2012
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I just read this article about what’s wrong with Windows 8:

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/heres-whats-wrong-with-windows-8/19027?tag=nl.e539

The author makes some valid points. Most notably, in the consumer preview there are a ton of inconsistencies where the user is dumped into legacy mode (sorry, Desktop mode) when doing things as common as setting up a printer. That’s clearly confusing, and Microsoft has their work cut out to replace all the OS dialogs between now and release.

And the fact that there’s no obvious way out of Desktop mode once you get there is a problem. If you happen to accidentally get your mouse in the far lower-left corner of the screen you might escape, otherwise normal users just get trapped there with no way out. That’s pretty silly.

But toward the end of the article he makes an observation that I think is completely faulty:

“I don’t see touch being that important of a driver to either sell new PCs or a new operating system. Outside of Microsoft and a small number of power users, I don’t really see a demand for touch for PCs from either enterprise of consumer markets. Instead, what we have is Microsoft trying — once again — to stir up interest in touch devices.”

Apparently the author hasn’t noticed the massive uptake of iPad and Kindle Fire devices all over the place – at the consumer and corporate level. It is an understatement to say that demand exists for touch devices, and it would be absurd to think Microsoft would ignore that demand.

Or perhaps the author is suggesting that nobody wants a PC with touch. That they’d rather carry a PC for work, and a totally different type of device for touch? That is possible, but it seems unlikely that people would choose to spend twice the money and carry twice the hardware just to have two different experiences – at least if they have a choice of carrying one device that is good for work and play.

There are many reasons I’m motivated to see Windows 8 be successful (though I agree that success isn’t a foregone conclusion). Perhaps the biggest though, is apps. For touch, keyboard, and mouse, I want apps.

Why?

Because apps are the resurgence of the smart client and distributed computing. And there are no apps on the PC, so PC users are increasingly stuck using the second-class web interfaces to interact with the world.

Take almost anything – news, weather, stocks, social services like Facebook – you name it. PC users have to interact with these things via the web, reducing their super-powerful PC to a dumb terminal. But mobile device users get rich, smooth apps that are a lot more fun to use.

Given a choice, would you interact with Facebook via a web UI, or a nice app with clear navigation, nice animations, and well-considered user interaction? People have spoken – Facebook apps for tablets and phones are the primary way to interact with the social service over the web UI.

As a PC user I am increasingly left out. Left to suffer with browser-based experiences while my wife uses her iPad to interact with the same services in a more enjoyable manner.

It seems obvious now that apps will never come to the Win32/.NET PC world. So the only way to have decent interaction with the world at large is to figure out a way to get apps on the PC – and that is clearly via WinRT and Metro.

I think the lack of apps on the PC is because there’s no store, so no easy way to find and install such apps. Microsoft could have created an app store for Windows 7, but Win7 doesn’t offer a fully sandboxed runtime environment where such apps can be virus and harm-free to the end user.

I also think Microsoft could have created such a sandbox world based on Silverlight, without the need to create a whole new operating system. It would have been possible to enable Silverlight apps to be directly hosted on Win7, and to be purchased from a centralized and curated store.

But that wouldn’t have addressed the tablet and touch issues.

So what we’ve got is a new operating system, with a runtime designed from the ground up to support safe apps that are deployed from a store. And from a .NET developer perspective this new Windows Runtime (WinRT) is extremely close to Silverlight in terms of its development model. So in a sense Microsoft is doing exactly what you’d expect to enable apps – but they are also enabling tablets and touch.

In short, I am looking forward to Windows 8 because it breathes new life into the smart client and distributed computing world – and because as a user I can finally get a first-class experience for interacting with news, weather, and social services on the “web”.

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