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Windows 8 Is Microsoft's Riskiest Product Ever

Gordon Kelly

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We hadn't seen Windows 8 until Wednesday, but most of us already had a decent idea of what to expect: a Windows/Windows Phone hybrid. It is exactly what we got and the reality is every bit as exciting and every bit as troubled as we had expected.

Having been a big fan of recent Microsoft moves we'll start with the positives and the most positive aspect of Windows 8 is its ambition. Microsoft is calling Windows 8 a "new platform" and it is the first radical shake-up of Windows' underlying code for more than 15 years. It offers both a Windows Phone-esque 'Metro' live tile touch friendly interface and a standard desktop experience with the ability to switch between and even merge them at will. According to Microsoft this is no mere skin, the live tile UI is a core part of the OS.

The tiles are also built using HTML5 and JavaScript which opens it up to third party developers and with a GPU accelerated Internet Explorer 10 underpinning everything is silky smooth. Better yet resource requirements are less than Windows 7.

"This isn't just about touch PCs," proclaimed Julie Larson-Green, the Windows Experience corporate vice president. "The new Windows experience will ultimately be powered by application and device developers around the world - one experience across a tremendous variety of PCs. The user interface and new apps will work with or without a keyboard and mouse on a broad range of screen sizes and pixel densities, from small slates to laptops, desktops, all-in-ones, and even classroom-sized displays. Hundreds of millions of PCs will run the new Windows 8 user interface. This breadth of hardware choice is unique to Windows and central to how we see Windows evolving."

Yes Microsoft believes in Windows 8 it has a platform for all devices. "Our approach means no compromises - you get to use whatever kind of device you prefer, with peripherals you choose, to run the apps you love," continued Larson-Green.

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Given Windows 8's support of ARM chips this is more than simple marketing rhetoric. Laptop, PC and tablet can all coexist – three different form factors across two fundamentally different chipset technologies. In fact it makes Apple's tablet policy – essentially 'a big iPod touch' – look limited and short sighted. The problem is: what if the reality is actually the other way round?

In broad brush strokes both Apple and Microsoft are on the same page. Both believe the future is the merger of mobile and desktop platforms. In fact Apple has a head start. Mac OS X already has an App Store and Steve Jobs' admits Lion is inspired by iOS. That said there are crucial differences.

Keithe6e

June 5, 2011, 12:25 am

>> having to code two ARM and x86 versions of every Windows 8 programme is a major turn off

And something that's not required. .NET CLR has been with windows for a long time now, Windows going multi platform has been on the cards for a while now.

Arctic Fox

June 5, 2011, 5:25 am

@Gordon

I agree, this is a major gamble for MS but also, very clearly, a calculated gamble forced upon them by what appears to be the mother of all paradigm shifts in the computing and communications market. They have clearly decided that a holistic approach is the only way forward. If they launch a successful cross-platform os with the same touch interface available on all devices then they are both competitive in all sectors and their business in each sector will reinforce all other sectors. Someone who buys a Windows tablet running Win 8 and is happy with it will be more likely to buy a Win 8 phone and so on. The ability to switch immediately between touch and mouse/key board input highlights the relevance of kit like Asus' "Transformer" and various other docking solutions we see coming to the market place. I firmly believe that MS have made the right decision - whether they succeed in implementing successfully remains, of course, to be seen.

Faizaan

June 5, 2011, 7:32 pm

A fair post and one that, as mentioned, Steve Ballmer agrees with the sentiment.

The only point I would raise is this release of windows is not like the Longhorn days, when the company would parade concepts that are far from ready for release. Rather this is a Sinofsky ship and Sinofsky has habit of not showing of material until it IS ready (or practically) for release.

There will be much more to come during the BUILD conference, so we will hopefully get further details then!

Arctic Fox

June 6, 2011, 12:43 am

@Faizaan

I agree with your point wholeheartedly. MS' presentation was both conceptual description *and* practical demonstration of actual work in progress - there was not the faintest sniff of "vapourware" about what they showed us. I think that the key here will be 1. The customer experience (of course) 2. Sheer size and complexity (if it is to run on the smallest devices) 3. Efficiency (smoothness and rapidity of operation and *battery life*). I have no doubt that they can get it to *run* on "all" devices, it is how *efficiently* and (let us not forget) *stylishly* they can do it. I am however firmly optimistic.

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