Editorial – Back from Seattle – My comprehensive thoughts about Windows 8

I just got back from a fantastic conference in Seattle and I had an opportunity to finally collect my thoughts about Windows 8.

I’m a pretty heavy Twitter user so I’ve had a chance to read a lot of bloggers weighing in about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. I didn’t feel I was ready to weigh in on this topic until now.

Some subject background before I get started.

  • I’ve been blogging extensively about Windows 8 since November of 2009  so I have a really good idea about how this Operating System has evolved from the idea phase through the concept phase all the way up until today. With over 1500 blog posts dedicated to this topic, I can factually say I have probably covered this Operating System more comprehensively than ANY other source on the web. Not ego, just a fact.
  • I have tried to be as even tempered and responsible as possible when I discuss this Operating System. To be frank, I have probably spent too much time thinking about Windows 8 (my wife would agree).
  • I’m not a Microsoft Fan but I absolutely have nothing against the company. I am just a Tech enthusiast who gets excited whenever I see the potential for game changing technologies early. I have tried to be objective and to recognize the good, bad and the ugly about the OS and report accordingly.
  • I am not and have not been in anyway compensated for my views so I have no ulterior motives in my reporting.

Now that’s out of the way, let me begin.

Windows 8 is clearly the boldest move that Microsoft have made as a company in over a decade – they are in the process of radically redefining what an Operating System is and can do.

Since Microsoft has (by far) the broadest reach of any OS vendor, the results of this transformation will have a huge effect on IT hardware and software for the forseeable future. This is true whether the OS is successful or not.

I’ll start with –

What's good about Microsoft's Windows 8 Strategy

What’s good about Microsoft’s Windows 8 Strategy

The Good.

Brave

This is a brave move from a very large company. the truth is, honestly that’s really refreshing. Having worked for several large companies in the past, I can tell you that large scale change is the the exception not the norm. Microsoft need to be commended for recognizing the need for change and having the balls to go for it.

Strategic

In addition to proposing and going for a very large change, the company has obviously put a lot of thought into the course they are embarking on. The move to Metro, HTML 5, CSS and WinRT is a dynamic move.

They are also tighly integrating their platforms and moving towards a unified stack at the Server, Phone, Desktop, Laptop, Xbox, Bing and Tablet level. It really makes sense and can be justified on many levels.

It’s consistent with the present (their competitors are moving to that model) and consistent with the future (it provides flexibility going forward).

Original

A lot of credit should go to Microsoft simply because, say what you want about Windows 8, it isn’t an Apple knockoff. It must have been tempting to go the Android route and just copy the leader where it made sense.

It’s hard impossible to make the case that Microsoft chose the easier, less ethical path.

This is a Microsoft vision through and through and even though it will take some getting used to, it’s original.

Expansive – The rise of Tablets

Microsoft have (finally) chosen to make the move to Tablets.

The lack of a Windows Tablet was clearly an achilles heel at a time when the Tablet market was exploding. They identified that and have been responsive to that segment of the market.

While you can (and I will) argue that this is coming very late, It’s coming and that’s great.

Open, Responsive Public Development Cycle

Led by Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft have led us down a very public, open and arguably responsive software development cycle.

There was a Windows 8 Developer Preview, now there’s a Windows 8 Consumer Preview and there probably will be some form of pre-release preview before this comes to the market.

At each point, anyone in the world has been able to connect to the internet, download the software and form an opinion.

That’s great. It’s led to larger discussions (like this one) about features and strategy and has been great to be a part of.

The Windows 8 Development blog has (without question) set the standard for software development feedback.

I continue to believe that this model should be replicated by any company seeking to involve their customers in feedback and buy-in before the product is released.

Windows Server 8

Initial reviews and feedback about Windows Server 8 have been great. Admins are excited about some of the new features and I haven’t seen any major criticism of this new Server based OS.

Now, let’s move on to:

What's bad about Microsoft's Windows 8 Strategy

What’s bad about Microsoft’s Windows 8 Strategy

The Bad

Counter-intuitive with a less than ideal level of abstraction

Windows 8 is not the most intuitive OS that I’ve ever used. Even more alarming is the fact that this is not early in the development cycle anymore.

I just published a post that describes 30 different shortcuts for the OS.

30!… and I’m sure there are many more.

It’s really hard to see how this will get the regular consumer excited.

Adding to the point above, there seems to be a less than ideal level of user abstraction.

Several functions require 2 or 3 actions to get to.

  • To get to the start screen, you have to swipe right and then hit the start icon (versus a home button).
  • To get to the lock screen, you have to click on the user image on the top right (thanks for telling me) as opposed to the other power functions on the charms bar.
  • To unlock the tablet you swipe up but if you change your mind and want the pretty image back, you can’t simply swipe back down.
  • To get to the date and time you have to use the charm bar (as opposed to having it constantly available with Windows 7)

And on and on it goes.

Granted some of these are just my individual user preferences but I am sure that (based on my website feedback  and Windows 8 questions section), others have those and similar challenges as well.

Attention to Graphic Detail (this may change)

I have a Windows 8 tablet and I have to say that some of the Metro Icons do not look finished and refined. Granted, I have no idea where Microsoft is in the development cycle but it is pretty jarring to look at:

  • The Windows Store icon
  • The People icon
  • The Xbox LIVE Games icon or
  • The Mail icon etc.

They seem incredibly simple and and are cognitively dissonant compared to the beauty of the tiles they are on. In (obvious) contrast, turn on an Ipad and look at the icons on the home screen.

Take a close look. Nuff said.

Once again, this may change – I acknowledge that.

Inconsistent User Experience

This is a big one.

I just came back from a conference where I was on a guest panel with another participant. He had a Samsung Series 7 with 4 gigs of ram and higher end specs and I have an ExoPC slate (from the Microsoft Store) with 2 gigs of RAM and lower end specs.

Surprise surprise, his experience was SUBSTANTIALLY different from mine. He was excited about the speed and responsiveness of his tablet and mine well, it could be better.

Going forward this will remain an issue because I believe the minimum requirements for Windows 8 are 1 gig of ram.

I believe that Microsoft need to put the hammer down on software vendors and OEM’s and require at least 4 gigs of ram and a certain level of performance from a processor in order to receive certification.

If that doesn’t happen, there will be a bunch of cheap OEM’s on day one that will be loaded with bloatware and 1 gig of RAM and the average consumer will say – Windows 8 is crap. Consumers won’t rationalize the fact that they paid $199 for the hardware, they just blame the OS.

Apple, the leader in the tablet space completely control both the software and hardware so an Ipad 2 experience is consistent between users. While Microsoft doesn’t control hardware, they do control minimum requirements and certification. Microsoft need to ensure that by the time this goes live either:

  • They require 4 gig and a better CPU across the board for a consistent Windows 8 experience or
  • They refine development so current tablets are fast as well

Tablet + Desktop need to be split

The more I use Metro, the more I get pissed off when I am sent to the desktop for ANYTHING. While I can see why it was tempting to add both experiences into one OS, I believe that the cons are starting to outweigh the pros.

An optimized, efficient and simplified Metro Windows 8 can take on the Ipad for sure. The addition of the traditional desktop to a tablet just muddies the waters.

Windows 7

Building on the point above, I love Windows 7. It is beautiful and doesn’t crash and is very intuitive. Guess what? – 500 + million people agree with me.

Now, while it may sound interesting – I dont want the touch experience on my Windows 7 screen right now. When I want touch, I go to my Ipad or my Android tablet.

I think the Windows 8 desktop experience with a touchscreen doesn’t really make much sense. I would like my desktop OS to stay similar to what it is right now in Windows 7 with refinements added to exisiting functionality.

I can see tons of people sticking with Windows 7 (just like XP) simply because they dont see the value of the addition of Metro on the desktop. If anything, it just confuses the message for desktop users.

The Logo

It’s bad. I’ve said enough about this here, here and here.

Now here comes:

What's ugly about Microsoft's Windows 8 Strategy

What’s ugly about Microsoft’s Windows 8 Strategy

The Ugly

The Messaging

This is HUGE.

This is the maddening problem that drives me crazy.

In 3 years of covering this, I have not read a concise explanation of why this upgrade is necessary.

To be clear I am not saying there is no need for this OS, I am just saying that Microsoft and multiple analysts have not provided one. Use the comments form below and explain in one simple sentence why I need Windows 8. Go ahead, I dare you.

If anything, acting with Mitt-Romney-like caution, Microsoft have gone out of their way to stress that you can have Windows 7 today and Windows 8 tomorrow. That’s great but why?

Here’s what I believe – I believe this is because Microsoft entered this space because they couldn’t afford not to. They also entered this space because it was strategically necessary. This puts the company in the unenviable position of having to double back to provide a REAL reason people should want this.

Here’s the problem – Consumers can tell.

They will always ask what does this do that my Ipad doesn’t? I don’t have the simple, concise answer -it’s not my job. Microsoft need to come up with this answer and fast.

The Messaging – Why the confusion about Windows on ARM (WOA)?

The messaging around Windows on ARM is turning into a daytime Soap Opera.

  • It will not be able to join domains, no it will, no it won’t.
  • It will be ready by this date, no it won’t, no it will.
  • It will have this version of Office, no it won’t, yes it will.
  • You’ll have access to the Desktop, no you won’t.

This is like watching roadkill – it’s awkward.

It’s awful to watch the drip, drip of misinformation about WOA and more importantly, business owners are absolutely appalled with this misinformation process.

This leads to my next point –

The Larger Strategy – Why all the (perceptions of) Confusion?

Steven Sinofsky seems to be doing a stellar job of leading development and development related communication with the larger Windows community. Whether or not you like what you see so far, you have to acknowledge that the effort is still pretty impressive.

The rest of it just seems like it’s being made up as we go along. Lack of a clear marketing strategy, the logo, the message to business, the narrative. It just doesn’t seem very focused and tight.

It’s like a political campaign where the candidate is great at giving speeches and public appearances but the campaign staff can’t organize voters, agree on a message or get TV or Radio airtime.

It never ends well.

I think that Steve Ballmer needs to get this narrative under control and start to lead some of these runaway discussions (WOA etc) in a forceful and definitive manner.

If there is no stronger leadership in this areas, we have to assume it’s because there is (relative) chaos and some of these decisions haven’t been made. If some of those decisions haven’t been made at this late stage in the game, this will not end well.

The Optics and Timing of being way behind

Apple may announce the release of the third generation Ipad. I won’t belabor the point. Microsoft are way behind. You know the story.

Summary

Having said all this, I still continue to remain fairly optimistic about Windows 8 as an Operating System.

There are lots of challenges ahead and this is one of the most challenging technology integration projects I have ever seen (Oracle Fusion is the other one that comes to mind).

Having said that, I remain hopeful. The strategy makes sense, now it’s down to execution.

This needs to be bulletproof when it ships and it has to ship soon. This cannot wait until 2013. It has to be deployed this year otherwise it’s over.

There are strategic, political and technological obstacles that currently stand between the genral public and the release of Windows 8.

Let’s hope and pray Microsoft is up to the challenge.

I’d love to get your feedback – do you agree or do you have a dissenting view?

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