Where is Microsoft Heading with Windows 8?

Windows 8 GirlWith the entire tech world buzzing about the Windows Developer Preview for Windows 8, everyone is wondering what Microsoft is exactly planning with the early versions of Windows 8. And then, even when someone has a valid idea of Microsoft’s strategy with Windows 8, there’s still much debate over whether any of these strategies will be at all successful.

What’s On Windows 8 So Far

Sure, some features are subject to change, but we can’t help but notice the weird idiosyncrasies of the new operating system (OS), some of which are rather annoying or frustrating, depending on the user’s preference. To speak about Windows 8 generally, here’s what we have:

  • The user interface (UI) is designed for touch-screen devices, with a new “Metro” interface which is slightly similar to the UI for Windows Phone 7 with lots of boxes on the Metro home-screen that give you lots of information.
  • Metro is a light, tablet-like UI that supports “Metro style” apps written in C++, C#, or Javascript and HTML5. This means that Metro apps will not support “legacy” windows programs that currently run on Windows 7 (namely Microsoft Office Suite, Adobe CS5, high-end games, and the like).
  • While having a more touch-screen interface, Windows 8 also keeps the old Windows desktop that you know and love from Windows 7 which supports “legacy” programs. This desktop mode is essentially an “app” that you can choose from the Metro UI.
  • Unfortunately, not all devices will be able to handle Windows “legacy” programs, despite the desktop app. Any devices running on ARM architecture (as opposed to x86) will only be able to support Metro apps.
  • Also, the “desktop” app, while very much resembling Windows 7, doesn’t have all the functionality of Windows 7 at the moment. Most notably, the Start (or Windows button) does not open the Start Menu; instead it goes to the Metro UI.

Concerns

It appears that Microsoft is sprinting (or scrambling for those more negatively inclined) in two directions:

  • They are trying to develop are useful, good looking, and dynamic mobile interface (Metro) that can compete with Apple and Android.
  • They are trying maintain their hold on (and perhaps the perceived demand of) PC OS’s while also easing traditional PC users into this mobile interface.

These are not very easy goals to accomplish, and some might say it’s about impossible to do with one OS. As for getting Metro into the mobile phone and tablet market, Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do. In the mobile computing market, it’s all about the apps, and right now Microsoft does not have very many. Consider also that most of Microsoft’s developers only know how to write for x64 architecture (.NET and the like), and you realize the awkward position Microsoft is currently in with Windows 8.

Equally troublesome is the idea that most desktop and laptop users probably aren’t thrilled with the lack of a Start Menu, among other limitations to the desktop app of Windows 8. I do expect Microsoft to change a lot of these limitations do make desktop computing a more desirable experience on Windows 8, but even with these limitations solved, why would anyone with a desktop or laptop choose Windows 8 over Windows 7? Using a touch-screen monitor at a desk with a keyboard just doesn’t seem as efficient as using a mouse and keyboard, and it simply doesn’t offer anything new to warrant a new operating system. Perhaps this isn’t Microsoft’s goal with Windows 8 anyway.

Another frightening obstacle that Microsoft will have to overcome is how exactly they will market this “cohesive” OS that is actually somewhat fragmented in reality. A huge appeal to Windows 8 is the desktop app, but the fact that you can only run Windows “legacy” programs on x86 architecture is just confusing to the average consumer. I could imagine many people buying an ARM tablet with Windows 8 and becoming extremely frustrated when they can’t run their traditional Windows programs on it.

Hope

Despite all these concerns I have for Windows 8, I do believe the OS has some very intriguing potential. Technology seems to be showing its hand with the Motorola Atrix, and the future appears to be highly portable devices that become all the more useful when given the appropriate contexts (or docks). With this vision in mind, Windows 8 seems to be banking on this future.

The fact that Windows 8 is a mobile UI with a desktop makes perfect sense if you consider it being used on a dockable phone or tablet. In fact, I feel that this is the only way Windows 8 makes sense. Unfortunately, only a certain number of tablets (and most likely no mobile phones unless Intel develops a solid, mobile x86 chip) are likely to deliver the classic x86 desktop experience that PC users have come to know and love. Perhaps some innovations will make this obstacle become more of a reality, but for now, Windows 8 seems somewhat of a gamble.

Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com.