Windows 8 is now available in Beta. Remember, that is Beta. This means that Microsoft is not done putting the final touches on the user interface and features under the hood. So, before you start screaming that “Windows 8 doesn’t do X,” or “Windows 8 doesn’t have Y,” keep that in mind. What you see now may change a bit before product release. Aside from what each of us would like Windows 8 to be, let’s take a step back and analyze what Windows 8 is really supposed to be.
I don’t believe that Windows 8 is really a successor to Windows 7. Numerically that is the case, but user interface changes suggest otherwise. The Windows 8 Metro interface is so different, that it will stir up quite a bit of frustration from the existing users of Windows 7. Is that a problem? Not really. Most organizations have only just started switching to Windows 7. Do you think they are going to jump on Windows 8 immediately? Of course not. Windows 7 will still be kicking around long after the supposed demise of the PC. If you like Windows 7 on your desktop or laptop, keep it. That’s the form-factor that Windows 7 was designed for in the first place.
Windows 8 is a Tablet OS first and foremost. For their own reasons, Microsoft is designing Windows 8 to run on any type of form-factor, but its roots will be the slate or tablet style of interface. It’s what we’ve been asking for, isn’t it? We have all been beating Microsoft up for letting Apple take over the tablet market and providing very few alternative options of their own. How many of you have tried to use a Windows 7 Slate or Tablet device… with your finger? Frustrating isn’t it? The buttons are too small, and the menu options are impossible to select. That’s why all of the Microsoft Tablet devices come with a stylus – essentially, a glorified mouse.
Couldn’t Microsoft just have designed a finger-friendly overly for Windows 7? Sure, but what about all of the hard-coded dialogs and menus that would eventually pop up and require precision instead of fat-fingering? Besides, they already tried that approach with Windows Mobile 6. The various hardware vendors put their own finger-friendly menu overlay on top of Windows Mobile, and the results were mixed. Everything was just fine until you hit the dialogs and menus that required you to whip out the stylus.
Windows 8 isn’t just a Tablet OS from the user interface (UI) perspective though. They had to design the OS to run on much lighter-weight hardware, in less memory than Windows 7. Once again, simply retrofitting Windows 7 wouldn’t work. Microsoft has completely redesigned the boot process, memory management model, and what happens to applications that are running in the background. This is all to satisfy our want to have Windows on a tablet device comparable in weight and price to an iPad or Android tablet.
Personally, I would rather have seen Microsoft design a Tablet version of the Windows Phone 7 OS and keep the desktop grade OS as a separate branch. However, I understand Microsoft’s position on this. They find it hard to justify two different code-bases that they ultimately have to develop and support. This is especially true when the desktop and laptop market is expected to gradually shrink in the coming years.
What about Windows Server 8? Why does it need the Metro UI? The answer, once again, is the Tablet. No, we won’t be running our servers on Tablets, but we sure will be managing our servers from Tablets. Many of you are doing that now, but are none too happy interacting with the standard Windows interface through a fingerfocused device. Windows Client 8 Tablets have a new version of the Remote Desktop client that allows for Multitouch and access to all of the Metro UI features from a remote Tablet device.
Even so, I believe that most organizations will not be jumping right on the Windows Server 8 bandwagon, with one exception. Those organizations that are already using Hyper-V, or are looking to switch to Hyper-V, will find that the new Windows Server 8 version of Hyper-V has a huge new set of features that will give current VMware shops much more to think about when license renewals come up.
The bottom line is, we shouldn’t expect Microsoft to hang on to the old Windows 95 look and feel forever. It has probably been the least changed user interface in the history of computing over a similar time period. I mean, really, we are talking about 17 years after all. No other OS has the same interface going back that far.
Personally, I know it will be hard for me to adapt at first, but it is time for a change. And if we think of the Windows 8 OS as a New OS and not just an upgrade from Windows 7, you may be surprised how much easier it is to accept the new look and feel of Windows.
Reposted and available for download from the Global Knowledge White Paper: The Windows 8 Reality