Windows 8 has received some very bad notices from diverse sources – John Dvorak at Marketwatch and a PC Gamer Tim Edwards among others are some of the salient ones. Despite these nay sayers ye Editor is very optimistic about the success of Windows 8. I think the nay-sayers are protesting too much about the learning curve for Windows 8. It is large but not nearly as insufferable as implied by John and Gamer Tim In fact, when you make a major revision to an OS there will be changes. But adding multi-touch screen operations with new smart icons, charms and a default dashboard display layout will with notable speed and security improvements – these improvements will prove compelling for many users. There are 5 critical improvements which will win the day for Windows 8.
1 -Touchscreen and Full Multitasking
First and foremost, Apple’s Steve Job’s made 2 fatal mistakes when he and Apple failed to bring multi-touch screen operations to the Mac. The Mac community with its legion of graphic artists and designers would profit mightily with full touchscreen operaions on the Mac [and also could use Apple's yet-t0-appear replacement for the Jobs assasinated Flash]. Likewise, for the sake of better heat management and battery life, multitasking has been severely curtailed in iOS. But these Apple holdbacks now mean advantage Microsoft.
And it appears Microsoft is working overtime to insure that it does trump Apple tablets and Mac OS. Microsoft is bringing touchscreen and full multitasking not only to its own Surface machine but is encouraging all ultrabooks, laptops and desktops to support multitouch screen operations. Also Windows 8 manages multi-tasking but does not restrict access to it as in iOS. So now with fingers, pens and stylus, Windows 8 users will get to see if Steve Jobs warnings of tired arms will deter them from achieving higher productivity with full screen multi-touch in Windows 8[hint, no such luck Apple] . I have used a Wacom Cintiq which is a full touchscreen input tablet with stylus that costs more than the Mac or PC it is used with. But the Wacom powered computer, when used with Adobe Photoshop and other graphics intensive software, makes one 2-3 times more productive. Photo-edits that took 6 hours to do are done in 1-2 hours.
What is being discounted by too many Windows 8 reviewers is how much more productive full touchscreen operations can be. And not just graphics programs but any program with a full screen interface like Project Management, Spreadsheets, BI charts+reports, full screen programming interface like Eclipse, Dreamweaver, JetBrains, and hundreds of others software productivity tools.
Now keyboard and mice equivalents to touchscreen operations plus multi-touch pads and touch smart mice are available and make Windows 8 comfortable and productive on non-touchscreen enabled computers. But don’t look to the same productivity increases possible with full touchscreen support. So a warning to Fall PC buyers, PC vendors are just now offering Ultrabooks with thin size, light weight and much longer battery life of 5 to 8 hours. But none of them offer touchscreen operations and many do not have multi-touch pads nor touch-smart mice. DON’T BUY THEM. Theyare all missing what will be the essential winning feature for all future computing devices not just Windows 8 – multi-touchscreen operations.
2 – Keyboard,Mouse, Stylus or Fingers: In Windows 8 You Get to Choose
There is a good write up at Microsoft of the trade-offs among input devices – mouse, keyboard, pen/stylus, and fingers. What becomes clear is that there is no dominant input method – some work better than others in different circumstances. For example, fingers gestures are faster and more intuitive but lack the x+y position precision of other devices. Brian Egler’s review also catches this notion. Windows 8 is the first consumer OS that recognizes this reality and lets users mix and match and ultimately decide what works best for them given changing computing tasks and circumstances. Android and iOS in the tablet space give a much more closed set of options. Android tablets are now offering more stylus options and some keyboards and trackpad/mouse support as vendors like Asus [see Transformer products] and Lenovo [see Lenovo IdeaPad 2] provide these capabilities.
Meanwhile, iOS and iPad bring up the rear – Apple users have to live with Apple’s almost elitist dictates for what is best for you – and a keyboard+mouse on iPad is almost an after thought. In contrast, Microsoft is providing in Windows 8 a number of key+mouse equivalents for touchscreen operation and robust pen/stylus support along with broad support for multi-touch operations. For graphically savvy users this flexibility in pen input has got to be a compelling.
3 – Microsoft’s True Innovations
Live icons will be standard on all OS within 2 years
One has to give Redmond credit for 2 UI innovations that have come to the fore in Windows 8. First the Start Screen and Charms change the role of icons. Icons in Windows 8 can be just as dead as in Android and iOS – just stark, mute markers for various apps and programs. Or they can be capsule summaries for why you might want to start up your email, Project Management program, or BI app. Icons can carry nuggets of info that say “everything is A-OK” or “better handle this right away” right on your start screen. Businesses, already used to dashboards or portfolio screens, are going to love this. So will consumers too.
The second innovation is that Windows 8 will continue the MS pioneered plug and play multi-screen, multi-device. So taking apart your laptop and converting it into a tablet is a no big deal. likewise you can add on multiple screens including TV plus hundreds of USB3 powered devices with no sweat. Finally, cloud-based SkyDrive is baked into the OS and file system open/save dialogs. Now Windows Phones and Tablets can become live and connected participants on Windows 8 screens[hence the Skype investment]. Yes, everybody is moving toward this. But it appears that Windows 8, coming from behind, will have the mostest. The Windows Phone 8 event on September 5th will tell users a lot more on how much more.
4-The Huge Windows Inventory of Desktop Programs All Become Instantly Touch Enabled
Not so for Mac [pointing through a touchpad is just not the same]. Can you imagine such diverse programs as IBM/Cognos Reports, AutoCAD Designer, Quicken Accounts, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, Quark Express, and any program that is drag and drop or visually rich. Bang – on October 26th they become multi-touch screen enabled. From gamers thru graphic artists to full-screen productivity workers – multi-device touchscreen operations are going to be a god-send.
5 – One OS to Bind Them All
Both Google and Apple have made the assumption, that in mobile OS there has to be two OS. Google is committed to ChromeOS for laptops and desktops while Android is the mobile OS. But of late Goole is hedging its bets. Android which is Linux based, is taking on more tablet and notebook capabilities while ChromeOS has yet to take-off as a browser based OS. Part of this may be because of the lack of a robust set of 3rd party Apps and still developing offline operations. Meanwhile Apple has made a clear iMaginot line – Mac for desktop and laptops and iOS in iPod/iPad/iPhone for mobile consumer apps.The problem is that rapid hardware advances make this separation obsolete.
For example, with Samaung Galaxy S III huge screen are available for smartphones. Ditto tablets. In effect, the artificial distinction between mobile and laptop is largely being erased by rapid hardware and technology developments. So what required specialized OS for mobile devices has been negated by faster, multicore low power CPU chips, ever bigger touchscreens, and low-power using and more secure SSD hard drives. In 5 years time, iOS will be a part of MacOS [or vice versa] or Apple will be hurting.
Second, Microsoft has devoted a great deal of effort to being able to tie together hardware in seamless plug and play functionality for the new tablets, smartphones, laptops/ultrabooks and desktops. Multiple screens driven from an Microsoft Surface tablet is readily doable. Hanging on a keyboard or a USB 3 powered device or a TV Scren is also plug and play. Same for taking away parts. True there will islands of functionality that may attract a specialized OS as in gaming systems, or appliance controllers,or server systems. But even Microsoft Server 2012 will have the Windows 8 UI.
Microsoft is determined to prevent Android and iOS from becoming the permanent smartphone, tablet and consumer client OS of choice. By linking up the Windows Treasury of Desktop Programs re-invigorated with touch screen operations, Redmond hopes to stave off Apple and Google from stealing away “their” client/consumer OS market. Hence the pricing of the Microsoft Surface RT for $299- Redmond is determined to get a big beachhead into the tablet space. But this tablet way better than iPad and most Android tablets in features and functionality. while conceding a huge Apps to Apple and Google. Will a $299 price for keyboard and mouse equipped tablet win the day?
Where Microsoft Could Still Shank Things
First and foremost, the “Ultrabooks without Touchscreen operations” sends the wrong message just before the Windows 8 launch. No wonder Microsoft, like Google before it in both smartphones and tablets, has felt compelled with its Surface machine to set a hardware reference standard for its suppliers. But really, 4 quicklines say where things can go wrong for Redmond:
1)Windows Vista and some Nile-like scourge of bugs. But tests on the final Win8 RTM for installation and performance are very positive.
2)Desktop is not treated as a first class part of Windows 8. The programming of Metro and Desktop are not well linked.
3)Crazy quilt product SKUs and pricing.
4)The learning Curve for Windows 8 is not small.
This could be Windows 8 most serious stumbling block. For example, I have yet to find a really good User Guide to 8 for Windows 7 Users. Techradar has one of the best comparisons of Win 7 vs Win 8 seen so far [still it is episodic and confusing at times]; soMicrosoft itself will have step up and do a bang up job for prospective upgraders [see here why Redmond will have to address the learning curve]. And there will be lots of upgraders because even without touchscreen operations, the ease of installation, greater security, better performance, live dashboard, cloud connections and proxy touchscreen operations are very compelling. See ZDnet article which confirms many of these ideas.
Unfortunately for Redmond it looks like number 3) is also baked in. But consider the larger view. It appears Microsoft has delivered a stable and easy to install Windows twice in a row. Yes, Microsoft is indeed playing catchup on tablets and smartphones- especially in native apps. But Windows 8 steps ahead of Apple and Google in key areas: faster performance;, touchscreens for everybody; any UI interaction; plug , unplug, and still play hardware approach; and bringing full multi-touch screen operations to literally millions of desktop apps while adding dashboard convenience to a Smart Start Screen – all this has the makings of a smash hit come this Fall and the new year.
The 10,000 Feet View of Windows 8 – Now there is the Big 3 in Computing
Apple has forced both Google and Microsoft to enter the hardware side of the computing business. Google with the purchase of Motorola for its patents but also because Google could see the leverage that Apple gained by having both hardware and software in its marketing arsenal. Ditto for Microsoft whose Surface laptop/tablet is more than a reference build. But most important, Windows 8 is proof to Microsoft itself and it customers that Redmond can compete on innovation, performance and reliability. It is ia full player in the client computing game[unlike IBM or Oracle or SAP] which still drives much of computing and its innovations.
This emergnce of a Big 3, like Chrysler, Ford and GM in autos , is essential for the market to be propelled forward in competitive vigour. Yes, the companies can succumb to trivial me-tooism like the shark fin cars of the late 50’s, but then other major players like Samsung or Amazon could create their own OS foundation for challenging the big 3 in computing. But right now major growth in computing will still be client driven by OS software, hardware innovation, and apps, apps, apps – as many as possible, popular and homegrown.
Windows 8 is Microsoft’s proof that it belongs in Computing’s Big 3.