The Dual Irony of Windows 8

I’ve been writing about the upcoming Microsoft Surface, and studying the keynote presentation describing it. It has struck me that with Windows 8, Microsoft has managed to screw up not once but twice, in a single release:

  • Windows 8 RT looks like a pretty good tablet solution. But, apart from the highly misleading name, it offers absolutely no continuity whatsoever with the 30-year-old Windows ecosystem.
  • Meanwhile, Windows 8 Pro breaks violently with that same 30-year tradition. Yet it fails to deliver a touch-based solution for existing Windows applications, with not even a token effort at making the desktop mode more finger-friendly.

This really is the worst of both worlds. Microsoft has belatedly launched a brand-new mobile OS, that’s going to have to catch up in stability and app support with two huge contenders, iOS and Android. (Even the BlackBerry OS has more of a track record at this point.) Yet it’s squandered its one undeniable advantage, by not playing off of the huge success of Windows on the PC. As Microsoft has pointed out, the potential audience for a truly Windows-like mobile OS was on the order of a half-billion users. The audience for brand-new MetrOS, dramatically less Windows-like than any of its competitors? Who knows.

At the same time, Microsoft has launched a new desktop OS without adding much-needed touch support. Windows 8 slaps on the goofy new Metro mode like a coat of paint… but, astoundingly, offers no improvement whatsoever in touch facilities for existing applications. Simply enlarging the red X ‘close window’ button might have been a start; how hard would that have been??? Microsoft has done so pathetically little to make the desktop more usable by touch that you simply can’t help thinking the company plans to kill it entirely. Thereby discarding its own most important asset: the continuity of applications, skills and user acceptance that Windows has built up over three decades. Microsoft has ensured that Windows users looking for a touch-based solution will find more continuity by switching to a competing OS.

Nice work. It’s not all that rare to see a big company shoot itself in the foot. But both feet with one pull of the trigger? That takes real genius.

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