Posey's Tips & Tricks

Where Is Microsoft Headed With Windows 8?

Over the last month or two, there has been quite a bit leaked about Windows 8. While it is impossible to validate that information, it's possible to get a feel for what Windows 8 might include based on some recent trends.

For instance, the Consumer Electronics Show in January was saturated with tablet devices, and IT journalists were even writing stories proclaiming that "the PC is dead." At the same time, Microsoft made an announcement that "Windows Next" (likely meaning "Windows 8") would be the first version of Windows that would run on ARM processors, which are commonly used in smartphones.

So far, it appears that ARM support on multiple devices is going to one of Microsoft's major selling points for Windows 8. Earlier this month at the MIX 11 developer event, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a demonstration of an early build of Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 running on a 1 GHz ARM-based tablet device.

Still, Microsoft faces a dilemma of sorts. Developing an operating system that can run on a tablet device isn't going to be enough for Microsoft to sustain its general OS dominance. Microsoft's OSes are thought to run on at least 80 percent of the world's PCs, so reports from CES about the PC being dead has got to strike a nerve among Microsoft executives.

Windows 7 tablets are available right now, but few appear to be buying them. Windows 7 tablets are considered bulky, slow (comparatively speaking) and lacking the "wow" factor of competing tablets, some reviewers have said.

Back to the Future
I honestly believe that the future of Windows lies in the past. If you think back to the late 1990s, Microsoft used different desktop operating systems for different purposes. Windows 95 and 98 were marketed to consumers while Windows NT and Windows 2000 were marketed to businesses. Since that time, Microsoft has created multiple editions of a single Windows OS to get business and consumer users on the same product. For example, there is a Home edition of Windows 7 for consumers, but there are also Professional and Enterprise editions with a few more features.

Going forward, I don't think that this approach is going to work for Microsoft. The expectations of consumers and businesses are simply too different. The perception among consumers is that Windows is slow, complicated, buggy and easily infested with viruses. On the other hand, consumers tend to view tablet devices such as the iPad and the Droid tablets as being new, easy to use, feature-rich, instantly responsive, and most importantly, stable.

If Windows is to be a viable choice for consumers going forward, then Windows 8 tablets will need to be just as reliable and efficient as the iPad and Droid tablets. Windows 8 tablets also will need to sport enough technological innovation to be worthy of the "tech envy" label.

On the other hand, business needs are completely different. For example, I cannot imagine having to type this article on a touchscreen, but there is more to it than that. Businesses need OSes that can run the software that they have already invested in, while also providing stability and security. As tantalizing as the latest tablets might be, they are often a poor fit for businesses.

What's Next?
Because consumers and businesses have such differing wish lists, I think that Microsoft will have to come up with two very different designs for Windows 8. It remains to be seen what Windows 8 will ultimately look like, but I suspect that the recently released Windows Phone 7 OS is something of an experiment that will be used to help the development of Windows 8. The Windows Phone 7 "Metro" operating system feels a lot like the iPad OS, and I think that Microsoft is gauging customer's responses to the new mobile OS in an effort to refine the Windows 8 interface.

Although I think that most of the innovation will be geared to the consumer space, some of the new features will inevitably make it into the corporate version. There are already rumors circulating that Windows 8 will use face-recognition technology in place of user names and passwords. There are also rumors that Windows 8 will use a Web-cam to tell when a user steps away from their computer so that the user can be automatically logged out and the PC can be put into a state of hibernation. Such security features would be truly welcome in corporate environments where security is a paramount concern.

Of course I am only guessing as to what we can expect from Windows 8. Even so, I am betting that it will be a radical departure from Windows 7.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a seven time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written many thousands of articles and written or contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. When He isn't busy writing, Brien Posey enjoys exotic travel, scuba diving, and racing his Cigarette boat. You can visit his personal Web site at: www.brienposey.com.

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Reader Comments:

Thu, May 19, 2011

please do not split the OS's again. It does nothing but confuse users. With everyone working at home these days as well as the office splitting these creates hassles for all.

Mon, May 9, 2011

As I read this Microsoft is making an OS for pleasure and one for business. That equal comfort versus work. That leaves creative computer users in lurch. If Microsoft goes that way it opens the door for serious completion. Users are not dumb and want convince but flexibility to separate their own environment. Seems to open more needs when restrictions are made.

Sat, May 7, 2011 TsarNikky CT

If Micorosft wants to make an OS for tablets, phones, PDAs, etc. separate from laptops/desktops; fine. But, don't end up making separate OSs for "business" and "consumers." The current multiple "editions" of one OS works just fine. You get to chose and pay for want you want.

Wed, Apr 27, 2011 Bob

Are you kidding??? Windows Phone 7's amazing Metro interface looks nothing even remotely like icrap! The ishit looks like a copy of Windows Mobile from 2002 with a few smooth transitions, and icon icon icon. By comparison Windows Phone 7's fluid interface, live tiles, and linking between different aspects of the user experience are vastly superior. You are an ishit fanboy.

Tue, Apr 26, 2011 John Obeto

Your point of view, while worth a read, bothers on the uninformed. Why? Because, believe it or not, people like to use a system with a unified UI wherever they use a computer. The only people I ever see clamoring for an earlier UI are lazy IT types who are satisfied with the status quo, and don't want to expend the time and effort required to create a migration plan in order to provide better/greater functionality to their users. Those are the same yobs pining for the command line. Furthermore, after giving it much thought, I beleive what you are asking for here would only fork the OS, downgrading it to merely being a more capable Linux. Finally, I think the only concession Microsoft shold make is what they already do: bundle downlevel VMs out of the box.

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 Barry Martin

I actually have to disagree. I see the deltas between consumer and Enterprise disappearing. The biggest example on the planet is the iPad. Consumers want to do their work on what they like to use at home. Touchscreen or no touchscreen, users want what they want, and if one company doesn't give it to them, the next in line will be happy to. I think Microsoft took the perfect approach with layering functionality from the same core code base. They build support for the devices and accessories at the root level and can allow the widest adoption of technologies for both the consumer and Enterprise. As we get more adoption of BYOPC, this point will become moot, but for now, I believe MS has the right answer.

Thu, Apr 21, 2011

Windows Phone is about as far from iOS as you can get. It really is the most unique in the Market, despite coming out last. Sounds like you never used it and are guessing here.

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 Andre Da Costa http://techingiteasy.wordpress.com

"Earlier this month at the MIX 11 developer event, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a demonstration of an early build of Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 running on a 1 GHz ARM-based tablet device." Actually, it was demoed by Steven Sinofsky (President of Windows and Windows Live at Microsoft).

Wed, Apr 20, 2011

"as the iPad and Droid tablets" By "Droid tablet", do you mean Moto is dropping Zoom and bringing the Droid tablet (which would be interesting news) or do you mean Google Android tablets?

Wed, Apr 20, 2011

"The Windows Phone 7 "Metro" operating system feels a lot like the iPad OS" It looks and feels nothing like the iPad/iPhone OS. I'm not sure how you came to that conclusion. It makes the iPhone OS look quite gaudy and tacky by comparison.

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