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 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and 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 health care 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. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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