Tomorrow (Tuesday 13th September 2011) sees the official unveiling of Windows 8 from Microsoft at their BUILD conference in Anaheim, California. The keynote address, which goes out at 9am PT | 5pm – London | 12pm – New York | Fri 2am – Sydney | Fri 1am – Tokyo | Fri 12am – Beijing | 9:30pm – Mumbai can be seen online HERE. But what will Windows 8 be and how will Microsoft push it.
Clearly there will be a focus on the new tablet interface. Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky himself has said that "if you want to stay permanently immersed in that Metro world, you will never see the desktop—we won’t even load it (literally the code will not be loaded) unless you explicitly choose to go there! This is Windows reimagined."
I can completely understand why he's saying this. Microsoft are really late to the tablet market and need to catch up and gain market share. But is this an appropriate way for them to market the OS? The reason I say this is that by 2015 the total number of people with either Windows tablets or desktop PCs capable of making the best from the new tablet interface will probably be no more than 10% of total Windows users. Over half of all Windows users are businesses and they won't want to have to rewrite all their software and retrain all their staff, so they'll use the tradional desktop interface by default still. Of the rest most won't have a brand new PC with a touch screen or, and here's one of my predictions, Kinect sensors built into the bezel to allow "Minority Report" style gesture controls. These people will still use a keyboard and mouse and, call me over-cautious, but I just don't believe that a mouse will work well with this new interface.
Even when Sinofsky said "You don’t need to change to a different device if you want to edit photos or movies professionally, create documents for your job or school, manage a large corpus of media or data, or get done the infinite number of things people do with a PC today. And if you don’t want to do any of those “PC” things, then you don’t have to and you’re not paying for them in memory, battery life, or hardware requirements. If you do want or need this functionality, then you can switch to it with ease and fluidity because Windows is right there. Essentially, you can think of the Windows desktop as just another app." I'm cautious.
The reason for this is that to have a successful tablet interface it needs to be simple and straightforward. Windows is a complicated beast though with all manner of functionality built into Explorer alone. Integration with SkyDrive and Office 365 will be there, Mounting ISO files as virtual drives, changing your sharing settings for files and setting up complex libraries and modifying meta-data on photos and documents. Even complex file management isn't something that you'd normally consider doing in a tablet interface, it's just not the right environment for it.
I'm wondering therefore if Sinofsky wasn't over-egging the pudding (to coin a phrase) when he said all those things in a recent blog post. There will be plenty more to shout about, new virtualisation technologies, a cold boot time of under 10 seconds and, another prediction here, the complete stripping out of the old legacy support. This alone will make Windows much smaller, leaner and quicker and reduce the number of security and other patches by up to 90%. These will be the headline features that will get people truly excited.
Either way, we'll find out tomorrow and Windows 8 whatever is said is going to be a truly exciting and, dare I say, fantastic new product that will completely shake up the computing industry. Apple, for instance, with recent iPad'esque additions to OS X will need to take stock of how Microsoft are adding these tablet-based consumer additions to the desktop as the Microsoft way looks to be much more effective than what Apple are offering.
But will we really spend our whole computing time in the new interface and not drop down to the desktop? Will people really take to it this time around and not have the desktop auto-load on their PCs? This could be out of comfort and familiarity as much as features and functionality. To get the answers to these questions we'll probably have to wait another two years to see, twelve months after it's official launch, how people are actually using the product. Tomorrow's keynote will certainly be an interesting one, but I hope Microsoft don't focus too much on what could turn out to be an underused new feature.
Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.