Here’s what’s right with Windows 8

Summary: Windows 8 is a massive gamble for Microsoft, and right now I can see the potential for it to be one of the most successful operating system releases ever.

A friend of mine pointed me to this article by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes. He points out some issues about Windows 8 and comes to the summary: “Windows 8 is a massive gamble for Microsoft, and right now I can see the potential for it to fail harder than Windows Vista did.”

He’s right. It might fail massively. Vista was poorly executed and a forced undesired changes that annoyed a lot of people. It was forced at one point, which made people angry. People hated Vista. If Windows 8 is poorly executed, people won’t get the paradigm shift, they might hate it and it might fail.  If they are moronic enough to stop Windows 7 sales, they will probably make people angry.

But, assuming the final Windows 8 is well executed, I think it has the potential to be a massive success. Looking first at Adrian’s points:

“No method to make the Classic desktop the default”

Ok, Microsoft has not overcome its hubris. I’d love it if Microsoft simply offered the classic desktop as an option.  Point goes against  Windows 8.

“Metro doesn’t work for everything”

Of course Metro doesn’t work for everything. It shouldn’t.  As an application developer I’m looking closely at what apps should embrace Metro, what apps should shift to application specific chrome in HTML 5 browser apps, and what apps should stay in the classic desktop. It would be silly to think there is a single answer for all applications.  I have seen positively amazing Metro apps that may change the way you think about information.  I’ve also complained loudly about some Metro-like changes to the Visual Studio developer environment that still makes sense in classic Windows style. Windows 8 allows applications to live in the world that suits them best. Point goes to irrelevant.

“No apparent Kinect support”

Kudos to Adrian for seeing how important Kinect is in the long haul! I think it’s safe to see this as a figment of the fact we’re looking at a consumer preview. Exactly when Kinect support releases for Win 8 is unclear, but I’m not at all worried about its inclusion. Point goes to Win 8 because having Kinect support will be very cool.

“Inefficiencies everywhere”

Inefficiency and resulting discomfort is the heart of question with Win 8. But there are also improved efficiencies. It’s very fast to type part of an application name and there are scenarios where Win 8 is faster. Hopefully the consumer preview will let Microsoft tune these scenarios. Windows 8 is well executed if it is stable and has more efficiency gains than losses.  This is going to be one of two points that will decide the game.

“Live tiles may not be that live”

And they may be super live. Tiles are far more integrated at a software and a user experience level than gadgets.  Applications will be competing hard for the first page of your Metro start menu. They will have to add value to be there. The biggest different between gadgets and tiles is that applications important to you will be searching for value to add to their tiles. Applications will truly care about displaying information when they are not “open” and expect to see very cool stuff. Everyone will have a “dashboard” into their world. Point goes to Win 8.

And to look at other points I think are important regarding Win 8 success

Application development support

An operating system is like the theater, lighting, sound, and air conditioning system for a theatrical production. If it’s wrong, your experience will suck and you won’t suggest the play itself to your friends. Win 8 appears to be a good theater. This lays the groundwork for you to immerse yourself in the play itself – for you to interact with your applications on a richer level. This is why consumers have embraced smart phones – they allow fundamentally richer and more intimate applicatoin interactions. Microsoft has done a good, although imperfect, job of empowering developers with an exciting round of improved tools and technology access. The next phase is to get new thinking and new techniques embraced by a broad swath of developers so there are awesome Win 8 applications on the tablet, and Metro justifying tiles on the desktop.  This is the second point that will decide the game.


What I’m not so sure of is Win 8’s success on the tablet. How many people want a full powered laptop replacement tablet with a short battery life? How many want a lower power long battery life inexpensive ARM based tablet? How well will Windows 8 on ARM tablets be executed and what apps will be available for it? How will the security model integrate with existing enterprise security models for that market? What do consumers ultimately want in this market sector? How well will the hardware vendors deliver? What will the pricing/bundling/carrier story for data plans be? There are boatloads of outstanding questions that will affect Win 8 success in the tablet market.

Final thougts

I agree with a lot of what Adrian said. I really felt that it was only part of the story. The gamble is not between ho-hum and a huge loss. It’s a gamble between a big win and a big loss from Microsoft’s perspective. This is anything but a ho-hum release. From the consumer perspective there’s not much of a gamble – you’ve got an awesome operating system in Win 7. With luck, Microsoft will carry this into a well-executed final release of Windows 8 that builds on the consumer preview and shaves off some of the previews warts. If not, wait for them to get it right in Win 9.

My girls built Lego furniture for their Barbie dolls

The Women in Technology luncheon at the MVP summit included a discussion of gifts we give to girls.

During the conversation, Deborah Kurata said to me “my girls used Legos to build furniture for their Barbie dolls.”

Gifts are the opportunity to put into the hands of little women the things we want to have in their hands. It is easy to fall into giving them the gift they want and ask for. But those choices are heavily influenced by a feedback cycle that markets dolls to girls and building sets to boys, causing children to desire toys in these patterns, causing people to buy these kinds of gifts, causing these kinds of toys to be comfortable, causing next year’s marketing to be more effective.

There’s nothing wrong with giving a Barbie doll to a young girl, except that she probably as three of them.

Legos have undergone some annoying changes. I’ve been told that they now have sets marketed to girls. First, it’s an offensive notion that girls don’t want to build good stuff and like it better if it’s pink. Then in some bizarre twist, the pink sets are simpler. That’s dumb.

If they sell true building sets, at some point you have enough Legos. If they sell 3-D jigsaw puzzles, there’s an unending supply of movie branding to sell new Lego sets. This might help wire some spatial rendering in the brain, but it doesn’t spark much creativity. If you give any child Legos, sit down with them and ask “what else do you want to build?”

I’m not claiming that boys and girls on average are the same. Girls tend to more interest in human relationships. Play is always social and children intertwine different kinds of play where they practice different kinds of skills. And more girls are attuned to aesthetics – more easily drawn to pretty things and away from ugly things. If Legos are blocky, there are a lot of other kinds of spatial play.

I hope every child has a few dolls because fantasy play is a wonderful kind of play. Dolls aimed at boys could be hero focused (GI Joe, sports figures, etc.) if that makes it more interesting or comfortable for the particular boy. But I also hope every child has a wide variety of toys including card games, building sets, toys they make themselves, fantasy toys, computer games, and “educational” toys like microscopes. This year when you’re giving gifts to the little ones in your life, consider taking a risk, stepping outside the marketing driven box, and giving a kind of gift they don’t have much of.