The Microsoft developer ecosystem has been alive with buzz about Windows 8 all week
at the Build conference.
What everyone is talking about is the new Metro user
experience and interface and the new WinRT API
that supports it.
I was one of the lucky ones who got a ticket to Build before it sold out and received
the developer prototype hardware tablet running the early preview of Windows 8
(I’ve never had prototype hardware before!) After playing with it for a few
days, I can say that while the app store is not open yet and it is obvious that
the software is pre-alpha (there is no Metro mail client for example) running on prototype
hardware, I can tell you that the new Metro UI experience is awesome. The iPad will
have true competition.
While the iPad ushered in this form factor and paradigm, with Windows 8 Metro, Microsoft
has taken it to a new level. Windows 8 Metro uses the same immersive app concept
pioneered by the iPad, however, the desktop is alive with data via “live tiles.” Instead
of boring icons like the iPad, Metro gives you a truly interactive experience. The
live tiles are live updates from the apps, everything from RSS feeds and Twiter to
stocks and weather. You have full control over this experience and can customize the
notifications or even turn them off (but not sure why you would want to do this.)
As I have played with Windows 8 all week, I never found myself going to “Desktop”
mode on the tablet. As I interacted with the Metro tiles, I found myself doing all
of the “tablet” things I normally do on my iPad. When I had to “work” (like write
long emails and blog posts), I found myself using my laptop.
Windows 8 gives you the ability to have the “best of both worlds” where you can use
the Metro style UI and then when you need to, dock your tablet into a station and
use it in “desktop” mode using traditional Windows with a mouse and keyboard. This
is a great feature that will undoubtedly be used by millions of people.
That said, Microsoft needs to OEM a version of Windows 8 to tablet hardware developers
that will only run in Metro mode. While I fully expect that my next laptop will have
a touch screen and I will interact with Windows 8 Metro mode often on it, my experience
on the laptop will mostly be running in traditional desktop mode with a mouse and
keyboard (try writing this blog post on a tablet today). At the same time, I would
also want a (cheaper) Windows 8 tablet where I only interact with the Metro UI. Just
like how I have a laptop PC and tablet iPad today, I use each in different scenarios.
In short, laptop for work, tablet for play.
When people buy a tablet like the iPad, they want the immersive experience and that
experience only. I have argued
before that people don’t want a tablet that is a laptop replacement, they want
both devices. When using a tablet, I don’t need to go out to the desktop mode and
use Outlook, I just want to use the touch UI and a lightweight app for my mail. When
using my laptop, I don’t want the constraints of a tablet. They are different devices
that have different uses.
With a Metro-only SKU of Windows, the tablet vendors can build truly awesome experiences
that don’t have any of traditional Windows running. They can build lower power devices
that run on ARM and hit the $500 or below price
point. It will be clear that this is a “tablet” and not a PC. People love the experience
of the iPad, they like how they are constrained and can’t do the things they do on
their PCs. These constraints force the consumer to interact with the iPad differently,
and that has led to its success. If Windows removes those constraints, allowing the
tablet users to shell out to Windows, then it will most likely confuse the customer
and ultimately fail. Just like all of the Android tablets trying to add “laptop” features
and have failed so far.
I asked a Microsoft executive point blank yesterday if they were going to have a tablet
Metro-only SKU of Windows. While he said my question was “insightful”, he said Microsoft
has made no SKU decisions at this time. At least he did not say no.
Stephen Forte sits on the board of several start-ups including Triton Works. Stephen is also the Microsoft Regional Director for the NY Metro region and speaks regularly at industry conferences around the world. He has written several books on application and database development including Programming SQL Server 2008 (MS Press).