By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols | February 6, 2012, 9:48am PST
Summary: Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Vista will have several things in common: Both are unwanted operating system updates that will flop in the marketplace.
Some of my die-hard Windows friends are very excited by Windows 8 arrival later this year. Others fear that Windows 8 will be a repeat of Microsoft’s Vista disaster. Me? I know Windows 8 will be a Vista-sized fiasco.
Before jumping into why I think far more PC users will still be running Windows 7 in 2016 than Windows 8, let me explain that while I prefer Linux as my desktop operating system, I don’t see Windows 8 charge into a brick wall as being a pro-Linux or anti-Microsoft issue.
In fact, as desktop operating systems go, I rather like Windows 7. Yes, really. Besides, it’s not like Windows 8’s forthcoming failure will help desktop Linux. Looking back, when Vista flopped, in the long run it actually hurt desktop Linux. That’s because Vista’s failure, combined with the threat of netbooks, caused Microsoft to revive Windows XP. If Windows 8 goes down the same path, I’m sure Microsoft will extend Windows 7’s lifespan.
So, why is Windows 8 destined to be a non-starter? Simple:
1. No one needs Windows 8 on the desktop.
Quick: Name one thing about Windows 8 that they don’t already get from Windows 7-or a great desktop Linux like Mint or Mac OS X Lion? I can’t.
Indeed, I can’t think of a single significant new improvement in Windows 8. The ability to refresh the operating system? Faster booting? A Windows Store? Live boot from a USB drive? Come on! All these features have been around in other operating systems for years, and while sure, they’re nice, put them all together and at most they’re worth a Windows 7 Service Patch–not a whole new operating system.
2. Metro: An ugly, useless interface.
As everyone knows, Windows 8 has a totally new default interface: Metro. When I look at Metro, however, I see gaudy colors, boxy designs, applications that can either run as a small tile or as full screen with no way to resize or move windows. Where have I seen this before? Wait, I know! Windows 1.0!
More to the point, almost everyone knows the current Windows interface. It’s changed over the years, but you could take someone who last touched Windows back in the Windows 95 days and drop that in front of them of Windows 7 and they’d be able to get work done. Metro? It’s entirely different. Heck, Microsoft has even dropped the Start button in the latest version!
In short, even if Metro was the best thing since sliced bread, which it isn’t, it will still require users to learn a new way of doing the same old thing. That’s a failure of an idea right here. Sure, you can use the ‘Classic’ desktop experience instead, but hey, I have an idea! Why not just use the Windows XP or 7 “classic” interface instead?
3. Where are the Windows 8 Applications?
The Windows 8 Consumer Preview (read Windows 8 public beta) will be here real soon now and we still don’t know next to anything about Windows 8’s applications. As Mary Jo Foley recently pointed out we still don’t even know whether Office 15 will be Metro, non-Metro, or partially Metro.
Seriously? Windows 8 will probably be out by this fall and we still don’t know jack about its apps? Not even Microsoft’s own flagship office application? Come on! How can you take this operating system seriously?
4. Vexed Windows developers.
If you’re unhappy about the state of Metro applications, think about the poor Windows programmers. You’ve spent years learning .NET, Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and now they have to learn WinRT and Jupiter/XAML.
Even developers who like WinRT give it “compliments” like “It’s a great time to get involved with WinRT, as the platform is still in its infancy, and will need a lot of developer support to build even more robust tools.” Really? That comment was made in January 2012, and the development tools are still in diapers!?
Last, but not least, Windows developers will need rewrite their Metro apps for the more traditional Windows-style desktop. Oh, and they’ll also need to build them for both x86 and ARM platforms. That’s a heck of a lot of work to do without a lot of time to do it in. Put it all together and I see little chance about Windows 8 having many mature, ready-to-run applications come launch day.
Heck, Brandon Watson, head of developer experiences for Windows Phone, just left Microsoft for Amazon’s Android-based Kindle team Think he might know something?
This reminds me, what do you call an operating system without developers or applications? The answer? Dead.
5. Too little, too late for the smartphone/tablet market
Metro’s real point, of course, isn’t for desktop users. It’s Microsoft’s last gasp attempt to be a player on tomorrow’s computers: smartphones and tablets. If Microsoft was bringing something truly revolutionary to mobile devices, or they were still able to strong-arm original equipment manufacturers (OEM)s into loading Windows on their devices, I think they’d have a shot at the mobile space. Neither is true.
Smartphones are a dog fight between Android and iOS. Tablets did belong to Apple, but now Samsung, Amazon and Barnes & Noble are giving the iPad a fight for the tablet marketplace. Android and iOS are mature, have enormous developer communities and are wildly popular. Heck, if you count smartphones, thanks to the iPhone Apple is now the number one “PC” vendor in the world.
On top of that, the U.S. phone carriers have no interest in a Windows Phone. Too old, too slow Microsoft is arriving much too late to the 2010s style of mobile computing to be a significant player and that means Windows 8 Metro won’t find an audience either. I see no room left for a major third-party platform. A minor player, like KDE or Ubuntu? Sure. A Microsoft? No.
Add it up. The majority of Windows users have only just switched over from XP to Windows 7 in, at best, November 2011. Microsoft is now asking for its users to switch to a platform with no significant improvements, a radically different interface, and which is very likely to have few applications. The result? Window 8 will be dead on arrival.