Windows 8: Microsoft's Game of Catch Up
It’s no secret that Redmond-based Microsoft Corporation went through somewhat of a rough patch and a sizable public image meltdown when Windows Vista (early 2007) failed to meet the expectations and needs of consumers. Seeing as how the release sported the most significant jumps since the release of Windows 95 in terms of both GUI and features, many saw Vista’s failure in the mainstream market as a huge blow for the once legendary software company. But with the release of Windows 7 in 2009, Microsoft was able to bring a beautiful and highly functional operating system to the table. Sure, many would argue that the OS was still a bit bloated, but when it boils down to it the release was a great come-back for Microsoft. Even back in 2009 we saw Windows 7 gain an unprecedented adoption rate with consumers.
Fast forward into 2011, and Microsoft is back at it again. This time around Microsoft has brought in an entirely refreshed interface that I think is much cleaner than what we’ve seen with Windows 7. If you’ve seen the screenshots and demo, you too probably notice the distinctive similarity between the current state of Windows 8 and the established look and feel of the company’s Windows Phone 7 mobile platform.
Now, I must say that even though I love the functionality and appearance of Apple’s iOS mobile platform, I definitely see Windows Phone 7 as a very strong contender. Having said this, Microsoft finally seems to be following the trend (arguably set by Apple) of producing high function software with minimal design. With the limited screen-space on Windows mobile devices, this really is a great leap forward. And even though I’m not a huge fan of the WP7-style theme in a desktop environment, I’ve got to admit that Microsoft is doing a pretty good job at bridging the gap between their desktop and mobile product lines; at least in terms of appearance, for now.
You see, when Windows 7 was released in 2009, “tablet computers” were far from mainstream. So while we are seeing tablet computers powered by Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system, we really have to realize that as of right now they’re running an operating system that wasn’t truly designed or optimized for the tablet market. Not only is Windows 7 a tad resource-intensive, but the graphical user interface – the aspect that people seem to make their predominant judgements based on – doesn’t utilize the “screen real-estate” of a smaller tablet device anywhere near as well as WP7 does on mobile phones.
When Windows 8 rolls around, tablets will have become the “in” thing in the electronics industry and Microsoft will undoubtedly put significantly more thought into tablet devices this time around. What does this mean? Simply put, I think it’s safe to say that Windows 8 will not only introduce a new appearance and layout in the desktop arena, but for the first time we’ll see a Microsoft operating system built with tablets in mind.
For me it will be a bit of a hard sell, but I do believe that Windows 8 will be a game changer for Microsoft. If the company can simply get users to give Windows 8 powered tablets a chance, people will undoubtedly be drawn to the same minimal interface seen in Windows Phone 7 today. But don’t think the appearance is all that Microsoft will have on their side. Realizing that Microsoft Windows is the most popular desktop platform to date, running this established desktop on tablet computers will bring along the extensive library of Windows software titles currently available, and both Apple’ iOS and Google’s Android platforms will see somewhat sudden competition. Gone will be Microsoft’s days of struggling with low-interest on the part of mobile developers.
But am I saying this success will be flawless? Not by a long-shot. Even though Microsoft will undoubtedly gain traction with tablet users, I personally question how users will take to an entirely new interface on the desktop platform. Keeping in mind that many Windows users have been using the same comfortable desktop environment for many years now (some of which having surely gone through a bit of a learning curve with Windows 7) I can easily envision a scenario where users steer away from Windows 8 because the updates it brings could potentially be too much of a change from what people are used to. Not only does Microsoft have to worry about end-users, but businesses will have to decide if training staff on the new operating system will be worth it and developers will likely have tweaks to make in order to make their applications and software fit into the new style of the OS.
Moreover, even the concept of Windows tablets is a bit flawed. Just ask yourself how many applications will need developmental work in order to utilize tablet input and you’ll see my concern.
Regardless, Microsoft has done a fantastic job at revamping Windows 8; at least from what I’ve seen thus far. While I can’t make a horribly accurate prediction about how Microsoft’s release of Windows 8 and the bridge between mobile and desktop will go, I think some questions will be answered down the road when Apple releases Mac OS X version 10.7 (known by many as “Lion”), as the Cupertino-based company has made similar moves with how they’ve implemented iOS-like features (e.g. the launchpad) into the upcoming operating system.
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