Here's What's Right With Windows 8
I read a lot and after reading Adrian Kingsley-Hughes list of things wrong with Windows 8 article I can't help but offer a counter analysis. I don't want to point Adrian out a a lone wolf because I have heard many articulate the same arguments over the past few months, including many of my MVP friends. Just today I was reading a post by Jeff Ammons where he puts forth the common argument that Windows 8 will probably not work well in the enterprise. I can't disagree more with their positions because I think I am looking through a completely different set of lenses. A pair of lenses that looks forward, not backward.
"I cannot imagine the gray/beige/be-cubicled world adopting Windows 8 as is. They don’t care that it is new. They don’t care that it may be better. They do care about being productive. Now. Not just now. NOW NOW." Jeff Ammons
I hear Jeff's warning and I totally agree that the cube farms of the past will not adopt Windows 8. But market research and reality tell us that businesses and organizations of all sizes are rapidly adopting tablets for their work force. Ignoring this reality is the fast track to career suicide in my opinion.
With that said I really felt like I needed to answer each of Adrian's criticisms and respond to some of the most common criticisms I hear each day.
Too Much Emphasis on Touch
I say there is a proper amount of emphasis on touch, and maybe there could be a little more. I have expressed more frustration than probably anyone over the past year about IE Mobile not supporting touch, which has created a ridiculously crippled mobile web platform. But choosing to be a touch first platform is the right choice for a modern operating system and modern software. My first experience building a touch first application was way back in 1996. Back then it required some seriously expensive CRT monitors, but today we can buy a cheap or get a free subsidized device with a touch screen. This has caused touch to proliferate everywhere.
Touch is a direct form of input even the least experience user can just get. I see something and I think I can touch it to make something happen, just like real life. The way we have built software user experiences since the late 80s has largely centered on a mouse first, keyboard second approach. Today that pattern has been completely disrupted so anything new we create MUST be touch first, keyboard second, voice third, mouse fourth. You can probably swap the last three in any order, but hopefully you can touch on the point I am making.
Clashing User Interfaces
This is a common argument I hear and it tells me that dogmatic developers and IT folks just don't really get it, computing clients have radically changed in the past 3 years. Unlike Apple, Microsoft has chosen a path that allows legacy software still run and be usable. Let's think about it, an enterprise has millions of dollars sunk into their legacy systems with old school, mouse first user interfaces. Do you seriously think that customer is going to upgrade their OS choice if their mission critical applications will not run on them?
Microsoft has been very benevolent in my opinion, and always has, to allow legacy applications run on newer versions of the OS. Face it, the day Windows 8 releases there will be no lines on the sidewalk, no crashed servers from a large set of online orders. Enthusiasts like me will upgrade day one, most likely, but corporations and average Joe's will be slow to upgrade. In fact I would wager most won't upgrade till they buy a new machine.
No on day one there will be a lack of Metro Apps available to compel immediate upgrading. There is just no way around it. Enterprises are not ready for touch just yet. I mean this is the first year that enterprises are really starting to even embrace a mobile strategy en mass. So until legacy client applications are phased out via updates and attrition like those old QBasic applications I wrote in college supporting a legacy user experience is a must for Windows 8 to succeed.
Too Much Mystery Meat
I think this argument falls into the 'so gross, you use full screen apps' snobbery espoused by many command line jockeys. The average computer user makes their applications full screen and does the old Atl + Tab thing or moves their mouse down to the icon tray to switch between applications. If you have 15 apps open on your giant monitor and all are visible you are in the extreme minority. Just look at an article published the same day as Adrian's discussing Windows 8 focus on smaller screens and why this is a strategic move.
I think its funny that Windows 8 is receiving grief for the full screen application approach when I have never heard a peep about the iPad and Android tablets doing the exact same thing. Metro is about clean, data focused interfaces. Pushing actionable items off to the side is actually pretty clever. As one who spends a lot of time trying to figure out where to put junk on the screen so the user can perform tasks I think this is a breath of fresh air. The Windows Phone App Bar is awesome, it teases you with just enough to get things done, but lets you expend to get to the other meat on the tray. Simple swipe gestures and key strokes to reveal additional actions is refreshing. I have been using Windows 8 for 2 days now and it took me all of a few minutes to master this principle. I think average users will get this fairly quickly too, maybe a few hours to a day, but they will understand and appreciate it.
Two Operating Systems in One
Well I guess those arguing over this one did not pay attention to the Windows on Arm (WOA) details. Traditional x86 based clients will be able to run modern clients as well as legacy, I think I have pounded this point home already. But ARM is a different story. WOA will be a tablet first, Metro first offering. And face it, legacy native applications would most likely not run on ARM anyway, they were not compiled to do so. WOA is surely going to be aimed squarely at the iPad consumer market, probably not the enterprise. That is of course unless that enterprise is in a position to roll out modern touch first clients. So yes, it is 2 operating system, x86 and ARM, one supports legacy, one does not.
No Method to make Classic Desktop the Default
Windows 8 is a touch first operating system and UI, no doubt about it. Making Classic (notice the term classic and what that implies) the default says your company is living in the past with no plans on the future. What a depressing message to send to your employees. But I digress. Did Microsoft allow the default user experience to be the DOS prompt when Windows 95 came out? No and that seems to have worked out OK. In fact many are now whining about not having the classic 95 UI.
Metro doesn't Work for Everything
Thinking that the current applications you use will not work well under Metro UI to me shows you are a shallow thinker. You are putting yourself in a small and rotting capability box. I look at traditional applications all the time and I just see clutter everywhere. I have to wade through so much junk to get to the buttons and commands I want. I memorize keystrokes after keystrokes of my common applications so I can avoid the noise. Like display ads I have toolbar blindness. Metro causes you to focus on data first. Data is actionable, not menu items or toolbar/ribbon buttons. I have to put Microsoft in the same box with you when I see things like the Windows 8 file explorer, I mean really how hard would it be to make an awesome Metro file explorer? Look at your data differently, stop clinging to your outdated user interface techniques, watch Minority Report or just about any cool science fiction movie and start imagining where things can go and learn from where they have been.
I keep trying to execute metro design in my apps and it does take some design ability, but it can be done. Thankfully I have people that help me out. Most developers seem to struggle past the File + New project point to pull it off. But as you can see The Verge found some great mock ups of various apps done in a Metro style.
No Apparent Support for Kinect
This one puzzles me because the Kinect ships as a stand alone SDK at the moment. I fully expect complete system shipping with Kinect built in the bezel the way we have multi-mega-pixel cameras today. We are not really there yet. Give it a year or two. Just like touch we are in the infancy trying to figure out how to leverage Kinect in the tablet/PC space. I am seeing this first hand in Tellago, where we have a whole team who work about 80 hours a week building Kinect applications. Every week I see new applications of this technology and and can't help but see just how early into the whole body, sound gesture we are. Natural user interface is a very young science, give it a little time. But to my knowledge Windows 8 will support Kinect, install the SDK.
In fact if Adrian would just read ZD Net site's Mary Jo Foley you would know Windows 8 will work with Kinect.
"It's hard to turn the power off in Windows 8", really? For the record I don't really turn the power off to my laptop very often and I rarely do with desktops either. I close the lid and it hibernates, etc. And yes there is a software mechanism to turn off the power, which by the way I have not found a way in the iPad user experience to turn the power off. I setup Windows 8 on an Acer Iconia over the weekend and just like my iPad I can shut the tablet down with the, wait for this, power button! I know sounds horribly complicated, but seriously guys give this one up. Things change, get over it.
Live Tiles May Not be So Live
Again I think this shows a lack of understanding here. Nope you won't have to go on an application spending spree to see tiles live. In fact you can even add a web site to the home screen and it supports live tiles. I will blog more about this later this week. But check it out on IETestDrive.com.
Enterprises Won’t Adopt Touch
He goes on to argue that enterprises are not adopting touch. What planet are you living dude? I hear almost weekly from friends (non-geeks) excited that their company is buying them iPads. The market research backs up my anecdotal research. Companies of all sizes are buying copious amounts of tablets that support touch. To say you just don't see it shows you need to get out of your home office more. Just go to the mall or visit your local airport and count the number of iPads you see. Typically on flights I take these days I see 10-20 iPads on each flight and the number increases each time. The day after the iPad was released I saw two in the office. Sorry, tablets are going to be HUGE in the enterprise, they already are.
Just tonight I read a survey that surveyed a large number of corporate IT purchasers and 22% said they planned on buying tablets in the 2nd quarter. Almost all planned on buying iPads. Microsoft's biggest problem is not convincing corporate customers to buy tablets, but to wait to buy them till windows 8 is available.
I can't help but see enterprises completely phasing out clumsy, expensive desktops and laptops with a tablet army in the next 3-5 years. The only folks I predict will order a traditional PC in the future will be power users like me and Linux command line junkies. I will order it because I write code for a living.
I even see a day in the near future where a lot of IT departments use a tablet first. I have been working with my Tellago teammates to build a touch first system, Moesion, to remotely manage servers because remote desktop, is just not a great mobile experience. As time moves on more and more IT pros will start to adapt to a touch first world to manage their systems. Traditional management interfaces will start to crumble quickly.
The same fate awaits thousands upon thousands of traditional line of business and consumer applications. All the clients will need to be reimagined and implemented as a touch, mobile first client. This is going to necessitate a new set of development skills built upon existing skill bases. It is also going to call for leadership in companies that is not afraid to adopt new computing metaphors just like they have had to adopt in the past. Microsoft clearly sees where the market is going. In fact I would argue they may have missed a critical time window by not already making Windows 8 and Metro available last year. I think they are going to have to fight for their life to battle the already purchased and in use legions of iPads across businesses and consumer spaces everywhere. Metro gives them a much better chance because it is truly designed with touch first in mind, while allowing an opportunity to gradually phase out legacy clients in favor of more touch friendly experiences.