Microsoft has given up all pretensions when it comes to the “Post-PC” era. They are in the game, and they’re going for broke. They want you to take off the shackles of fragmentation from your life and ascend to the cloud. The recently released ‘Consumer Preview’ of their next big “Windows” release suggests nothing else. It also suggests that a rumor that has been going around for some time now really is true: Windows 8 will be the last Windows operating system as we know it. It is the end of the line.
The Post PC Era
We are in it, there is no avoiding or denying that. People now easily use their phones and tablets for stuff that has been done with PCs forever. I have been a naysayer for quite some time now, especially regarding tablets, but now as I lay in bed trying to read up on stuff or just casually browse the internet, I find myself torn between the ‘small’ screen of my (no longer such a) behemoth of a 4.3” phone and my uncomfortably ‘huge’ 13” laptop. It makes me think that maybe a tablet is useful for something after all.
The personal computer has been dying for quite some time now, really. First came consoles and stole its gaming glory days (though not all of it and not for long), and then came the phones and the tablets and people suddenly had relatively affordable ’computer-like’ devices that were smaller, easier to use, lighter and even smarter and more target-oriented than the ominous multi-purpose PC. Heck, most of those devices are now much more ‘personal’ than the ‘personal computer’ ever could be.
The PC tried to evolve, got better and slimmer, smaller and faster, even cheaper. The “Mini-Laptops” - or “Netbooks”, would be the first attempt for the PC’s doomed salvation. People got on board because it was cheap, small and light-weight, something that did not yet exist in other forms. It had a long battery life and a small screen, but it was weak and incompetent next to its bigger and better counterparts. A compromise, to say the least.
Then (recently) came along the Ultrabooks; thin and powerful laptops with the power and comfort of a regular Notebook PC and the weight and battery life of a Netbook. The problem was, as it still remains – the high price that such a union demands.
The personal computer as we know it is slowly becoming obsolete; more and more people are now using their tablets as laptop replacements and the only reason others don’t make the switch is the lack of total compatibility with what they know and have now. Those people are going to get Windows 8 tablets and never look back, but the rest of the devoted PC users are going to hate every single bit of it.
The two faces of Windows 8
Windows 8 suffers from a severe split personality disorder. It wants to be a tablet so bad that it adopts Windows Phone 7’s Metro interface in favor of some basic Windows elements such as the Start Menu, context menus, and even actual Windows! On the other hand, it still hold on to some of its Windows functionality, so the whole thing is just a shell on top of the good old Windows we know and arguably love. The upside is that you can run any application you previously used to and years of adjusting and improving on the Windows frameworks and subsystems didn’t just go down the drain (as they did with Windows Phone 7, where even basic things like copy/paste, right-to-left or foreign language support are not integral).
Basically, you have two type of applications in Windows 8: Metro Enabled and ‘Legacy’ non-Metro apps. Legacy apps are ‘regular’ apps, the applications you run currently on your Windows 7 or XP based computer (If you’re using Linux or Mac you’re reading the wrong blog). Then the Metro apps are those designed specifically for Windows 8: Written in Silverlight, those programs run full screen, have no ‘minimize’ or ‘close’ buttons, hardly have ANY interface and try to give you as much information in as useful (and ugly) a way possible. They are completely tablet oriented, and can be installed from the Windows Market. It is basically Windows Phone 7 on a large screen and a better framework (Microsoft even went as far as to claim that any Windows Phone 7 app can be run on the Windows 8 Metro interface with as little as 10% code adjustment).
The sad thing is that on its own, each ‘side’ of this operating system is pretty much brilliant. Windows 7 wasn’t that bad to begin with, and the little touch-ups and improvements are probably more cosmetic than anything. Why change something that works, right? On the other hand, Microsoft have created a brilliant touch-oriented operating system with the Metro side of Windows 8; It’s intuitive, robust, open and easy to use and develop for. It integrates perfectly into the ‘Post PC Era’ task-oriented mentality, and every single person who tried it on a tablet was amazed.
It is just a shame that these two opposites co-exist in a single operating system. We already know that navigating ‘legacy’ Windows with touch is very uncomfortable, but just wait until you try to use a mouse and a keyboard with the Metro interface; it’s not just that it’s un-intuitive and uncomfortable but you also feel as if the system openly mocks and resents you for doing so.
As unholy as this union is, however, it is pretty much inevitable. Microsoft is trying to slowly and forcefully adjust us to the new world. It’s something that has been happening for a long, long time…
So long, Microsoft Windows.
If you examine Microsoft products in the past year you can see that they are all headed in the same direction; Metro is taking over everywhere and it seems as if the future is full of Tiles and Kinect sensors. There is nothing wrong with that, but Microsoft are thriving towards a more unified future (link is in Hebrew) where you streamline your work, your games and your media all across your different platforms. Your Xbox, your Phone and your Tablet are all one and the same in Microsoft’s future. This is their vision of the ‘Post-PC era’.
Windows 8, therefore, with its dual-existence, is the logical step in that direction. Sure, they could have separated the two systems into a refreshed “Windows 7” for PCs and “Windows Metro” or something similar for tablets, but then they wouldn’t have had the chance to force this change down our throats.
Many rumors are floating around that “Windows 8” will be the last operating system in the “Windows” family. Windows 8 is a transitional step between “Windows” as we know it today and that imagined future of a grand unified device-independent operating system that will transcend devices and ‘definitions’, and unite all of our post-PC paraphernalia under one big Metro-themed umbrella.
As for the common folk…
I sell computers for a living. When Windows Vista came out people hated it for many reasons, some more justified than others, but the main reason was because it was too different than what they were used to. When Windows 7 came out the changes were mostly cosmetic, but it wasn’t all that different than Vista. And still, people love Windows 7. The reason is the same: because it wasn’t that different than what they were – by now – used to. It was so similar, in fact, that Microsoft didn’t even advance the kernel version - Windows 7’s kernel version is actually 6.1!
So why will people hate Windows 8? Because of everything I wrote in this post. Sure, it’s great for tablets, but most people – at least today, separate their tablets from their PCs, at least mentally. I do not want the Metro interface on my PC when I am using a mouse and a keyboard. It is nice on a touchscreen, but it is impossibly annoying on a ‘regular’ PC. People will buy a new laptop with Windows 8 pre-installed, and they will search for the Start Menu or the desktop they are so used to. They will want a taskbar, Icons on their desktop and all that other Windows-y stuff.
Do not get me wrong – Windows 8 is with great potential, and I think that on a touchscreen tablet it will be mighty awesome, but for the PC it is just not natural, and it pretty much abandons the PC core mentality. People will buy new computers that are not touch enabled, and will regret it. People who do not even want touch on their computers, will simply hate the operating system.
I already do.