Windows 8 a major OS overhaul gamble
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in
Vancouver October 18-24, 2011 issue #1147 High Tech
Despite all the talk about a post-PC era, there are still an awful lot
of PCs out there. In 2008, the number of laptops and desktops,
estimated at a billion, passed the number of cars, and most of those
computers run some version of Windows, now most often either XP or
Those billion-plus PCs, though, are deemed yesterday’s news, with
mobile devices – smartphones and tablets – getting more and more
attention. Since Microsoft has had a long history with both of these
sorts of devices, it’s ironic that the company is cast as an underdog
in the mobile markets. In a previous issue, we looked at a smartphone
running Windows Phone 7 and saw a capable competitor to the market
leaders that’s failing to attract many sales (see “New entries in smartphone market
offer more iPhone options” – issue 1144; September 27-October 3).
But while Apple (with its iPhone and iPad) and Google (with a multitude
of phones and tablets made by various companies) group smartphones and
tablets together, separate from laptops and desktops, Microsoft has
always assumed that users really need tablets running desktop operating
systems and applications.
The result has been a decade of touch-screen tablets running the
version of Windows de jour with users poking at the start menu and
close buttons with a stylus. Today’s users, though, want to interact
with the screen directly with their fingers – and Windows’ screen
elements are just too tiny for that to work well.
Publicly demonstrated in September – and with a very preliminary
pre-release version available for public download – Microsoft’s next
generation Windows, Windows 8, makes Windows finger-friendly.
It does that by borrowing the user interface from Windows Phone 7,
named Metro, and grafting it onto a Windows operating system designed
for desktops, notebooks and tablets – with or without touch screens.
The results are promising, but raise as many questions as answers.
Windows 8 is designed for fast boot times – Microsoft demonstrated a
system starting up in eight seconds – and loads a screen totally unlike
any previous version of Windows. No start menu, no taskbar. Instead –
like a Windows Phone 7 phone – you boot to a screen covered with large
rectangular tiles, each one representing an application.
While Window 8 promises to run anything that will run on Windows 7,
Microsoft really wants you to run applications designed for Metro –
full screen apps with finger-friendly controls. There’s no obvious way
to shut them down; instead improved power management suspends apps that
haven’t been used in a while.
While Metro’s tiles ought to be more fingertip-friendly than the start
menu, for keyboard and mouse users they’re much more awkward –
requiring much more mousing around to find a desired program. Microsoft
is promising that Windows 8 will run on the ARM processors being used
on most of today’s tablets, offering better battery life (though lower
performance) than the Intel or AMD processors used on notebooks and
desktops. It’s not clear, however, whether the ARM version of Win 8
will be compatible with the vast library of current Windows
In making Windows 8 more tablet-friendly, Microsoft is taking a big
risk; this is the biggest change – in compatibility and in user
interface (and thus in customer retraining) – of any new Windows
The company has not committed to a release date and lots can change.
We’ll try to keep you in the loop.