Windows 8

Why do I feel like I have been here before?  Probably because I was when Microsoft launched Windows 95 16 years ago.  It was the biggest release of an operating system ever.  It was really the first technology release with a massive amount of hype prior to its release to the public.  It ushered in the famous “Start” button, that is still with us today.  Has it been there that long?  Hard to believe how time flies.  Now 16 years later Microsoft is ushering in a new era of Windows with the developer release of Windows 8 at the Microsoft Build Conference in Anaheim this past week.  So far the reviews have been very positive, yes some concerns, but overall it sounds like Microsoft is getting the picture.  Windows 8 uses the Metro interface, found today on the Windows Phone.  But more importantly it’s about touch and enabling a better user experience across multiple device from factors.  Lets take a look at the good and the bad.

What I found interesting and exciting was what they were able to do with new hardware designs that include the ARM chip and stateless hard drives.  It was noticeable with faster boot times, which for Windows in particular has been a holy grail.  And though Steve Ballmer claimed Windows 7 did this, Windows 7 did not deliver.  It’s a simple request (though not trivial to build) that had to be done.  It’s amazing what the push of a button can do to your market share.  The other area is power consumption, who is not tired of a 2-3 hour battery life?  Though battery technology has not yet solved this problem, changes in the hardware that make up your PC have improved that allow us to reducing the amount of moving parts hidden in your PC thus reducing the heat omitted from your PC or Tablet.  We have not reached paradise for battery life and power consumption but we are getting closer.

Back to my opening comment the user interface has been completely revamped adopting the Metro interface, from Windows Phone 7.  My one dig at MS is having basically the same UI for over 15 years is rather unacceptable.  We have had the same Start button all these years.  But this is a more than welcome change.  The Metro interface provides the “touch” experience with its sexy panels.  It is very important with the rise of the tablet.  The explosion of new and exciting designs in hardware coupled with the need to have a great touch experience will make Windows 8 competitive in the space currently being owned by the iPad and Android.  It will be new for developers, in particular those targeting ARM, as it’s required.

Another positive is it may make Google and Apple pause and look at what Microsoft is doing.  I know that may sound odd, but right now in the area of mobility Microsoft is non – existent.  With Windows 8 it gives Microsoft a chance to be relevant and feared once again.  To date Apple and Google have not really paid much attention to Microsoft as Microsoft has been viewed as yesterday’s news and a company that lacks imagination.  The reinvention of Windows and the fact that it is able to go across device form factors will be a huge plus for Microsoft and help it gain traction in the tablet space.  Tablets will not be as easy to gain market share as Netbooks, beyond technology it will take a strong marketing campaign to reach the appeal level that Apple and to a lesser extent that Android has.

There will be challenges.  One I thought of right off the bat as I read Jay Greene’s live blog was that the Build  event lasted over 2 hrs was there is so much new stuff in Windows 8.  This goes to a Microsoft issue, which they cannot not adhere to the old grade school acronym KISS (Keep it simple stupid).  They put so much stuff in the product that they overwhelm developers and consumers as they simply cannot consume all that is being given to them.  We buy technology products that makes us happy and improve our lives, we do not want them to confuse and frustrate us.  But over the years Microsoft has developed a habit of trying to show cool features, no matter how geeky they may be.

Another challenge is legacy.  Microsoft and the Windows empire has been a partner driven model  throughout its entire existence.  The partner model has created over thousands of peripheral devices from printers to scanners to mice.  You have tp go back a certain amount of years to make sure all those investments by consumers and businesses are protected.  This is no small task.  There is also the question of the user interface, which they did show at the conference, but you just can’t tell everyone that Metro is the new UI.  So you build in a mode that allows you to switch to the old interface (this was showed at Build).  This to me, takes away some of the sexiness that Metro provides.  Rather than saying we are new.  You end up saying we are old and new.  A subtle but big difference

Then another negative was Steve Ballmer.  On day two of the conference he made a surprise guest appearance.  Unfortunately he for got what decade it was.  He went on and on about how many desktops were deployed and going to be deployed with Windows 8 and that developers should all write applications for Windows 8.  It would have sounded great in 1995.  The problem is it made it sound like he is not following what’s going on in the world.  That developer are not writing desktop based applications, pretty much everything is being written to the internet and it needs to support Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Chrome.  This is not new news.  I was having drinks with the Microsoft C++ Program Manger a few years ago in San Jose and he brought up a statistic that stated 75% of all app development today is done on the web.  Maybe Steve should talk to him.  I heard from several people his keynote was a negative on the week.  He even went so far as to ask developers to “stay with us”.  Apparently there is  concern they may be going somewhere else.

Steve did talk about re imaging Microsoft,  I find this both a negative and a plus.  It’s a negative because you have to do it.  It’s a positive because you are doing it.  To change the image of a company is not easy.  Especially one that has had the impact on society both economically and culturally like Microsoft.  But there is no question it needs to be done and the changes and progress that have been made with Windows 8 offer up a great time to do that.  It is all about execution now and delivering Windows 8 before the holidays in 2012.  In addition the right “buzz” is going to need to be generated, coming off of Build a good start was made.

Over the next 12 months it should be a very exciting and stressful time in Redmond.  The pending launch and release of Windows 8 can be and will be one of those defining moments in technology.  Not just for Microsoft but the industry.  We have grown up in a Windows world where over 90% of all PC’s, Laptops, and Netbooks were Windows-based.  However withe rapid evolution of new form factors like the tablet this world is increasingly under a dark cloud as the storm is upon us.  With the possibilities in emerging markets, it does not seem clear that they will follow or want to follow the same path of North America or Europe.  Nor will they have to as it’s apparent they will have alternate choices.  With the increased competition in the global market for technology a resurgent Microsoft can only benefit the competitive landscape, but we will have to wait until Windows 8.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann Sept 20, 2011