October 26, 2012

Microsoft's Bet Against the Desktop

After trying Windows 8 for a few days, I realized that Microsoft's new operating system is not that bad. The weird dichotomy between the desktop interface and the touch-optimized Metro interface might drive you away, but Windows had to start over again with a new software paradigm: the app software, sandboxed apps, consistent interfaces, integration with online services.

For the first time, security is no longer an after-thought, at least if you're using Metro apps. For the first time, you can find apps, buy them, rate them and update them from a single place. Some might say that this takes away user choice, that Metro apps have nothing to do with Windows and they're too limited, but Windows 8 is actually Microsoft's bet against the desktop. Smartphones and tablets changed the tech industry and made desktop computers and laptops look outdated. Most of the great new apps are developed for mobile devices. For many people, tablets are better than laptops: they have better displays, better battery life, better cameras, a user-friendly interface, they're silent, fun, lightweight, instant on and can be used almost anywhere. They don't require concentration, maintenance and people can focus on their tasks, instead of fighting with a complex computer.

Apple sold 100 million iPads in less than 3 years and smartphones outsold PCs last year. The same will happen with tablets in a few years.

Windows 8 doesn't feel right on a laptop or desktop because it was designed for tablets. The Metro interface encourages users to buy tablets or smartphones and pushes developers to create apps for Windows 8. The desktop interface is still there, but is now a relic for legacy apps. Mystery meat navigation makes people think that their computers aren't cool enough to run Windows 8 well, so they try new computers, like the Surface RT tablet.

The contrast between the Metro interface and classic desktop is striking. It's like switching between two operating systems from different eras. One of them is there to make the other one stand out. Beautiful vs clunky, personal vs unfriendly, simple vs complicated, fun vs boring, secure vs vulnerable.