I’ve written on my previous post that I think Microsoft is the new Apple when it comes to innovation and coolness factor. I would like to elaborate a little bit on that.
Microsoft has earned a bad reputation on many fronts until a few years back. Windows were not cool looking, they used to hung a lot, the blue screen of death became legendary, windows mobile was a mess out of hell. Around 2005-2006, things started changing for the better. The priorities of the company seemed to started shifting (slowly, think about the Titanic trying to steer away from the iceberg). Apparently taking a few lessons from Apple, since they have been taking lessons from each other for years now, cool and fun appeared on the table. Yes, I know Vista was released in 2006, but I never said that all efforts to become the new cool and fun were successful, now did I? The ideas were there though. Vista did introduce cool hardware accelerated glass semi transparent windows. It did try to give access to fun stuff, like Windows Media Center, speech recognition and more. It failed, but the ideas were there, and when they eventually got it right with Windows 7, they showed their potential.
What Microsoft has, that noone else has, is a huge installed user base and huge 3rd party software support on the desktop. It did take them long enough, but I think they did realize in the end that only by utilizing this they could emerge victorious in other market sectors as well. Let’s take mobile for example. Windows Mobile was a disaster. I think we all agree on that. They idea of taking something that works with a mouse and trying to minimize it almost without any innovation was a bad idea. Windows Phone fixed that. It did. The metro was built from the ground up with touch in mind. They did realize that fluid and fast was much more important than showing more leather on the screen (pun intended). It’s a mobile device. The user needs to get to his information in seconds, because he is on the road, he is holding a device with one hand and it’s raining. A chromeless UI that focuses on the actual info is the way to go. But still, Microsoft has not done what I was talking about before, utilizing the Windows stronghold. Actually, they might have tried to do that by naming the phone, Windows Phone. If you ask me, that was a mistake exactly because they had Windows Mobile before that. Even now, more than a year after the initial release, people and more importantly sales personnel, confuse these two. And that is a BAD thing for Windows Phone. If you ask me, the new Phone OS should be called something like xPhone. But that’s just me.
Coming back to today. A few days back, Windows 8 progress was shown. What I find really amazing is the idea behind Windows 8, and not just how nice the OS looks. I’ve heard the argument that Metro is just a launcher or a shell on top of Windows, not unlike Sense is a shell on top of Android for HTC. This is not the case, as I understand it (and I hope I am not wrong). Metro allows Windows 8 to run on a touch device and provide the user everything they could get on an iPad or Android tablet on day 1 of release. Instant on, fast and fluid, looking gorgeous. I also hope that the user will remain in Metro UI for the whole experience and will not be forced to go to a classic desktop app if he does not ask for it. Let me give an example. Back in the old Windows Mobile days, manufacturers liked installing cool looking shells on top of the OS, in order to differentiate themselves from the others, and make their phones look cooler than the next guy. Problem was, that all these were just smoke and mirrors, since at some point, sooner or later, the user was forced to go back to the ugly Windows Mobile interface, be it for accessing a file type the manufacturer did not have a cool viewer for, go to the settings or something along these lines. This was really bad. The experience was fragmented. Let’s go back to Windows 8 now. My idea of awesome Metro experience is that the user always stays on Metro UI for doing all the things we wants to do every day. Read their email? Cool metro email client. Open images and documents? Cool metro file viewer. Twitter? Facebook? Metro apps. Edit a word file? Choice! Both a stripped-down metro app (like the Windows Phone office suite) or the full fledged Word on the classic desktop.
And this is where the double-edged sword lies.
Maybe the biggest strength of Windows 8 against iOS and Android is that it is Windows. It is not a stripped down, mobile oriented flavor of Windows. It is Windows. It runs everything, it supports everything. You have a Windows 8 tablet with you so you can do all the cool things you can do with an iPad on the road. Fast and fluid. Browse the web, read email, play Angry Birds (maybe play MonsterUp in the future) etc. In this usage scenario you should never be forced to leave Metro. This is important. When you reach home though, you can still use your device as a full Windows PC. Connect a wireless mouse and keyboard or use the awesome Wacom digitizer the device featured on the screen to use Photoshop CS6 as a pro. No compromise. Write the next Windows 8 app on Visual Studio. On the same device. When you try to open a PSD file on an iPad, this is where you have reached the stripped-down, mobile-only OS’ limits. If someone did not create a PSD file viewer on iOS, you are out of luck. And even if someone did, you will not be able to edit said file. And if someone actually DID create a simple PSD file editor, it will not be photoshop. On Windows 8 you can have it all.
Now that is clearly a no-compromise experience.
On top of that, Windows Phone 8 “Apollo” will also share the same kernel as Windows 8. This is huge! This can open up amazing possibilities for a unified ecosystem. And if the next iteration of the XBox joins the party, it is clearly a very good implementation of the 3 screen approach by Microsoft. Running the same software everywhere? Maybe not exactly, but there is no need to. Noone wants to run Photoshop on their phone even if the could. But in the background, there are huge advantages. Unified drivers. Unified libraries (we already have that to an extent with .NET but this can be extended with native code). This can be translated as faster and more stable development for all screens and of course, shared software with universal binaries.
In my eyes, no other company can achieve something similar and since Microsoft has finally got their heads out of the sand, it is a golden opportunity to see this happen. Hopefully this year. I’ve said before that 2012 will be the year of Nokia. Maybe it will be the year of Microsoft+Nokia.
So to sum it up, if Microsoft asked me today I would suggest the following:
- Experience first. When I am on the road, I don’t want to see the classic desktop on my tablet. Ever. I want to be able to do everything I can with an Android and iPad within Metro. Oh, and fast and fluid.
- Do not let manufacturers ruin the party. Enforce some kind of minimum requirements, at least for tablets. Do not allow bloatware to ruin the good name of Windows 8. Thank you.
- Allow a more desktop – professional use of the system. This is a complain I see from many people about the current form of Windows 8. I am not saying disable Metro, but I just can’t see Metro tiles flying around in company environments with older hardware.
- Make sure each part of the ecosystem gets priorities. XBox is a consumption device. The tablet is a mobile device with light creation capabilities. The desktop is more creative. Provide balance (but still keep the experience first). I leave the details to you. :)
One thing is for certain, the Mayas were wrong about 2012 :)