2011-06-03

Is Windows 8 the right approach for tablet computing? Opinions are coming in...

Update 2011-09-16:A Windows 8 keynote review by a JavaScript programmer and Apple user

New opinions critical of Windows 8’s approach to tablet computing have surfaced. This post examines their merits.

Snell

Quotes:
  • “On Windows 8, in contrast, Sinofsky says that there’s no way to kill the Windows desktop: ‘It’s always there.’”
  • Quote:
    There's an odd footnote here: Microsoft said that old Windows apps won't run on tablets that are built with ARM processors, rather than Intel x86-compatible processors. It's unclear if Windows app developers can recompile for the new processors or not. So it's possible that there will be two kinds of Windows 8 tablets: Intel ones that run all the old Windows apps, and ARM ones that don't. If so, that's kind of a mess—but it also opens up a scenario where, for all intents and purposes, ARM-based Windows tablets won't run most of the old stuff. Still, the Start Menu and old Windows APIs will presumably still be there, and who's to say that Microsoft won't compile new ARM versions of Office for Windows just for those devices?

Gruber

Notable points:
  • You can’t have it both ways: It would be nice to have a device that is both a tablet and a desktop PC, but it does not work this way, at least currently, because mobile devices have different resource and security constraints than desktop computers.
  • Quote: “What Microsoft revealed this week is that they do not believe there is a post-PC era. They’re banking that the PC era will never end.”

Analysis

  • The need to take the constrained resources (battery, screen size) of tablets into consideration is a valid point made by Gruber. The iPad’s long-lasting battery is one of its killer features and it would not be possible if it did true desktop-style multitasking. This will probably change in the future, though.
  • I do think that a middle ground between desktops and tablets is possible, where both sides profit and the peculiarities of both are taken into consideration. The desktop version of a program could have advanced features that its tablet version doesn’t. By incrementally revealing these advanced features, you help less technical desktop users, because the program becomes easier to understand. Additionally, you make it simple to turn a desktop program into a tablet program (just leave out the advanced features). Going from a tablet mode to a (limited) desktop mode (with a pointing device and a keyboard) is also desirable for a tablet, because it would turn it into a simple notebook. [1]
  • The iPad’s approach to file management is often quoted as a virtue. But I disagree. It is wrong to contrast it with current desktop file systems, instead one should look at simple yet powerful new approaches to file management such as Lifestreams [2]. The iPad is seriously hampered by its inability to group files across applications (e.g. by project) and to work on the same file in different applications.
  • Much hinges on how Microsoft views the new application environment it has created for Windows 8: is it really just a skin on top of the old Windows core or is it the next step in the evolution of Windows, where old applications will slowly be phased out? I’m hoping for the latter scenario, but Sinofsky’s remark (as quoted by Snell above) seems to indicate otherwise.

Related posts

  1. Windows 8: Microsoft restarts its operating system efforts (an analysis)
  2. Information management classics: Lifestreams (1996)

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