2012-10-22

Should Windows 8 be split into two operating systems?

Microsoft’s Windows 8 has a confusing split Metro/Desktop personality [1]. To make matters even more complicated, there is an additional version of Windows called Windows RT. This blog post argues that instead, Microsoft should have created two operating systems: one for tablets and one for desktops.

Windows RT versus Windows 8

Roughly, Windows RT is a subset of Windows 8 that only supports Metro apps, plus a few Microsoft apps running in Desktop mode. Windows RT runs on ARM processors, which still dominate the mobile device market, including tablets. Microsoft’s first Surface tablets will be based on ARM processors and Windows RT [2]. Surfaces based on Intel processors and Windows 8 will come out 3 months later. One potential problem with Windows RT is that people don’t know what Windows RT is. Quoting “What Is Windows RT? Redmond, We Have A Problem” (on Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows):
I really like Windows 8 and think Windows RT is a great long-term play against the iPad and other tablet challengers. But any excitement Microsoft generated around this launch will be squandered when people realize they just bought something that looks like Windows 8 but comes with even fewer apps than Windows Phone.

Two operating systems?

All of this makes you wonder: Should Microsoft have created two separate operating systems?
  • Windows RT: a Metro-only operating system for tablets and small notebooks.
  • Windows 8: a Desktop-only (Metro-less) operating system for PCs, an incremental evolution of Windows 7. Call it Windows 7+1, if you will.
That would have avoided Windows 8 being such a strange hybrid and would have given Microsoft time to figure out how to properly scale Metro up to desktop dimensions [3].

Metro

I am aware that Microsoft is abandoning the term Metro – apparently for copyright reasons. The article “Turning to the past to power Windows’ future: An in-depth look at WinRT” (by Peter Bright for Ars Technica) is a great primer on Windows 8 technology. It explains that “Metro” is still the best way of describing the technology:
[..] since Microsoft has moved away from the “Metro” name, Metro style applications are known variously as “Windows Store apps,” and “Windows 8 apps.” The Developer Division tends to prefer the former, and the Windows Division the latter. Neither term is particularly satisfactory, not least because Microsoft is using the same aesthetic, with different underlying technology, on its Web properties and Xbox 360. There are signs that the aesthetic is being called “Microsoft style design,” but this is terminology that few are using. As such, I'm going to continue to refer to them as “Metro style apps” or just “Metro apps.”

Related posts

  1. A Windows 8 keynote review by a JavaScript programmer and Apple user
  2. Microsoft’s new tablets: overview and thoughts
  3. Why I want the iPad to have a mouse cursor [explains the different user interface levels “small” (cell phones), “medium” (tablets), “large” (desktops)]

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