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Is Windows 8 a Solution in Search of a Problem? June 3, 2011

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software platforms.
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Microsoft has posted a demonstration video of Windows 8 on YouTube (a week or so after it “corrected” a Steve Ballmer assertion that the next version of Windows was coming out in 2012).

First impression – it looks pretty good.  Jensen Harris of the Windows User Experience team showed it in a tablet configuration, and it was attractive and responsive (of course, individual results on different hardware may vary).

Second impression – why?  Why would I want to run full versions of Word, Excel, and other productivity applications on a tablet or other device?  It turns out that Windows 8 and the Windows applications are the same no matter what the hardware platform is.  That means the same actions by the user, but with a different form factor that isn’t designed for those actions.

Some software developers may like this, because they won’t have to create, support, and maintain separate versions of their applications for different platforms.  But the people who will ultimately purchase Windows 8 (or not) are end users, and why should I need the same applications and hardware on my tablets, netbooks, kiosks, and other devices as I do on my desktop?

And the question of why extends to a larger sense.  I got my first Windows 7 system about a year ago.  I use the same applications as I did on Windows XP (like many, I took a pass on Vista), in much the same manner.  There are a couple of features I like better on Windows 7 than on XP, and pretty much a corresponding number of features I dislike by comparison.  But fundamentally, Windows 7 did nothing significantly better than XP.  I can’t imagine that Windows 8 will either.  The PC-based operating system has long reached the point of diminishing returns in terms of both functionality and value.

Microsoft often releases new versions of existing products at least in part to ramp up its revenue pipeline.  While that business model was the accepted wisdom for software twenty and thirty years ago, it’s become long in the tooth.  There’s simply no reason to become excited about how operating systems can make our lives better and easier.

It’s a difficult lesson for Microsoft to learn, having built an entire multi-billion dollar company on the faith that end users will always care about the next OS version.  But the company needs to move beyond that mindset in order to keep what relevancy it continues to have.

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