The real work of Windows 8 lies ahead

Early impressions of Microsoft's newest operating system have focused on its touch-screen functionality and mobile devices. Helping transform the PC may be its bigger task.

By Jan 30, 2013 5:45PM

Surface tabletBy André Mouton, Minyanville

Minyanville on MSN Money

When Windows 8 was released, last October, some early reviews were more memorable than fair.

One critic called it "a Christmas gift for someone you hate." Gaming executive Gabe Newell said Microsoft's (MSFT) new operating system "is like this giant sadness." Auto-complete suggestions at Google's (GOOG) search engine delivered comparisons to "a bad blind date." (Microsoft is the publisher of MSN Money.)

People talked about Windows the way they talk about Congress, and for basically the same reason. No one likes a compromise. 

An important goal for Microsoft when it launched Windows 8 was to get its operating system onto tablets and other mobile devices. For years, PC manufacturers have been beating at the gates of mobile computing, experimenting with more portable designs like netbooks and ultrabooks, and finding only limited success.  Windows 8 was to be the Trojan horse that got them in.

"The focus on touch-based computing in Windows 8 is huge," according to a review at the It's "easily among the best tablet user interfaces I've ever tried," says tech site AnandTech. 


But while Microsoft has created a compelling alternative for a tablet market currently split between Google's Android and Apple's (AAPL) iOS, Windows 8 might turn out to have an even bigger impact, as the driver of the evolution of traditional PCs.

The PC fights back

So far, PC manufacturers have yet to figure out which Windows 8 designs will sell, or at what price. But they understand the importance of getting this right. As things stand, the entire PC ecosystem is threatened by the growth in ultra-mobile devices like the iPad. Large companies like Dell (DELL) risk losing ground to smaller innovators like Lenovo and Asus. If the PC dies, they die along with it. 

That may be the most controversial thing about Windows 8. In the post-PC narrative, the personal computer isn't supposed to fight back. It's supposed to become obsolete; it’s supposed to be absorbed into the cloud or be replaced by the little gadgets we used to play Angry Birds on.  Wild applause greets each new permutation of the iPad/iPhone, while every attempt to redesign the PC is met with head-scratching.  The tech world has become as fixated today with mobility as it was a decade ago with megahertz.

There is a fundamental difference, though, between handheld devices that we all use for the same thing -- Twitter, YouTube, Google maps -- and machines that we customize and use differently. 

How many of the PCs sold each year are intended to run enterprise software, trade applications or video games that most of us will never hear of?  Versatility makes these computers useful, but it also makes that usefulness more specialized, less visible -- and less sexy.  With Windows 8, Microsoft is arguing that there are uses for a truly adaptable touch-screen machine, even if we can't envision what they are.

The company has produced a few tablets to try to prove it.  The Surface RT is largely indistinguishable from the competition, but the Surface Pro is something different. Like Windows 8, it is a compromise -- a marriage between a tablet and a PC -- and it, too, evoked some negative reactions when it was announced, last year.

The Pro doesn't compare favorably with other tablets on battery life, and its price/performance is not great for a PC.  But these comparisons miss the point.  Microsoft has never made the best products, just the ones that imposed the fewest restrictions.  By combining performance with iPad-like portability, the company has produced what might be the most versatile digital device currently on the market. You can do practically anything with it -- that is, until its battery dies.

The real test will come once more products like the Surface Pro are available, and when metrics like battery life have improved to the point where they are competing on their merits rather than their shortcomings. 

We will also, over the next few months and years, find out what other doors have been opened with the introduction of Windows 8 as manufacturers experiment with new form factors like tablet PCs. Whether you love what Microsoft is doing or hate it, there's no denying it's exciting.

More from Minyanville:

Jan 30, 2013 10:23PM

I hate it in the press today where every reporter (or blogger) reads someone else's reports and then rewrites the information as if they are an expert in the field. Here's a great example of it.

Why not report on something that you actually user or know about?


Surface RT is a lot more than it's competition, that becomes a lot more evident as a companion machine to Windows 8 desktop. Surface Pro is just regular Windows 8 in a sweet platform.


It's when you look at the Windows 8 ecosystem that many of the more compelling advantages come out. How many iPad apps will run on an iMac? Basically ALL Surface RT apps run on regular Windows 8 or Surface Pro.

My passwords, favorites, even screen backgrounds are replicated between my devices.


As many will find out, the ecosystem is a lot more than 499,000 apps that no one uses. It's about the apps that people use and how to make them work even better. Integration with the phone, with the XBOX, between applications, from touch to the mouse to the keyboard.


Windows 8 integrates it all together into a quite amazing ecosystem. Windows 8 gives the user choices. Do you want a 48 inch screen or a 4.8 inch screen? Do you want to type it or touch it? Do you want to carry it with you or leave it on the desk.


Choice, that's what Windows 8 brings!!


And btw, Windows 8 works great on legacy systems without touch. That's what I'm using now and if you didn't look closely, most people would think that I'm on Windows 7.

Jan 30, 2013 8:39PM
Windows 8 is a solution for a problem that doesn't exist.
Jan 31, 2013 11:54AM
Isn't it amazing how totally different the posts from Ed804 and Asok Asus are?  One totally for Windows 8 and one trashes it completely.  Ahhh, who to believe.  As always, I will make up my own mind.  And I will, as always, wait a while.  I see a lot of promise in Windows 8, but i don't have the "OOhh, new, shiny, got to have it" mentality.  Wait and see....
Jan 31, 2013 6:33PM
I put Classic Shell on my Windows 8 laptop and my start button came back right where it is supposed to be.
Jan 31, 2013 5:38AM

Screw Windows 8!


I love Windows XP and will continue to install it on any of my present and future Customized gaming PC's. At least, until the incompetent idiots at Microsoft learn how to make products that reach out and satisfy every age group.


Until Microsoft develops something better than Windows XP, they will never get any money nor support from me nor any of my family members.


Long live Windows XP!

Jan 30, 2013 9:11PM
Windows 8 is the first iteration of the future of computing - wait until Windows 9 & 10
Jan 31, 2013 12:09AM
Microsoft is already out of time "to get it right"; Microsoft does NOT have the time to fix the Windows 8 ecosystem disaster.

First, Microsoft really screwed the pooch by releasing Windows RT, Windows 8, the Surface RT and the Surface Pro all at about the same time, and then 100% confusing almost all non-technical consumers about what was what and what was the same and what was the difference. As a consequence, weaknesses perceived in one are indubitably linked to all.

Windows 8 is already (rightfully) the most hated operating system of all time. Windows RT is ,as you've accurately pointed out "useless for now". And finally, you've got a half-baked version of Windows RT embodied by Metro UI in Windows 8. You've pretty much got a situation as if Ford and Coke had introduced the Edsel and New Coke together in a 1.5 billion dollar joint ad campaign. How do you suppose that would have worked out?

And second, the world is moving at a MUCH faster pace than when Microsoft had it's last major disaster, namely Vista, in which they had three years to "finally get it right" when they released Windows 7, which was basically just Vista that worked.

Today, Microsoft doesn't have three years to get it right, they have six months. But they don't really even have six months because they botched things so badly to start with. Microsoft has already poisoned the well with their massive product-release and marketing incompetence, trying to stuff the hated Windows 8 down the throats of the masses and the enterprise when tens of thousands of advanced testers and analysts told them it would be a disaster, and producing over-priced, half-baked, me-too products like the Surface RT.

In six months, the debate will be over. The evidence will be overwhelming by then that the Windows 8 ecosystem is the biggest disaster in the history of Microsoft, and furthermore, their "partners" will also have lost billions as well by uncritically gulping gigantic cups of the Windows 8 ecosystem Kool-Aid.
Windows 8 is the birth of a new PC model and will evolve.  I read recently a report that before the end of 2013 MS will launch what now is code name Blue.  I've been using Window 8 since the beta release in Feb. 2012.  We now have 5 computers running Windows 8 exclusively.  They all run flawlessly and are inter connected on our home network.
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