Why Microsoft?s Tablet Strategy is Fundamentally Flawed

  • Posted: 15 September 2011 06:06 PM #46

    ?In a clarification, a Microsoft executive said applications built to run on the tablet version of Windows 8 won?t be compatible with the desktop version of the operating system,? Paul McDougall reports for InformationWeek. ?The executive also said that the tablet version won?t be able run any applications built for previous versions of Windows.?

    Aha. This seems to be the OPPOSITE of what they said yesterday:

    ?Sinofsky?s comments came a day after he implied that apps for the tablet and desktop versions of Windows 8 would be cross-compatible. ?The demos we are showing you today are equally at home on ARM or x86,? Sinofsky said, during a keynote presentation at Microsoft?s BUILD conference in Anaheim, Calif.

         
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    Posted: 15 September 2011 06:58 PM #47

    FalKirk - 15 September 2011 08:44 PM

    Microsoft’s addiction to legacy support will drag Metro down. Here’s Ihnatko’s thoughts the ties between Metro and the traditional Windows interface.

    Good article, and it sounds like he does a better job explaining the concept than I do.

    Microsoft proudly showed off Windows 8?s (comprehensive) power management features by calling up the Windows Task Manager. Would it be a beautiful Metro-ized tile, like all of the System settings panels they?d shown off? No: SPLAT. It was an old Windows window, plopped right on top of that lovely Start screen that I was still admiring.

    If THAT survives the alpha to the finished product, Microsoft is screwed. The only way the works is if you can live in either interface completely independent of each other.

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    Posted: 15 September 2011 08:14 PM #48

    FalKirk - 15 September 2011 08:44 PM

    Andy Ihnatko has lots of good things to say about Metro.

    I’m going to disagree with at least one of Andy’s comments.

    Metro is, first and foremost, visually quite beautiful…

    Maybe it’s just me, but I think it looks ugly. Eye of the beholder.

         
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    Posted: 15 September 2011 09:30 PM #49

    I watched a bit of a live stream Laporte’s crew (Thurrott & Foley) were doing from BUILD. it sounds like Microsoft is not open to suggestions for changes in Windows 8. What you see is what you will get, just smoothed out.

    One guest flat out said that multitasking was broken and couldn’t be smoothed out in any way. It just needed to be changed. The same guy seemed to think that it was not at all intuitive. Foley skirted past that and pointed out that Microsoft would need to reeducate users who were accustomed to the iOS UI.

    I know it’s pre-beta, but I get the sense they are years away from getting close to the iPad. And that’s even before iOS 5 or iPad 3.

         
  • Posted: 15 September 2011 09:47 PM #50

    KitsuneStudios - 15 September 2011 09:58 PM

    Microsoft proudly showed off Windows 8?s (comprehensive) power management features by calling up the Windows Task Manager. Would it be a beautiful Metro-ized tile, like all of the System settings panels they?d shown off? No: SPLAT. It was an old Windows window, plopped right on top of that lovely Start screen that I was still admiring.

    If THAT survives the alpha to the finished product, Microsoft is screwed. The only way the works is if you can live in either interface completely independent of each other.

    You make a good point (and you’ve made SEVERAL good point, I just haven’t gotten around to responding to them all yet!) this is just a beta product. Who knows what will change over the course of a year?

    On the other hand, I do think that Microsoft has given us many hints of the direction that they’re taking and the hints seem consistent with Microsoft’s history. On Gruber’s most recent podcast he talked about how happy Apple was to start over with a fresh operating system like iOS. Microsoft, on the other hand, is quite proud - and should be quite proud - of their legacy support. But I just don’t see how you leap from Windows to Metro when one of your feet is so firmly grounded in Windows.

         
  • Posted: 15 September 2011 09:51 PM #51

    Drew Bear - 16 September 2011 12:30 AM

    Foley skirted past that and pointed out that Microsoft would need to reeducate users who were accustomed to the iOS UI.

    One of the beauties of the iOS interface is that you don’t have to be “educated”. But maybe I’m reading too much into this. Ihnatko said that after five minutes he was familiar with all the necessary gestures. That sounds pretty intuitive to me.

         
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    Posted: 15 September 2011 10:39 PM #52

    FalKirk - 16 September 2011 12:51 AM
    Drew Bear - 16 September 2011 12:30 AM

    Foley skirted past that and pointed out that Microsoft would need to reeducate users who were accustomed to the iOS UI.

    One of the beauties of the iOS interface is that you don’t have to be “educated”. But maybe I’m reading too much into this. Ihnatko said that after five minutes he was familiar with all the necessary gestures. That sounds pretty intuitive to me.

    I forgot to mention the guy Foley was interviewing wrote instructional guides for “average” users. He was intentionally looking at Metro from a non-tech perspective. I read through Andy’s summary and think I could also get used to it quickly, but it still sounds overly complicated to me…a bit like Android.

    The Windows Weekly podcast should be up later today. I think Thurrott is usually pretty upfront if he sees something he really doesn’t like. It’ll be interesting to see what they have to say at the end of the day. But I think everyone’s “out” will simply be it’s too early to tell. This is not even beta. It’s a developer preview.

         
  • Posted: 16 September 2011 12:29 AM #53

    I’ve been focused on the big issues confronting Windows 8. But there are some, perhaps less dramatic, but still important issues too.

    Let’s focus just on the desktop for a second. Will traditional users like/use Metro?  If they don’t, is it a big deal? Can those users just stick to the traditional desktop and forget all about Metro? If they like Metro, will their arms get tired as they touch their screens? Apple eschewed touch screens and stuck with touch pads and gestures instead. Microsoft is all in with touch screens. Which company got it right?

    Now let’s take a look at the tablets.

    Windows 8 will support ARM-based processors that run cooler and draw less power, but they’re not yet ready for developers to try. And ARM introduces a complication: Legacy apps won’t run on ARM-based Windows tablets unless they’re rewritten. Microsoft is downplaying this issue rather than addressing it clearly, which, at a conference for software developers, seems kind of strange.

    This was news to me. To be fair, it appears that Microsoft is downplaying it. Part of me understands that. Microsoft doesn’t want to alienate its base. Part of me doesn’t understand that at all. I mean, the developers have to know about this stuff and its not like its going to stay a secret anyway. Weird.

    Anyway, to understand what this means, let me translate this into Apple’s terminology. It would mean that OS X programs would continue to run on notebooks and desktops, that iOS Apps would run on tablets only but that OS X apps could run on a tablet - but only if it’s re-written first.

    Now from one point of view, this makes Windows 8 more flexible than Apple’s dual operating systems. There’s simply no reasonable way to run an OS X program on an Apple tablet. But with Windows 8, in can be done. As I’ve expressed before, I’m not sure why you would WANT to do that but, what the hey, it can be done.

    But doesn’t this destroy the whole “one operating system to rule them all” theme of Windows 8? What people are saying is that Windows 8 is the Holy Grail of computing - a computer that can run BOTH tablet and desktop software. You can have the best of BOTH worlds with Windows 8!

    But can you? If you have to re-write your application to take advantage of Metro…and you have to rewrite your program to take advantage of Windows on a tablet…and if none of these programs, Metro, Windows on a tablet and Windows on a desktop, were truly compatible with one another…then, well, what’s the point? In effect, you can “have it all” - a tablet and desktop all in one - but only if you rewrite your program twice!

    This isn’t Microsoft extending the Windows OS down onto a tablet. This is Microsoft creating TWO new operating systems that are both incompatible with its original operating system. How can that be viewed as beneficial?

    Maybe someone can explain this to me, because I’m certainly not following Microsoft’s train of thought. They’ve got 550 million computers running Windows. And that’ good. And they’ve got a killer new tablet OS. And that’s good. But never the twain shall meet. The metro apps and the Tablet Windows Apps and the Desktop Windows apps are all separate and all incompatible with one another. This isn’t one operating system to rule them all. This is three operating system to fool them all.

         
  • Posted: 16 September 2011 09:47 AM #54

    Gruber has revised his original take.

    It?s worth noting that Metro is more than just a new look, and more than just putting touch first. Metro apps have similar restrictions to iOS apps. According to Jensen Harris, for example, Metro apps will get ?about five seconds? after they?re no longer on-screen before the system puts them into a suspended state. There?s no file manager. Users no longer quit (or, in Windows parlance, exit) apps explicitly. These tradeoffs sound familiar?

    So I hereby amend my punditry. Windows 8 with the full Windows desktop will never be an iPad rival. But a version of Windows 8 with nothing but Metro looks like an excellent design for an iPad rival.??

         
  • Posted: 16 September 2011 10:47 AM #55

    OK, I’ve just listened to the beginning of the Windows Weekly podcast.

    No Legacy for Arm

    Mary Jo Foley - who is actually at the conference and covers this stuff for a living - didn’t know if one would be able to run legacy apps on the Arm version of a Windows 8 tablet. Incredible. Why Microsoft is being so secretive about something so essential to developers, I can’t imagine.

    Anyway, Paul Thurrott seemed better informed. Paul believed, but was not certain, that the Arm version of the tablet would not even HAVE the desktop version of the OS. So it sounds like there will be an Arm version of the tablet that will run Metro only and perhaps a bigger Intel version of the tablet that will run both the Metro and the desktop OS, with backwards compatibility.

    This doesn’t jive with what I read and wrote about just above. There it was suggested that Windows desktop Apps would have to be re-written to run on Arm. Now Thurrott seems to be saying that desktop Apps wont’ run on Arm at all.

    Why the hell is Microsoft being so obscure about this? Thurrott said that Microsoft “gets it” - knows that this could be confusing - so they’re going to spell it out in their marketing. Oh yeah?  Well I hope Microsoft’s ability to communicate via their marketing is better than their ability to communicate during their developers conference. Steve Jobs uses his keynotes to highlight the pertinent features of a product and define the product’s story. Microsoft uses it’s developers conference to throw everyone into mass confusion. Whatever.

    The long and short of it is that I still don’t know what Microsoft is doing. My three OS’s theory from above sounded too stupid to be true so I’ll assume that it IS too stupid to be true. It now seems more probable that there will be Arm tablets that run only Metro and Intel tablets (perhaps heavier, thicker and with fans) that will run both Metro and the full desktop OS.

    Two Tablets, One Desktop

    OK, so let’s take a look at this.

    -The desktops will remain mostly the same but with the option to run Metro. This radically redesigned user interface may turn off traditionalists, but it can be removed with the click of a button. One would think that those who want to use both the desktop and the tablet versions of Windows would want to use Metro on both devices. Steve Jobs says that ergonomics makes touch screens unworkable. Obviously, Microsoft feels otherwise. We’ll have to wait and see.

    - The Arm Tablets will go head to head with the iPad. Like the iPad, they’ll only run a tablet OS.

    - The Intel tablets will be a hybrid - probably larger, heavier and louder (fan) but able to run both Metro and the desktop version of Windows.

    Now who would buy these hybrid tablets? Unless they are small enough, light enough and quiet enough, they’re going to run into some resistance. Microsoft might have gotten away with a bulkier tablet model a few years ago, but it will be a hard sell when competing against the iPads, Galaxy Tabs and even Microsoft’s own Arm based tablets. For now, let’s just assume any design difficulties can be overcome and that these tablets will be acceptable to consumers.

    Metro Everywhere

    So now you have the Holy Grail of computing - a tablet that runs both a tablet OS yet is capable of running the desktop OS. And since Metro is the same whether on a tablet or on a desktop, then all Metro Apps will be immediately available on both devices. The Apple equivalent would be if all iOS Apps ran on your Mac and were manipulated by touch, the same as they would be on your tablet.

    That sounds pretty compelling to me. After using the iPad, how many of us have tried to manipulate things on our Mac screens by touching them? Touch is so natural that we extend it to every area of computing and are dismayed when the computing device fails to respond appropriately. Apple had better be right when they say that “tablets want to be horizontal” otherwise Microsoft is going to have both cross-device compatibility and a tremendous advantage in intuitive user interfaces.

    Windows Everywhere - Not So Much

    Now let’s look at running the desktop version of Windows on a tablet. For the sake of argument, think of it the way Apple sells WiFi only and WiFi plus 3G models of the iPad. Similarly, Microsoft would sell Metro only and Metro plus Windows versions of their tablets.  No problem there.

    The first dead horse I have to beat is that Windows on a tablet is a terrible idea. Yeah, it can be done, and yeah it might be nice to have in a pinch but, on the whole, there’s a whole decade’s worth of evidence showing that it doesn’t work.

    So perhaps the Metro plus Windows tablet is just a fob to the traditionalists, sort of how Windows running on a Mac is a fob to switchers. Yeah, you CAN run windows on your Mac and yeah, a small percentage do it and love it. But for the vast majority of users, once you get you get to know OS X you abandon the Windows portion of your Mac pretty quickly. Similarly, while there will always be a small portion of Windows tablet owners who want and use the desktop OS on their devices, over time, most will realize that they don’t really need the Windows desktop OS on their tablets at all.

    Conclusion

    So my endless and endlessly annoying rant has been that Microsoft’s efforts to stretch their Windows OS over both the desktop and the tablet would be their undoing. But is that what they’re really doing? It seems to me that Microsoft is stretching METRO over both their desktops and their tablets. The traditional Windows OS becomes the red-headed step child. If I’m right - and I’ve been wrong about everything else so far - this is a very bold move by Windows. A gambit and a gamble. But perhaps a gamble worth taking.

    Post Script

    (I’ll be back tomorrow to rewrite this whole thing when Microsoft tells us what the hell is REALLY going on.)

         
  • Posted: 16 September 2011 11:49 AM #56

    Lstream - 16 September 2011 12:47 PM

    Gruber has revised his original take.

    It?s worth noting that Metro is more than just a new look, and more than just putting touch first. Metro apps have similar restrictions to iOS apps. According to Jensen Harris, for example, Metro apps will get ?about five seconds? after they?re no longer on-screen before the system puts them into a suspended state. There?s no file manager. Users no longer quit (or, in Windows parlance, exit) apps explicitly. These tradeoffs sound familiar?

    So I hereby amend my punditry. Windows 8 with the full Windows desktop will never be an iPad rival. But a version of Windows 8 with nothing but Metro looks like an excellent design for an iPad rival.??

    It sounds like Gruber and I are coming to similar conclusions, but he said it in 600 characters and I said it in 6,000 characters. My bad.  tongue laugh

         
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    Posted: 16 September 2011 11:53 AM #57

    FalKirk - 16 September 2011 03:29 AM

    Anyway, to understand what this means, let me translate this into Apple’s terminology. It would mean that OS X programs would continue to run on notebooks and desktops, that iOS Apps would run on tablets only but that OS X apps could run on a tablet - but only if it’s re-written first.

    My understanding is a little different. Keeping with the analogy;

    It would mean that OS X programs would continue to run on notebooks and desktops, that iOS Apps would run on tablets only but that OS X apps could run on an INTEL based tablet, never an ARM one.

    Imagine 2 iPad models: one is ARM, light fast, only ever runs iOS. The other is i5, the size of a MacBook Air: it runs iOS, but can be docked to an external keyboard and pointer to run MacOS X.

    Again, I think this has the advantage over the old tablets as being able to run in either mode, without needing to run in either mode. You can safely ditch the stylus and keyboard when on the road and sticking to Metro.

    I had thought earlier that Metro Apps written for the ARM
    would not run on Metro in Intel without a recompile. That would have been a major drawback to developers.

    That said, it sounds like we’re both on the same page now. smile

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  • Posted: 16 September 2011 01:29 PM #58

    I’m still obsessing about Windows 8, so let me take another crack at it.

    First, it appears that I got a lot wrong. To be fair, that was only because I relied on what Microsoft was telling me. I always thought there was a chance that Microsoft was sandbagging me but I discounted that possibility. After all, Microsoft pre-releases everything so damn far in advance, what’s the point of secrecy?

    Not only did Microsoft fool me, but it looks like they’re continuing their policy by messing with their developers and the press covering the developer’s conference. No one seems to know the answers to some pretty key questions. What the hell, Microsoft. You have the eyes of the world upon you and you choose to hide, rather than reveal, your master plan? It’s not like you can keep this hidden away for long anyway. You’re released a developers build of Windows 8 for crying out loud. It would be like claiming that you weren’t going to secede from the Union while simultaneously passing out Confederate currency.

    Back to Windows 8. Let’s assume that everything goes right. The software is fully baked, the hardware is good, integration good, all that basic stuff. Here are some possible issues.

    Will traditionalists be turned off by Metro?

    Metro can go away, so I’ll assume not.

    Does Microsoft gain a big advantage from having both Metro and Windows running on its desktops?

    Would you like to run iOS Apps on your desktop? Probably not. iOS programs just don’t work right with a mouse or trackpad. But Metro uses the same touch interface on the desktop as it does on its tablets. I’d love to run iOS Apps on my Mac if they ran right. If Microsoft can pull this off, BIG advantage Microsoft.

    The only qualm is the “gorilla-arm” effect. Ergonomics professionals tell us that people’s arms tire quickly when extended. Will people quickly tire of using Metro on their desktops? Maybe. But even still, at least it will be available for use. Advantage Microsoft.

    Does Microsoft gain an advantage because they can run Windows on their tablets?

    As we’ve discussed above, it appears that Windows will not run on Arm tablets. And on the Intel tablets? Probably mostly a placebo effect. But still, placebo’s can be powerful. Advantage Microsoft.

    Will Metro Tablets Gain Traction?

    Tricky.

    Again, we’re assuming that everything that has to go right - the software, the hardware, the integration, etc. - HAS gone right.

    Many reasonable people would tell you that the Zune was superior to the iPod. But it never got any traction. Many reasonable people will tell you that Windows Phone 7 is superior to both iOS and Android phones. But it still hasn’t gotten any traction. By the time Window 8 hits the market, the iPad will be on it’s third iteration and Microsoft will be entering the market two and a half years late. Is there any reason to believe that Windows 8 will be different from the Zune or Windows Phone 7?

    Sure. For one thing, this is Microsoft’s flagship program. There are 500 million copies of Windows in the wild, Microsoft has all sorts of channels and business connections and it’s Microsoft’s life blood - they will pour EVERYTHING they have into making this.

    That still doesn’t mean that it WILL be a success.

    For one thing, Microsoft is still Microsoft. Great engineers, but not always great strategists. Just as one example, take their advertising - PLEASE! Now Microsoft may turn over a new leaf, hire a new ad agency and blow our minds. But the current Windows Phone 7 advertising begs to differ with that conjecture. And advertising is only emblematic of the many Microsoft quirks. I remember how Microsoft choose to nickel and dime their customer’s in the Zune marketplace. They just couldn’t help themselves. They had to muck up their product for the sake of a few measly pennies. However, Microsoft has been paying VERY close attention to what Apple has been doing. Perhaps this time, they can make things happen without shooting themselves in the foot.

    Who’s going to win?

    Tricky.

    Of course, neither Microsoft nor Apple HAS to win. They could both just take market share from one another like normal companies do in normal markets. Apple has the advantage of its huge iOS base. Microsoft has the advantage of its huge Windows base. It could prove to be a titanic battle. Or it could prove to be a boring stalemate.

    What’s the big differentiator?

    Here’s the deal. Apple has a tablet operating system for its three tablets - the iPod Touch, the iPhone the iPad. Apple has a desktop operating system for its desktops.

    Microsoft did the exact opposite of what I thought they were going to do. Instead of extending their existing desktop operating system down onto tablets, they’re extending their brand new tablet operating system UP into desktops.

    Apple has a tablet OS running tablets and a desktop OS running desktops. Microsoft has a tablet OS running tablets (but NOT phones) and a tablet OS running desktops. It may be a small difference, but I predict that it will make all the difference.

    I ask again, who’s going to win?

    Microsoft is taking the biggest gamble of their corporate lives. They are doing the very thing that many have said that had to do - they’re disrupting themselves. They’re cutting loose from the most successful operating system of all time and taking the risk of alienating their base by moving to a brand new, exciting, but unfamiliar operating system.

    Or are they?

    It just doesn’t seem to be in Microsoft’s corporate DNA to let go of the past. They’ve got this brand spanking new tablet operating system - and yet they’ve got the task manager lurking in the shadows waiting to ambush some unsuspecting tablet dwellers.

    Microsoft gets it. They know that to be successful in the brave new world of tablets they’ve got to leave Windows behind…

    ...but they just can’t seem to say goodbye.

         
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    Posted: 16 September 2011 02:00 PM #59

    KitsuneStudios - 16 September 2011 02:53 PM

    It would mean that OS X programs would continue to run on notebooks and desktops, that iOS Apps would run on tablets only but that OS X apps could run on an INTEL based tablet, never an ARM one.

    One addition: iOS would also run on desktops & laptops.

    Imagine 2 iPad models: one is ARM, light fast, only ever runs iOS. The other is i5, the size of a MacBook Air: it runs iOS, but can be docked to an external keyboard and pointer to run MacOS X.

    Again, I think this has the advantage over the old tablets as being able to run in either mode, without needing to run in either mode. You can safely ditch the stylus and keyboard when on the road and sticking to Metro.

    The big question mark is whether the i5 tablet will be as light and power efficient as the ARM version. The demo version Microsoft was showing had a fan humming along.

    Even conceptually I don’t think this is going to work, but we’ll have to wait until actual products hit the market to see how people respond to it. Meanwhile, the functionality and power of the iPad will only continue to expand. By the time 1st gen W8 tablets are released, the 4th gen iPad will be near release.

    Right now you can “dock” an iPad and use a keyboard & mouse if you wanted to use something like Pages or Numbers where those accessories might be useful. But how many people actually need to do that? I think Apple’s answer is that such folks need to buy a MB Air instead of an iPad.

         
  • Posted: 16 September 2011 02:18 PM #60

    KitsuneStudios - 16 September 2011 02:53 PM

    That said, it sounds like we’re both on the same page now. smile

    Well, I’ve written so damn much on this that I think it would be more accurate to say that we’re on the same “pages” now.