The talk all over the the tech world is the pre-beta version of Windows 8 that was unveiled at the BUILD developer conference keynote, a build that is now available for public download. I’ve VM’d it and played with it for a couple hours. This may come as a shock to some of you, but not all of my impressions are negative. Toying with it inspired me to watch Jensen Harris’s talk on the design elements of Metro. In the past, any time I’ve tried to watch a Microsoft executive talk about anything at length, they’ve come off as deluded clowns or doublespeak stuffed shirts. Harris is different. The guy is smart and you can see it in Metro. I think it represents some of the most original stuff I’ve ever seen out of Redmond. It’s a shame it has the Windows legacy gun to its head. Let me explain why.
Windows 8 is really two things: the shiny Metro UI overlays the traditional “Pro” UI, which is basically Windows 7 with an ugly-assed haircut. Microsoft has made it clear (at least so far) that this duality will apply to every device between a tablet and a gaming rig. “One platform to rule them all” as I’ve heard it described. Microsoft handed out some swanky Samsung quad-core i5 powered 64 GB SSD touchscreens to developers as testing rigs. These kits will not compete with the iPad; it’s metaphorically no different than the tablet Bill Gates demoed at COMDEX in 2000. Acer sells something like that now for $1,100. Instant niche.
The future of Windows’ mobility platform hinges on the future capabilities of low-power processors and/or Microsoft’s willingness to make their tablets more “Windows 7 Phone” and less “PC”. For now, they’re claiming they can shoehorn their whale of a desktop OS and its smarter-than-average Metro overlay onto a device powered by a smartphone chipset. But you’re not going to run Windows while holding an iPad. Sorry. If Microsoft releases a device – even a $400 device – that binks when the “real” OS is activated, Windows 8 will fail as a credible competitor to the iPad, dragged to the bottom of the ocean by the legacy millstone. It’ll be another of Jobs’ “DOA” devices.
Given that the release of Windows 8 is (at least) a year off, things may resolve themselves on the hardware side. After all, no one can put time between hands-off, choreographed product demos and shipping products like Microsoft.