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Posted by on Sep 14, 2011 in Science & Technology | 3 comments

Microsoft Touts Windows 8, “Reimagines” Computing

windows 8There you go again.”

It’s a phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan, first in his campaign against Jimmy Carter and then throughout his Presidency.

And it was my first thought upon reading the glowing accolades (mind-blowing!) surrounding Microsoft’s announcement of Windows 8, accolades so bright that it should not be dark here a few miles from Redmond.

Get a grip boys.

It’s September 2011. Windows 8 isn’t expected for at least a year. And those whiz-bang demos didn’t run on an ARM tablet they ran on an Intel slate.

This is a company that regularly shouts from the rooftops about what great things it’s going to do … just give us some time (and don’t buy our competitor’s products in the interim, OK?). Don’t believe me? Then let’s look back two decades:

Faced with substantial competition in the DOS arena, Microsoft responded with an announcement of a yet-to-be released MS-DOS 5.0 in May 1990.[2] This would be released in June 1991[2] and include similar advanced features to those of DR DOS.

Is it vaporware if the product is eventually delivered, even if an announcement was intended to be anti-competitive, ie, forestall sales to the competition?

How about one decade back, July 2001, at the birth of Vista:

Jim Allchin, vice president of Microsofts platform group, said planning for the next version of the operating system started in May.

Vista was to be shipped in 2003. It finally shipped in November 2006 after beta testers got their hands on the software in August 2005.

I’m not saying that Microsoft won’t ship Windows 8 next year. I’m just saying it’s WAY too soon to be swooning, even though Windows developers are in serious, Apple-like swoon mode:

I arrived at the BUILD event here in Anaheim, California, at about 8 a.m., an hour before the event. Already there was a mile-long line of developers crowding in front of 10 doors leading to the area where the first keynote would begin.

Extreme. And reminiscent of the craziness surrounding the Windows 95 launch back in the day.

And the Windows press was also in swoon mode, despite the fact that the device that the 5,000 developers were given is not a tablet (emphasis added):

The device appeared to have the same body as Samsung’s Series 7 Slate, introduced in August, which runs a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel i5 [2467M CPU with integrated graphics and 4GB of RAM], has an 11.6-in. screen and weighs slightly less than 2 pounds…

Earlier, an ARM-based tablet, which appeared to also be a Samsung product, was used for one brief demonstration of Windows 8, but Microsoft didn’t offer any preview units featuring ARM processors, nor did it discuss a timeline for running Windows 8 on ARM tablets.

Read that again. Two pounds. And no schedule for porting to ARM.

An iPad WiFi weighs 1.33 pounds and runs on ARM technology. The Samsung Galaxy Tab weighs 20 ounces and runs on ARM technology. The MacBookAir, on the other hand, weighs 2.38 pounds and runs on a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 with 3MB shared L3 cache, like …. the device Microsoft gave away today. That is not a tablet.

The Windows8 interface mimics that of WindowsPhone. I have friends who love it as much as I love my iPhone.

But I don’t want to interact with my laptop like I interact with my iPad. I am as dubious of Apple’s move to port iOS onto traditional computers as I am this effort of Microsoft’s. Touch interfaces work when the item you are touching is small enough to fit in your personal space — or large enough that you are standing up and interacting with it, probably temporarily.

Ah, but Zach Epstein begs to differ:

Apple paved the way but Microsoft will get there first with Windows 8. A tablet that can be as fluid and user friendly as the iPad but as capable as a Windows laptop. A tablet that can boot in under 10 seconds and fire up a full-scale version of Adobe Dreamweaver a few moments later. A tablet that can be slipped into a dock to instantly become a fully capable touch-enabled laptop computer. This is Microsoft’s vision with Windows 8, and this is what it will deliver.

People debate it all the time, but the simple fact is that “real work” is significantly more difficult to do on the iPad or on an Android tablet than it is on a Windows or Mac PC. Debate all you want. Android and iOS apps are dumbed down and infinitely less capable, typing is on a tablet is a pain in the ass unless you carry a Bluetooth keyboard, and the experience as a whole is severely limited.

Define “real work”.

I edit photos on my iPad because it’s easier to do on the iPad than with a keyboard and Photoshop. I am not, however, doing high-end editing: for that I would shift to a more powerful machine, where I would be too far away from the screen to easily “touch” and where I would need the fine control that comes from a mouse or tablet input device.

Database entry? Yeah, you want a keyboard for that. Writing more than a few minutes? I prefer a keyboard then, too.

What Epstein doesn’t seem to grok is that mobile devices should be designed to let us accomplish the things we do when we are, well, mobile … that is, not at a desk. And by “not at a desk” I do not mean sitting in business class on an airplane. I mean on-the-go mobile. My sentiments are echoed at The Guardian:

Switching between Metro and Desktop is a jarring experience at first, and of course Desktop apps have all the problems with touch control that Windows apps have always had, because they are designed for mouse and keyboard. It is all rather odd; yet the review machine is fun to use, provided you either stay in Metro mode most of the time, or have a keyboard and mouse or stylus for those old-style applications.

I understand that this event is designed to get developers excited, and it seems to have accomplished that goal. They’re so excited that they can’t think straight:

I love that Windows 8 will run anywhere and any app that can run on Windows 8 will run on any device. That’s really key – I can develop & debug on a tablet running Windows 8,” said [ Ed Blankenship, a .NET developer and technical lead at Imaginet].

Tablets. Run. ARM.

Slates. Run. Intel.

I’m far more interested in Amazon’s tablet, in part because I wish my Kindle had a touch interface. (I’m seriously thinking about returning v3 and waiting for the tablet.) Did Amazon’s Jeff Bezos shout from the rooftops last year, “Hey! We’re developing a tablet!” As John Gruber points out, the answer “no.”

I should be more excited about Microsoft’s announcement because (a) competition is good for consumers (see Facebook and Google+ for example) and (b) Microsoft helps pay our mortgage.

But all I can hear in my head is, “there you go again.”

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