Interesting Times with Windows 8 Choices: Redefining the PC

Rob Enderle
Slide Show

Six Reasons Windows 8 Could Be a Threat to the iPad

We have an interesting choice coming up in a few months for those of us looking to buy new PCs. The word "interesting" can mean new and different, or it can be like the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times" and be frightening. Up until now you've generally had one experience with Windows and you'll be choosing between two very distinct options - well, three if you choose to save your money and stay on what you already have (and realize that is the choice most initially always make). But those of us who like to live on the cutting edge of technology now get to pick a fork in the road and I wonder what that choice will say about us.


Actually, come to think of it, there are four alternatives with the fourth being to buy one of each, and given that folks who have iPads also largely still have more traditional PCs, this last choice could actually become the more popular and potentially less of an IT nightmare than getting both a Mac and an iPad to work in a Windows shop.


Let's look at each choice.


Windows 7, Skip 8, Think About 9


Current information from Gartner indicates that this is the choice that their customers are telling them. However, it should be pointed out that with client devices, IT stopped being a driver some time ago and it is line management and employees who are back to driving most technology inside companies. This pendulum swings back and forth, and BYOD (bring your own device) and the transfer of P&L responsibility to line executives are both the proof and the mechanism that did this.


That means that until Microsoft's demand engine kicks off, no survey of future behavior will be accurate and while I think it doubtful that many companies will move to Windows 8 on x86 this year (budgets would have had to be set last year, depending on what is done over the next few months, budgets and plans could shift for next year).


Gartner is correct. This is IT's position but IT is clearly listening closely to their line customers and those customers are having no issues with bringing in iPads and iPads didn't show up as a trend with IT until after they started making them work.


This will likely remain the position for IT-driven environments, though particularly those who are still in the midst of a Windows 7 deployment.


Windows 8 on ARM: Windows RT


I think this is the version most likely to come into shops this year driven by employees. This is because Windows 8 on ARM is the most pure Windows Metro experience and it will be on the most iPad-like devices. We learned a lot more about this version of the product recently and it is the most interesting of the versions, at least to me. Windows 8 on ARM is the biggest jump into the Metro interface and having used Metro on a Windows Phone for some time, I believe it will provide the cleanest experience, but at a cost and that cost will be any legacy applications in use. This is similar to what folks already experience when they have an iPad or Android tablet, though, and if they see it that way, they may prefer Metro, which is newer and cleaner than the now-older iOS and Android UIs.


This is all about perception and clearly Android has struggled against the iPad even though it has clearly done well against the iPhone. I believe that is largely because the carriers appear to push it harder, the tablets are as well funded as the top smartphones are and there is greater parity between the iPhone and Android phones. (Currently, the Samsung Galaxy III phone is rated higher than the iPhone for instance.) The Lumia 900 is showcasing similar strength and it is a Windows phone, suggesting the Metro could be a major player in tablets on the right hardware.


This all means that BYOD should, if the product is attractive to employees, drive the ARM version into business more quickly, riding on a wave similar to the one that drove in the iPad.


Windows 8 on x86


I've actually seen some interesting hardware on this product but haven't yet seen what I think the ideal working experience would be. The ideal hardware is a hybrid product with both laptop and tablet capabilities and the experience would be the automatic switching of user experience from the legacy Windows 7 UI, while the product is in laptop mode to the Metro UI while it is in tablet mode. I think that would be the most compelling experience; however, I have a Windows tablet that I'm testing right now and find that I end up switching back and forth rather often and in any mode.


All of the apps that I use that run on Windows 7 run on Windows 8, but I find I either want to live in the Windows 7 interface or in Metro and in the Windows 7 mode I'm really missing the Start button. For things like settings, currently touch works best. I understand they will be providing a landing button for stuff like this in the final build. Product is solid, usability needs work and if they get that work done, this could become an interesting product.


Value proposition would be having a single piece of hardware that would transform into a tablet when you wanted a tablet and be a laptop when you wanted a laptop so, for those of us who carry both, we could leave one at home. This will be a much harder sell than the simple ARM approach above, but it could, if done correctly, also provide the best value. Harder to me means the wave for this product will likely come next year and only if people get comfortable with the new hardware types.


Better Together


The real opportunity for Microsoft and the market is also likely the most difficult. This is the idea of all three smart products working together seamlessly so you can move from a laptop or desktop computer, to a Windows 8 tablet and to a Windows Phone seamlessly. User experience, apps and information follow you platform to platform. Issues are that I doubt people will want to buy three versions of each app and keeping everything synced in a world of uneven connectivity, but this last is very close to being solved.


IT may actually like this idea a lot because one custom app could conceivably cover all three platforms, making custom app development for all three usage models cheaper. But you could also just host the app on the Web to solve this problem and that could be cheaper still and be more vendor-independent.


In the end, I find the idea of having three optimized devices that work as a solution compelling, but few firms have been able to make even two devices work together seamlessly (the Mac and the iPad aren't exactly what I would call a seamless couple).


Wrapping Up: Windows 8 Is Sure Interesting


In the end, it is too early to tell which choice I will make, let alone which choice most of you will make. Too much about the ARM version of Windows (no test hardware out yet), too much about x86 Windows (the hybrids are in early testing) and too much about the final user experience is unknown (how much will be fixed by RTM). One thing is known, and that is that Windows 8 is revolutionary in that by providing more and different choices than we have had before, it has a greater potential to redefine what we think of when we think of PCs.


The question now is whether it will make it to the two other screens - automotive and TV - before Apple, RIM or someone else does. One other thing is sure, this is going to be an interesting year; we just don't know if that word is exciting or troubling yet.

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