Tempted by a recent promotional offer I upgraded to Windows 8 three days ago. So far my experience is mixed, but I’m not going to bore you with that. Instead I want to point out two things that Microsoft is doing with Windows 8 that are in my opinion noteworthy.
First, this is the first true innovation in computer UI in years. Last thing this innovative was iPhone’s UI. While Android is – in terms of its UI – merely a clone of iOS Windows 8′s tiles are something new and very different. It remains to be seen whether this UI will be accepted, especially by the desktop/laptop users. By necessity innovative UI has some learning curve that is much steeper between Windows 7 and 8 than it was between XP and Vista/7. But even if people will reject it and MS will have to revert to the “Start” menu (invented for Windows 95 almost twenty years ago) they should still be praised for at least trying something totally new. Brave, risky – and, I’d say, a bit unexpected coming from an aging corporation.
Also, the concept of unifying the UI across devices to deliver a coherent experience on all of them is interesting. It is not exactly new – last time Microsoft tried it the other way round: Windows CE had desktop’s UI that required a stylus to navigate. In Windows 8 the desktop did get the Start screen that was clearly designed for touchscreen devices. While it usefulness on a laptop/desktop is dubious I have to say it is surprisingly easy to work with using keyboard and mouse.
But this concept serves another purpose. I think I see the MS’s strategy behind it. They want to regain lost position in the mobile world by leveraging their dominance on the desktop. They hope people will like Windows 8 on laptops and tablets enough to buy Windows phones to go along with it. This is both clever, daring and something they successfully did before – when they overslept the Internet phenomenon they fought they way back by winning the browser wars from their Windows stronghold. Now they want to do it again and the time is high, because if things continue as they are few years from now keyboard-equipped computers may be used only by professional software developers and the like. So current desktop dominance will become less relevant and it makes perfect sense to us it now while it still matters.
All of that of course explains why they sell Windows 8 for around $50 – much cheaper than before. They will do everything in their power to make sure everyone will be familiar with the tiles interface. One company that certainly hopes this will work is Nokia – but this is a completely different story.