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Why Windows 8 fails to learn the iPad's lessons

Jason Snell, Macworld.com | June 2, 2011
The new Windows 8 for tablets is a failure, Jason Snell says, because Microsoft simply can't let go of the past and embrace its intriguing future.

Wednesday at the Wall Street Journal’s D9 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., the big news was about Microsoft. The company’s Windows Division President, Steven Sinofsky, appeared on stage with the Journal’s Walt Mossberg, and he unveiled Microsoft’s official response to the iPad’s massive success. And there was a lot to be impressed by in the demo, but in the end it seems like an approach that is utterly poisoned by Microsoft’s old ways of thinking.

Now, I work for Macworld, and so it’ll be easy for people to write this article off as the ravings of a demented Apple cultist. But I’ve also covered Apple since before it was doomed, and have seen it execute a series of product decisions that have made it the top tech company around. I’d like to think I’ve learned some things about how Apple has done what it’s done, and perhaps I can apply those lessons to other companies that are trying to record similar successes.

What Sinofsky showed Wednesday was a sneak peek at Windows 8 (code-name: Windows 8), a forthcoming version of Windows that will work on traditional desktop and laptop PCs as well as touchscreen tablets. Rather than creating a new operating system for tablets, or use the existing (and intriguing) Windows Phone 7 as the basis for a Microsoft-powered tablet, the company will instead use an update to the traditional Windows PC operating system.

In the past, Microsoft has pushed Windows-based tablets and they’ve been an utter failure in the market. What makes Windows 8 potentially different is that it’s got a new skin running on top of traditional Windows, one that’s based on the same “Metro” design ethic as Windows Phone 7 and is intended to be run on touch-based interfaces. There’s also a new app-development environment based on HTML 5 and JavaScript.

The new touchscreen-based skin looks really good. One of the things I like about Windows Phone 7 is that it doesn’t attempt to ape the iOS interface like, say, Android does. It’s got a bunch of cool ideas, like its Live Tiles and the ability to snap items together. Microsoft’s UI designers tried to innovate, and looking at Windows Phone 7 is a bit like peering into a parallel universe where the iPhone never existed.

The problem with the announcement is that Microsoft has failed to commit to the tablet as a unique type of device. The company that spent a decade trying to push Windows tablets on a market that just didn’t want them is still convinced that it’s a selling point that Windows 8 tablets will run Microsoft Excel for Windows and if you hook up a keyboard and mouse to them, you can get an arrow cursor and click to your heart’s content.

 

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