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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.

If Microsoft had been bold Wednesday, I would have been impressed—if Sinofsky had stood up and said that for the tablet experience, developers will need to write new apps, or if he announced that Microsoft was going to write touch versions of Microsoft Office. Then I’d be writing about Microsoft’s big new threat to Apple’s dominance in tablets. Instead, it’s just too easy to insult Windows 8 as being a snazzy touchscreen skin on top of the same old Windows.

Now, there’s a flip side to this story: Windows 8 also runs on PCs! This means that PC users will also be able to have access to the friendly, Windows Phone-inspired touchscreen stuff. There are touchscreen desktop PCs out there, as well as touchscreen PC laptops, and presumably they’ll all take advantage of this new interface. (You can also navigate around using a traditional keyboard and mouse, apparently.)

I’m skeptical if this will work. Apple certainly is betting that users don’t want to reach out and touch their monitors, a concept Steve Jobs has bashed repeatedly. Instead, the company is integrating multitouch into pointing devices that sit on the same plane as your hands and the keyboard. But hey, different strokes for different folks: I guess we’ll see if people want to navigate by reaching over their keyboards and touching their computer screens.

It’s also interesting to note that between Lion and Windows 8, both Apple and Microsoft are integrating features from their mobile operating systems back into their traditional computer interfaces. Some of the approaches are similar (Lion’s Mission Control tries to address some of the same issues as the Windows 8 touch interface), but the underlying philosophies seem almost diametrically opposed.

It’s been easy to bash Microsoft lately. The company blew it in smartphones and Apple’s success with the iPad after all those years Redmond spent evangelizing Tablet PCs must really sting. But while it would be so easy to just write Microsoft off as a completely clueless company that’s just living off its former glory, the fact is that there’s some very interesting work going on at Microsoft. It just seems to be stuck inside a company that can’t let go of the past in order to embrace its own promising future.

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A change of attitude

One final D9 note for now: In addition to Sinofsky, we heard from Nokia’s Stephen Elop and HP’s Léo Apotheker on Wednesday. Elop talked about how Nokia was caught flat-footed when the iPhone changed the entire phone industry in 2007. Apotheker discussed HP’s new approach as a company that owns its own operating system and can integrate it with the hardware it designs. All of them cited Apple’s influence, directly or indirectly, in what their companies are doing today.

 

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