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How Windows Red can fix Windows 8: The right strategy for Microsoft

Galen Gruman | June 4, 2013
A proposal to rescue Windows 8 and fulfill Microsoft's promise to deliver a modern computing experience on both PCs and tablets.

Part of the challenge Microsoft faced in running traditional Windows applications in the Desktop on a tablet was that many Windows apps use very old code bases. Even if Microsoft had created contextual DLLs for UI elements and automatic onscreen keyboard display, many apps don't use the Microsoft DLLs, or at least not current ones.

Microsoft prides itself on maintaining app compatibility for decades, which has let developers save effort. But that timeless legacy support has also created a ball and chain that keeps Windows from moving forward in the dramatic way that Metro was meant to do. Worse, the environment that Microsoft wants developers to switch to — Metro — provides a poor experience on traditional PCs, discouraging user adoption and thus developer investment.

There are also serious questions as to whether Metro can support more than widget-style lightweight apps. After all, Microsoft didn't deliver Office for it, yet both iOS and Android have serious Office-like apps. Metro apps are so weak that users are avoiding them in droves.

Given these realities, the solution is to not mix the Desktop and Metro. In Windows Red, we don't. Instead, we've split Windows Red into three versions: Pro, Mobile, and Duo.

Windows Red Pro is an enhanced version of Windows 7, and it runs only on desktop and laptop PCs. It includes the Desktop advances made in Windows 8, such as multiple copy threads, enhanced Task Manager, built-in Microsoft Security Essentials, improved system recovery, Hyper-V, and Windows to Go. Windows Red Pro also drops touch support. Touchscreen PCs are simply a terrible idea and ergonomically dangerous to users; they shouldn't be enabled. Touch belongs on a horizontal surface in comfortable arm's reach.

Windows Red Mobile is a Metro-only operating system that runs only on tablets. It's a sibling to Windows Phone and a cousin to Windows Red Pro. In a sense, it's an enhanced version of the current Metro-only Windows RT, though RT has a bunch of dumb limitations, such as the inability to be managed through Group Policy, that Windows Red Mobile fixes.

Because there are hybrid PC/tablet devices in the market, we felt we had to accommodate them. That's our third version: Windows Red Duo. As the name implies, Duo delivers two Windows Reds on the same device.

But they do not operate simultaneously, as Windows Desktop and Metro do in Windows 8. When your hybrid's screen is detached, making it a tablet, only Windows Red Mobile can run. When your hybrid is in its laptop configuration, only Windows Red Pro can run. A reboot is required when you switch configurations. Though inelegant, it's necessary to prevent a repeat of the "Windows Frankenstein" mashup that is Windows 8. Nor is it as inconvenient as it might sound because Windows Red Pro still runs Metro apps — only you drive them with a mouse and physical keyboard, not via touch. (More on that below.)


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