Computers

Will Microsoft redefine the industry with Windows 8 and the Surface Pro?

Will Microsoft redefine the in...
Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet powered by Windows 8 marks a shift in the computing industry
Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet powered by Windows 8 marks a shift in the computing industry
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Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet powered by Windows 8 marks a shift in the computing industry
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Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet powered by Windows 8 marks a shift in the computing industry
Microsoft's Surface tablet
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Microsoft's Surface tablet
OS X Mountain Lion Notifications Center
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OS X Mountain Lion Notifications Center
OS X Lion's Launchpad
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OS X Lion's Launchpad

Windows 8 represents a big change for Microsoft’s industry leading OS. It breaks from tradition by doing away with the long serving Start button and replacing it with a tile-based and touch-friendly Metro UI. While this move has widely polarized opinion, especially in the enterprise sector, it does represent a major trend across the industry, with mobile-tablet operating systems becoming more and more closely related to their laptop and desktop counterparts. This trend is personified by Microsoft’s in-house tablet, the Surface Pro.

Windows hasn't gone through a change like this since the introduction of XP in 2001. So why now? In short: the iPad. Cupertino's all powerful tablet changed everything. It not only created a new market in consumer electronics, but it changed the course of the entire industry, an evolution that's only now beginning to be realized.

Microsoft's Surface tablet
Microsoft's Surface tablet

Looking at Windows 8 from a purely software point of view, the influence of the iPad is clear; the Start screen on the new UI is built for touch input. It may play nicely with a traditional mouse and keyboard set-up but it's clear that the entire OS was built from the ground up with our fingers in mind. Switch on a Windows 8 device and you'll be greeted with what looks more like an Android tablet lock screen than the traditional user selection affair we're used to from Redmond.

Swiping past this screen brings you to the familiar password screen. Tap in your password and Start screen's Metro UI will fill up with tiles before your eyes. Watching the buttery smooth animation, you might forget for a moment that you're using Windows at all. These tiles are like a hybrid of icons and widgets. They vary in size and many of them are live, displaying information such as weather, stocks or whatever else you might need. Click one and you're taken to full screen, detailed and interactive apps that rival anything Apple puts out.

But that's only half the story. The traditional Windows Desktop isn't dead, it's just been pushed into the background, hiding among the tiles of the Metro UI like it's just another app. But click it and you'll be taken to a traditional Desktop screen, sans Start button. You also get a Windows 7-like file system, and applications like Excel and Word feel very familiar.

Before we move on to Apple's strategy, there are two huge elephants in the room: Windows Phone and Windows RT. The existence of the first of these isn't difficult to explain: putting a full desktop style OS on a phone would simply not work. It wouldn’t be affordable and besides, who wants a desktop on their phone? Literally, no-one.

The reasons behind the existence of Windows RT, the version of Microsoft's new OS that does do away with the Desktop entirely, is slightly harder to explain. It's essentially a matter of cost and covering all their bases. A tablet running Windows RT, such as the non-Pro version of the Surface, is designed to compete directly with the iPad. They'll have very similar functionality and will be priced to match. In short, it's a logical move: By launching two versions of Windows 8, Redmond is covering all its bases, whilst silencing detractors who claim that Windows tablets are simply too expensive and don’t offer a touch-friendly user experience.

OS X Mountain Lion Notifications Center
OS X Mountain Lion Notifications Center

So let's put the Phone and RT versions of Windows 8 to the side for a moment and turn to the competition. Apple is handling the development of OS X in a different way, but you don't need to look that closely to see that similar trends prevail. Cupertino is not-so-subtly merging the features of iOS and OS X. Last year's update, Lion, took more than a few cues from its mobile cousin, most notably touch gestures and Launch Pad.

This year’s Mountain Lion release is perhaps more telling still, with the adoption of iOS staples such as the Notifications Center, which shares almost identical social networking functionality with its mobile namesake. The Game Center is another extremely significant development, with a large number of top iOS games now cross-compatible with OS X. The two operating systems have also been fully integrated into Apple's iCloud service, allowing seamless sharing between the two software platforms.

OS X Lion's Launchpad
OS X Lion's Launchpad

Similarly to Microsoft, Apple is making clear moves towards more unified functionality between their mobile and full OS, but they're reluctant to fully merge the two.

So, it's clear that Apple and Microsoft are moving in roughly the same direction with their operating systems, but what's really interesting this time around is that it's Windows that's leading the charge. The guys over at Redmond have been far bolder with Windows 8 than they ever have before and they're going further with their vision of the future of the industry than Tim Cook's guys.

That vision has really come together with the announcement of the Surface Pro tablet. Like the iPad before it, the Surface Pro is set to carve out a new space in the market: it's a tablet that has the potential to replace the traditional computer. Steve Jobs proclaimed the dawn of the Post-PC era when he launched the iPad back in 2010, but it's Microsoft who will realize that vision with Windows 8 and the Surface Pro later this year.

Provided that Windows 8 gets the developer support that it's going to need to get off the ground, Microsoft have all its bases covered. Along with the full version of Windows 8, they have Windows RT to compete with the iPad, and Windows Phone 8 to compete with the iPhone (and Google's popular Android OS), all while carving out a new market in the form of a true post-PC device - the Surface Pro. Apple is a company that has made their name through innovation and right now they might just need to watch their back.

Source: Microsoft

21 comments
enntense
I realize this is the way technology is headed, but when I look at this I ask myself..."how many times have I wiped clear my Iphone today to clear the grease, gum, and gunk off of it? And now here's a full desktop display I can only picture as smeared constantly..People have oils and who knows what on their hands, it will never go away. Constantly touching your screen will soon assure you don't have much to look at.
Peter Winquist
I wonder how long before IBM starts a lawsuit ? Remember the tile-based OS2 O/S ? (Which was far better but far more expensive than 3.11)
johnnydfred
No. Next question.
Yudi Sahputra
I am not sure about your statements in regards to Microsoft "seeing" the vision for the Post PC Era because when Apple said that, they actually meant getting people off Windows machines. I believe Apple still has the strategic might as they have released the 3rd iteration of what Microsoft is planning to release already. I don't know how a 1st gen device has the potential to beat a 4th gen device. Similar how to a 1st gen car model vs a 4th generation model.
Gadgety
"putting a full desktop style OS on a phone would simply not work. It wouldn’t be affordable and besides, who wants a desktop on their phone? Literally, no-one." I want it, providing the battery holds up. Windows RT is weird. I'd rather see a more fully developed WP.
Mel Tisdale
I just wish that Microsoft would try to understand that some, me included, would much prefer to have some say in the way our computers operate. I currently have Windows 7, which is constantly trying to tell me how I want my files organised. How the f*** does it know? I would much prefer the XP file system, even though it was illogical in some areas, which I now forget, at least I could decide exactly what folder went where, not have the damn computer tell me to put it in some library, which I don't want. I tried to buy an XP system because I was so fed up with Windows 7, but they were not available and I could not load my old system, which I had bought and paid for, incidently, onto my new computer. If Microsoft want to change the world, by all means get on with it. But PLEASE offer those of us who just want to do the day job, ie. earn a crust, and don't have the time or inclination to learn a new system every time they buy a new computer the option to stay as we are. If I buy a new computer, I want the option to load my old operating system. Heaven knows how much Microsoft costs the economy in lost production time due to computer operators having to learn a new system, instead of doing what they are paid to do. And while I am at it, we need far more options on the control panel so that we can make the machine do what we want, not what some geek in a pair of jeans and a T shirt thinks is a groovy idea and technically fun to do. I want a mouse and a keypad, thanks, no matter how much fun you, Mr Microsoft, think your system is to play with with its touch pads and swipe screens. I don't want them because I am a Ludite. I want them because I can work quicker using them. I can thus earn more money by using them and guess what, Mr Microsoft, earning money is what I use a computer for. IT IS NOT A TOY! To some of us, computers are tools, no more, no less. The easier they are to use, year in, year out, the better a tool they are. With Windows it is like having to learn to drive again each time I buy a new car because all the controls are in a differnt place and function differently. Grrrr!
Exzackly
I've refused to purchase any tablet or the like so far. None of them seem useful for anything other than play. I'm quite stoked about W8 and while I don't agree with ALL the changes, I'm certainly in support of the new OS. It will definitely be my first touch screen device. And I wash my hands regularly so I doubt I'll have to clean my screen as much as the other commenter. I also like to use a stylus when convenient.
David Choy
You've got it wrong. Microsoft are playing chicken. They're not confident Windows RT can compete with iOS and hence are releasing windows 8 and the surface tablets (see I'm already confused what to call them? Surface pro tablets vs regular surface tablets running RT?) with two flavours. Once again instead of achieving "cover" for all possibilities they are in fact confusing the public, just like they continually do with multiple versions of windows. How are you going to sell to consumers? Do you ask them whether they want a gimped windows RT tablet which will be cheaper vs a "pro" tablet with a desktop experience hidden? Not to mention the headaches associated with covering two different CPU architectures (from a developer point of view). How are they going to convince developers to commit to a distant third app store when they have to produce two different versions? As usual for microsoft a too complicated approach to a new system. I see a vista/windows ME PR disaster written all over windows 8
Ender Wigin
Nope.
Edgar Castelo
A glitzy ode to Illiteracy and mental laziness. No, the Elitists can proclame what they want, I, for one, LIKE reading and writing, in full sentences, what I think, and no Talking Points, and that's it. Windows for Effetes! What a laugh.