Tons of speculation has surrounded Windows 8, and while the recent Microsoft BUILD event and release of the Windows 8 Developer Preview have answered many of the questions, there is still plenty of time for Microsoft to unveil new features and strategies for the OS. Here are some things Microsoft can do to make Windows 8 a true game changer in the industry.
1: Better legacy apps experience
Right now, the experience of using legacy applications in the Developer Preview is just awful. You bounce between the slick Metro UI to a Windows 7 style desktop that is utterly crippled. For example, there is no Start menu. It feels like the old Windows 3.1 days, where many apps were still DOS apps and running them under Windows was a completely different experience from Windows apps — and that is not a good feeling. If Microsoft wants Windows 8 to get quick uptake, this needs to change.
2: 100% Binary compatibility with Xbox, Windows Phone
You know what would be awesome? Having one OS to rule all my devices and applications. Right now, we know that Microsoft intends for Windows 8 to be for desktops as well as tablets. By bringing the Xbox successor and phones into the mix, game developers wouldn't need any extra effort to reach a bigger audience, and enterprises would be falling all over themselves to buy Windows 8 phones so their apps could be written only once.
3: Cloud selection
We're currently seeing a fair amount of cloud integration (via Live) with Windows 8. Application data can get synced to the cloud, as can settings, so that you can effortlessly transition from one computer to another. It would be nice if the OS allowed you to specify a public cloud (great opportunity for Microsoft vendors here) or a private cloud (for enterprises and advanced home users) for this purpose. This would let enterprises feel comfortable having users syncing so much to a cloud, since they can pick it and control the data retention and storage.
4: Social networking hooks
Windows Phone 7 is innovative in its use of social networking. It is easy to have your pictures end up on Facebook, for example. While I doubt that people would want a desktop PC to tie everything to social networking, a level of integration like WP7 has would be great, especially when used on tablets.
Tablets are now powerful enough to run most applications pretty well. Sure, you don't want to be running Photoshop or encoding video on a tablet. But for most basic productivity tasks, a tablet (or even a phone) can get the job done. We're starting to see innovative devices like the Droid Bionic that can dock with other accessories such as monitors and keyboards to expand their capabilities. If Windows 8 has built-in provisions for this, in a way that applications can scale up or down (preferably automatically, without the developer needing to write special code), Windows 8 will be a winner for tablets and even phones.
6: Built-in Office
If Microsoft really wanted to impress us, it could put Office into the OS. Sounds nuts, right? Well, not really. WP7 devices already come with a portable version of Office that can handle Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, as well as a separate Outlook version (that is much more integrated into the phone), which covers most people's needs. Maybe Microsoft shouldn't give away the farm with a full version of each application, but a stripped-down copy of each would be a real winner. It would ensure that Office maintains its dominance and keep Windows 8 useful. After all, why should someone pay for the full Office suite just to get features they aren't going to use anyway?
7: A refocus on business capabilities
Windows 7 is a solid OS for business. Unfortunately, at least in the Developer Preview, Windows 8 is not. The legacy apps, as mentioned, feel out of place, which is bad for businesses that rely on all sorts of specialized applications. The Metro UI is just awful for multi-tasking or side-by-side work, which is a big problem for people trying to get important projects done. While there is multi-monitor support, of course, the idea of trying to perform tasks when applications must consume an entire screen is frightening for most kinds of sophisticated information work.
8: Lighter system requirements
Windows 8 needs to be lighter than Windows 7. While Windows 7 performs pretty nicely, Windows 8 needs to be usable on low-end desktops or tablets, if not phones. Microsoft is claiming that Windows 8 is much lighter than Windows 7, and it's already been shown that system startup is lightning quick. Microsoft needs to do better. If they want Windows 8 to be a smash hit for tablets or phones, it needs to snap alive instantly.
9: Platform for locally hosted Web apps
One of the big changes in IT has been the move to Web applications. A real killer feature would be allowing applications to easily install and self-host a Web backend. This would allow developers to use their existing tools and code base, combine it with backend database synchronization, and instantly see applications with true offline capabilities without much additional effort. The pieces are already in place (IISExpress, LocalDB, and the cloud sync). The question is whether Microsoft can put it all together in one slick package. Enterprises would like to be able to self-host applications, either on the desktop or server level, rather than trust public cloud vendors. This would be a great step in that direction.
10: A price drop to free, or nearly so
This is the least likely of all, considering that Microsoft's #1 source of revenue is Windows, followed by Office. Windows 7 took a while to start replacing XP, in no small part because while it was good, it wasn't good enough to justify paying for an upgrade. By dropping the price significantly, along with reducing system requirements, Windows 8 looks like a good upgrade for existing machines, keeps the cost of Windows 8 powered notebooks, netbooks, and tablets low enough to compete with Android tablets and the iPad, and keeps the partners happy. HP has already announced that it's pulling out of the PC game entirely, in no small part to cratering profit margins. Getting Windows 8 more attractively priced would help ensure better margins for those who are left.
More on Windows 8
- Windows 8 design flaws Microsoft MUST address (ZDNet)
- A First Look at the Windows 8 Developer Preview (Gallery)
- It's time to think differently about Windows 8 (TechRepublic)
- Windows 8: A developer's first impressions (TechRepublic)
- Windows 8 revealed — special report (ZDNet)
- The Great Debate: Windows right vs Windows wrong (ZDNet)
Do you think Microsoft needs to take the steps listed here to make Windows 8 a success? What other features do you think need to be tweaked, changed, removed, or added?
Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.