Once upon a time, a technology manufacturer asked users and IT professionals alike to think differently. Well, now one of that company's rivals is asking us to do the same thing about their flagship product. There is no escaping it, Windows 8 is going to be a much different experience from what we have come to expect from Microsoft.
Of course, the first thing most IT pundits and journalists want to do is declare Windows 8 a success or a failure, but I believe it is way too early to pass judgment. I can see some positive aspects in Windows 8, and I think Microsoft's strategy of creating one operating system that can run on any device makes perfect sense.
However, I can also see some obstacles down the road that Microsoft is going to have to manage if Windows 8 is to be truly successful. The first is a practical consideration, and the second is much more abstract.
To get a glimpse of Windows 8, check out the TechRepublic Photo Gallery: A First Look at the Windows 8 Developer Preview.
The information technology world has changed — economic realities have increased the product life cycle of just about every piece of computer equipment. Companies just don't make massive all-at-once upgrades to their information technology systems anymore. That means most companies (at least according to our polls) are still using Windows XP extensively and just now starting to migrate to Windows 7. Migration to Windows 8 is likely to be even slower if for no other reason than economics.
Well, that is to say, the migration will be slower unless the abstract obstacle turns out to be a sea change that users embrace wholeheartedly.
The abstract obstacle revolves around the way Microsoft has designed Windows 8. The Metro Interface, with its use of a tile system metaphor, is actually very intuitive and works really well — if you are using a tablet. On the PC, however, like the one I have been testing Windows 8 on (see the photo gallery), the Metro Interface is proving to be very challenging.
The user's interaction with the PC via the Metro Interface is so completely different from the familiar desktop metaphor that I question whether it has any traction with users in the PC market. I am not convinced there is any real benefit over the current and well-established desktop. Microsoft would argue that there is, but I will need convincing.
However, as a jaded technology blogger, my bias is most often toward the familiar, at least initially. So maybe I am completely wrong and users will demand Windows 8 and the Metro Interface, and IT professionals will be forced to make adjustments to accommodate the masses. It's possible, but let's just say I highly doubt it.
I give Microsoft credit — Windows 8 is a major change of operating system philosophy. And I now understand Steve Ballmer's statement that this is the riskiest operating system Microsoft has ever attempted to develop. Time will tell how successful the project turns out to be, and I, for one, am more than willing to keep an open mind. But I think Microsoft has some work to do and some obstacles to overcome. I'll be very interested in how this all shakes out.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.