Windows 8, from an iPad user's view

Too many gestures spoil the soup

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In fact, those same users are probably going to get confused when it comes to navigating the file system from both the new touch-based perspective and the traditional desktop interface. Even I had trouble keeping track of the differences being demonstrated during the demo, and I spend my life immersed in technology.

Then there's the opposite problem -- the traditional Windows desktop and existing applications in a touch-only environment. Microsoft has been pitching that paradigm for a decade, and it has never caught on or worked well. Now, not only will you need to revert back to it for some tasks, but it will be a jarring transition to switch from one to the other.

That's a big issue. It's the reason why Apple didn't try to shove any part of the Mac interface into the iPad or its apps. In fact, the same could be said about Android, webOS and RIM's PlayBook. They all have a specific UI design for touch, and they only support touch-centric and touch-oriented apps.

And that brings me to the real big problem with Windows 8: Microsoft has plenty of really great and innovative ideas here, but it's trying to push them, plus backward compatibility, together. The result is a mishmash of tablet/touch concepts combined with desktop computing needs that will result in a product that doesn't really excel at either.

Quite frankly, that's a real shame.

What Microsoft should do

Some people may argue that I'm bashing Microsoft and saying it should have acted like Apple. They'd be wrong. I think the new touch interface is innovative, powerful, unique and packed with potential -- but as a tablet OS, not as a tablet/desktop combo OS. A better strategy wouldn't have been to mimic Apple. Microsoft should be developing three flavors of Windows 8 based around what it's created:

  • One version similar to Windows 7, but with support for running new HTML5-based apps while still offering the core desktop experience -- taskbar, Windows Explorer, and a version of IE that isn't touch-specific.
  • One based solely around the new touch interface for tablets that eliminates the desktop while offering a way for developers to port existing apps to a more touch-based experience.
  • And one similar to what it has chosen to do for touch-first and hybrid devices.

There is actually a precedent in Apple's playbook for a similar transition, but it's much older than the iPad: the transition from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X. That's where Apple allowed older apps to run if needed but encouraged developers to move to a variation that ran native in both OSs, with an eventual move toward Mac OS X-only apps.

Of course, this is ultimately a lesson in slowly but surely ending backward compatibility and moving forward -- something that has long been an Achilles' heel for Windows.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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