Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Path to Windows 8 - Or How I Think Microsoft Needs a Tablet Now!

So something that has been on my mind for a little while is how do we get a tablet version of Windows that is actually usable?

Following the announcement of support for the ARM platform as well as the necessity to release a tablet version of Windows to compete with the iPad I get the feeling that this is something that has to come sooner rather than later.

If Microsoft is determined not to release a version of Windows 7 that is optimized for tablet devices and if they keep to a regular cadence schedule with Windows 8 we're not likely to see it released until either July or October next year (depending upon whether you decide that RTM or retail is the correct release date). Does this leave them dead and buried in the tablet space? Pretty much.

So why not break the mold a little and release an interim, Windows 8 for Tablets version? The interim version that Steve Ballmer is against? Is it really that mad of an idea?

Windows 8 has been demoed running on ARM processors - we've seen it running Word at CES 2011 and IE10 at Mix 2011. Granted it's not been the full updated Windows 8 experience (such as the ribbon for Windows Explorer) but for the purposes of getting a tablet version of Windows that doesn't matter - the standard Windows user interface doesn't work on a tablet device.

Step forward Metro? It's a nice interface that works on the Windows Phone 7. It would scale up quite nicely to a tablet device - certainly, I think, better than iOS does. If you've not looked at the Windows Phone 7 interface I'd recommend you take a look at it!

But there's also something else that I think would help in releasing Windows 8 for Tablets - the limited hardware that it would have to run on. As Microsoft have done with Windows Phone 7 they could release a hardware specification than must be supported in the short term. This is the only way that you're allowed to release a tablet device running the new OS. A relatively fixed hardware specification - yes you can have an HDMI output, no you can't have a parallel port, etc. - no driver incompatibilities or driver support to add to the device. Make it a consumer device at launch and you remove the need for any Active Directory or Group Policy support from the off.

Sure it's a limited version of Windows that only works on tablet devices. But by definition it's a limited version of Windows. It's a tablet (or a slate if you prefer)!

So that gets us to the tablet release in time for Christmas. So then what? You spend the next six months getting Windows 8 for Desktops sorted. A desktop version of Windows requires a lot more than a tablet version does. It will have an update to the existing Windows 7 user interface, it requires full backwards compatibility (so that the eight year old scanner than I have works), it requires full integration with Active Directory and Group Policy, it needs to be manageable through System Center. There's a lot that goes into a release of Windows.

But does that stop an early release of Windows 8 for Tablets? Not to my mind no. It's a limited version of Windows and that shouldn't stop it being released. When Windows 8 for Desktops is released send out an update (call it R2 if you want!). You then have both versions of Windows 8 back in synchronization and move forward from there.

Giving Apple and Google a massive head start will be insurmountable. Bite the bullet and release a version for tablets pretty damn quickly. Otherwise I fear that Windows as an OS will never run on tablets.

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