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Why Windows 8 fails to learn the iPad's lessons

Jason Snell, | June 2, 2011
The new Windows 8 for tablets is a failure, Jason Snell says, because Microsoft simply can't let go of the past and embrace its intriguing future.

Imagine if Apple had done that with the iPad. When Apple announced the iPad, the company showed off early versions of the iWork apps: Numbers, Pages, and Keynote. Those apps are utterly unlike their Mac equivalents, optimized for the tablet form factor and the size of your fingertips. Imagine if the iPad was, instead, just a tiny Mac that ran the regular version of Keynote. Oh, sure, there might also have been a bunch of touch-focused Dashboard widgets that took greater advantage of the touchscreen, but in the end if you wanted to run a Mac app, you could just do it.

If Apple had done that, I think the iPad would’ve been a failure. The iPad, like the iPhone, was a success because it did not attempt in any way to replicate the desktop PC experience in the way that Windows tablets (and Windows Mobile) did. Apple used the underpinnings of OS X to form the basis of iOS, but at no point in iOS do you see anything that could be remotely mistaken for a Mac. On Windows 8, in contrast, Sinofsky says that there’s no way to kill the Windows desktop: “It’s always there.”

Beyond the basic device experience, imagine if Mac developers didn’t need to do any work to get their apps to run on the iPad. Many of them wouldn’t have bothered. The rest certainly wouldn’t have rushed.

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft made a bold choice: to break free of its past and build a new platform that was specifically designed to run on a phone. One look at the touch layer in the Windows 8 demo and you can tell that something similarly bold is going on. But I can’t help but feel that Microsoft just can’t commit to that level of boldness; maybe it’s pride that stock Windows really should be the basis for a strong tablet operating system?

(There's an odd footnote here: Microsoft said that old Windows apps won't run on tablets that are built with ARM processors, rather than Intel x86-compatible processors. It's unclear if Windows app developers can recompile for the new processors or not. So it's possible that there will be two kinds of Windows 8 tablets: Intel ones that run all the old Windows apps, and ARM ones that don't. If so, that's kind of a mess—but it also opens up a scenario where, for all intents and purposes, ARM-based Windows tablets won't run most of the old stuff. Still, the Start Menu and old Windows APIs will presumably still be there, and who's to say that Microsoft won't compile new ARM versions of Office for Windows just for those devices?)


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