Windows 8: What still needs to be done to be Ready

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Building up to the release of Windows 8, this post covers some make or break points Microsoft needs to get right if they want to have a successful Windows 8 story.

Get their identity straight.

Microsoft suffers from an internal identity crisis. The Windows logo changed, yet the Windows 8 Release Preview website still has the old flag logo.The desktop is getting a Metro makeover but most of the icons are still the glassy ones used in Vista. Microsoft also has a promise of a Microsoft Account, a unified account for all existing Live services but when you take a look around the Xbox, Windows Live and Windows Phone websites still use separate log-in experiences. Microsoft already went to  a great extend to rebrand existing Live services to simple “Mail”, “Calendar” or “Photos” app names but they should make some more improvements here and there.

In a more recent example, Microsoft used a new company branding when announcing the Surface. I don’t know if the logo will be used across the whole board, but the Surface website hosts both the new and old logo. Which one should we remember, exactly?

When Windows 8 ships, consumers should  see one Microsoft logo, one Windows logo and they should only have to care about one account. It should be a unified and transparent experience, and we’re getting close but we’re certainly not there.

Get their apps straight

The apps in the Release Preview are great and in some cases much better than what’s found on iPad/Android but I don’t think they’re usable on a daily basis just yet by the mass-audience.  Each one has some critical functionality lacking.

The Picture and Music app don’t allow you to move pictures or movies around and only pulls them from the Music and Pictures libraries. When you want to manage the files you’ll need to hop into the desktop interface and do it trough explorer,  which would be a pain using touch-only devices.

The People app don’t allow you to post new updates to Facebook or Twitter (even though you can see/like/retweet or comment on others). It’s a mystery why they haven’t added that in.

The Mail app doesn’t allow you to add POP/IMAP accounts. Even though more and more people use Hotmail or Gmail, POP/IMAP service are still common and should be an essential part of the Mail app.

Apps are the essential part of the experience and they should be good. I don’t mind buying a cheap ARM tablet that doesn’t run my desktop apps, as long as the built-in apps that we use daily are a decent replacement.

If the RTM version has the apps in the same state as they are today in the Release Preview, I fear the worst. On the other hand, Microsoft already said they will be making improvements to the Calendar and Mail apps on the official Building 8 Blog.

Dividing Sides

Microsoft says people can choose whether they use the desktop or the Metro interface. While I like the Metro UI and will adapt to how it works, I don’t like how it sends you off to the desktop when wanting to do more advanced tasks or change advanced settings.

Their desktop and Metro interfaces are also completely different. They have their own multitasking semantics, app lifecyle and different ways to close or snap an application.

I really hope either Windows 8 becomes less independent on the desktop in the future ( it should only be used to run older apps and nothing more.) or B: they change the desktop to work better with the Metro interface.

I’d love to see desktop apps being chromeless and appearing in the multitasking bar on the left, with the ability to close them by dragging them down. Removing the whole taskbar and changing how the desktop works is a big risk, but Microsoft hasn’t been doing anything else lately anyways.

Pushing major framework updates

As Long Zheng points out, the underlying app architecture is premature and I don’t know if it’s enough for developers at this point. Microsoft really can’t afford to wait another 2 years to release another version of Windows with an improved WinRT framework. I also doubt they can push it trough Windows Update to all PCs. Either they need to automatically install it when you download an app from the Windows Store that uses new APIs, or otherwise they need to release a Windows 8.5 and make sure everyone somehow updates.

Either way, read Long’s discussion about this hot and interesting topic.

Quality and bloatware-free hardware from OEMs

The announcement of Surface and Surface Pro will likely piss of some OEMs but will also inspire others to do it right. Windows 8 needs quality hardware akin to the Surface and should be a premium experience, much like Windows Phone 7.

I’ve seen many Windows 7 notebooks from friends and family I had to set up initially. Whether it’s Acer,  HP or Sony they all had one thing in common: a desktop and taskbar cluttered with useless apps, a custom background and lockscreen and in some cases default Windows settings which were changed for no reason. This really decreases the experience and give casual users a hard time. Windows 8 is beautiful and I really hope OEMs don’t ruin that beauty.

With Windows Phone 7 Microsoft imposed strong hardware and software restrictions on OEMs and they better do that again with Windows 8, though I doubt it will. Microsoft needs to stay in good terms with OEMs, and limiting them in their possibilities on top of releasing Microsoft-developed hardware certainly won’t do good.

On that note, the Surface is bloatware free, and seems like quality hardware and it’s just awesome. It feels like a solid wake-up call to OEMs to me.

Make sure everyone knows

The general audience that doesn’t read technology news is unaware of Windows 8. It hasn’t made any headlines in mainstream media around here. Earlier launches of Windows did get pretty poor media attention over here, with small snippets in newspapers and 1 minute of footage on television news. With Windows 8 they should do more, a lot more. People need to know it’s different. People need to know ARM doesn’t run traditional desktop apps. People need to hear the name, remember the logo and know it’s jut not another OS release.

I fear this will be were Windows 8 will fail. I can vividly imagine how the launch of Windows 8 will get another minute of news coverage on television, straying from the point and going along the lines of “Windows 8 is Microsoft first touch operating system created to compete against Apple and their widely popular iPad”. About one million of people will see it in my country and will have that image/information in their heads, the wrong image.

Be Ready

In essence, I want to see Windows 8 being ready when it launches. I just needs to work, especially on tablets where instant-on and fluency have become second nature. It should be fluid and flawless. WinRT and all services should work in harmony. People should know it works. People should know it’s fluid and flawless.  People should discover great apps with great possibilities in the store.

Right now, Microsoft isn’t there yet (not even by a long shot?). But when they do, they might finally kick-off the post PC era for real (Either way I’ll be first in line to buy me a Surface.)

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