Friday, August 31, 2012

Windows Hate

The latest Windows release - Windows 8 - is nearly upon us. What are Microsoft going to inflict on us this time?

They have been bold - very bold. There is a new Windows engine - Windows RT - which is Microsoft's version of iOS, and the old desktop style programs all run within a desktop app.

Due to this architecture the "Start" button has been removed as the desktop is no longer the start screen. The tiled Windows RT home is the start screen.

Microsoft is using the "Windows RT" label to refer to the ARM version but I will use it to refer to the "Metro" engine that is on Windows RT and Windows 8.

There are some very strange things going on here.

Firstly Windows 8 is now two platforms in one - RT and desktop. The ARM tablets will just have the RT bit but all other products will have both.

Secondly, Windows has deprecated windows! What I mean is that one of the great things about Windows was that each application ran in its own window making it easy to switch between applications and drag and drop between them. In Windows RT apps are full screen by default and the only other option is side by side. No tiling of windows. No more than two windows on the screen at a time. It will almost be like DOS!

Thirdly, RT is designed for touch screens so on a laptop you have to learn a large set of key combinations in order to get the best out of it. Windows power users are going to feel like babies all over again.

The one thing that is easy to predict is lots of confusion!

I heard a rumour that internal politics at Microsoft prevented them from branching Windows 7 into Windows 8 and Windows RT. The Windows 8 team didn't want to be left with the legacy product while the RT team got to work on the new, exciting platform. But by keeping both platforms together you are left with a bit of a mess.

One argument for keeping them together is that the x86 tablet can run legacy Windows applications. The problem with that is that old Windows apps are not designed for touch input. I guess that is why Microsoft is pushing its new "PC tablet" format where tablets are easily converted to a laptop by docking them.

I have spoken before about the problem of using a 10 inch screen as a productivity tool. If someone brings out a 14 inch Windows 8 tablet in convertible form that would be very interesting but I haven't seen one yet.

Another issue with Windows RT will be the lack of apps as the store has got to start from scratch. I imagine that apps will appear pretty quickly but it will not get close to the number of iPad apps for a long time.

The big question is how much will the flagship device - the Surface cost? If it is priced competitively with the iPad then it could get some real traction. However it will not have a retina screen or the choice of apps.

From an investing point of view I am much more excited about AAPL than MSFT. AAPL know how to focus on keeping devices simple, they have an exciting roadmap (or so the executives keep telling us) and the iPad has no peer in the tablet world.

MSFT is probably a buy. AAPL is a conviction buy!