Tech of 2012: Windows 8 and Surface

By Mike on 11:55 pm

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Windows 8 stands out as one of Microsoft's more questionable decisions. The concept was a page right out of Apple's playbook. Take the strongest elements from the mobile sphere and bring them onto the desktop. The execution didn't work as well as the company had hoped, and left a lot of users confused.

The operating system hadn't fundamentally changed in seventeen years. Granted it's been spiffed up and tweaked considerably in that time. However, it still looks, works, and feels the same as it did way back in 1995. Seeing the popularity of tablets, Microsoft jumped into the already overcrowded marketplace screaming "me too!" As such Windows 8 was designed to by a hybrid OS. It had both tablet and desktop elements, and a radically new UI called Metro.

Metro was the very same interface that had gotten raving reviews on Windows Phone 7. So it made sense to port it over. The end result was the sort of beautiful mess that Microsoft seems to master ever even numbered release. The conventional desktop was hacked to pieces, missing the all familiar Start button. You were forced to use the new UI whether you liked it or not.

The Metro interface wasn't well suited for computers that lacked touch screens. In other words most systems Windows ran on. It had a great app store and a sleek interface, it just wasn't ideal for a desktop and laptop environment. It made even less sense for business. Reception was lukewarm from hardcore Windows fans and cold as ice from the general public. A month into its release and it had failed to break Windows Vista's launch sales numbers. Most people saw it as having no real advantage over Windows 7.

Window's 8's brand new "Metro" UI, -- image from Microsoft
On the tablet side, Windows RT and Surface tablets were also a sinking ship. Apple had just released the iPad 4 and Samsung had come out with the Galaxy Note 10.1. Both featured high resolution QXGA "retina" displays and fast new chips. The Surface lumbered along with its aging Tegra 3 processor and 768p display.

There was nothing particularly wrong with the Surface. As far as tablets go, it's a fine tablet. Metro worked like a charm, it was sleek, and was better designed than both Android and iOS. Problem was you could get a much better tablet with better app support for the same price. The iPad 4 and Note were three times faster and had three times the display resolution. Needless to say sales were modest at best.

That all said, Windows 8 is perhaps the most important version since Windows 95. It signals another paradigm shift in personal computing. One where touch screens will begin to dominate over traditional inputs, and tablets will begin to replace laptops. As such, Windows 8 is very much a prototype of things to come. Microsoft may have come late to the party but they've so far delivered the best mobile GUI I've seen, and it will only get better when things get perfected in Windows 9.

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