Windows Phone 8 is a great start at a response to the iPad

A video preview of Windows 8 has been passed around today, and I have to say, the UI looks really neat. It really looks like something I’d use and even enjoy using. Which is a big deal, since I haven’t enjoyed using a Windows computer in years.

However, all isn’t peachy, afterwards, my two biggest reactions were:

  1. Why are they building one OS for two completely different devices? This new OS is for both touch screen tablets and mouse based computers? If the iPhone and iPad have shown anything it is how much better a device you can make if you get rid of all the baggage (both historical and practical) that comes with the status quo.
  2. When I saw them load up Excel in the demo, I think I was supposed to be excited, but my heart sunk. What the hell is that doing there? That is the last thing I wanted to see.

John Gruber apparently had the second reaction too (via Marco Arment):

The ability to run Mac OS X apps on the iPad, with full access to the file system, peripherals, etc., would make the iPad worse, not better. The iPad succeeds because it has eliminated complexity, not because it has covered up the complexity of the Mac with a touch-based “shell”. iOS’s lack of backward compatibility with any existing software means that all apps for iOS are written specifically for iOS.

Though, after I had time to collect my thoughts a little:

  1. In response to my first reaction, I think this is the thing to be legitimately upset about. This has Steve Balmer written all over it. So, cocky and self-assured that of course they can build one OS for both types of devices. They just doesn’t get it.

  2. In response to my second reaction, and to what The Grübes wrote, for 25 years one of Window’s biggest selling points for customers and developers has been backwards compatibility. Especially with the corporate world. Imagine the revolt if the next version of the operating system dropped all support for old applications and programs. I mean what other reason is there to use Windows? There is a reason that so many IT departments won’t upgrade from IE 6. IE 7 isn’t backwards compatible.

Microsoft has backed itself into a corner where it has a crappy OS compared to iOS and Mac OS X, but it can’t start over because the fact that so many people are using their crappy OS as it is now is the only thing keeping them going. The position Apple was in when they started over with OS X was completely different.

So, I don’t think this demo was for some new “shell” or “skin”. This was Microsoft admitting defeat. This was them saying, Okay, what we have isn’t working, we need to do something new. This was them starting over but giving all those legacy apps some place to go.

I for one am excited to see where they take this. While I think Android is giving Apple some competition it needs in the mobile space (iPads and Xooms included), it is too iOS like to really challenge Apple creatively speaking. But WebOS, Windows Phone 7, and now this really are very different in their approaches.

Good work Microsoft! (Woah! That feels weird to say!)

I guess time will tell whose theory is right (and The Grübes tends to be right) but my guess is when it comes time to ship devices with Windows 8 that there won’t be one app included that isn’t specifically written for this new “shell”. If not, then they need to fire whoever made that decision.