Sometime later this year (probably) Microsoft will be launching Windows 8, hoping to take a chunk out of the iPad’s success, as well as give us a new PC operating system.
It is easy to dismiss Windows 8 as being nothing new—just an iPad (or Windows Phone) copy slammed into the same box as good old Windows 7—and therefore doomed to failure. But we should not forget that most innovations aren’t actually new ideas, but rather new ways to combine existing ideas. Like when Apple back in the 80-ies decided to combine a low cost personal computer with a graphical interface inspired by the work done at Xerox PARC . A combination that resulted in the Macintosh.
We’ve had a couple of Windows 8 tablets in the office for a while, and I have taken one on a couple of business trips as, well as brought it home for some weekends to give it a try.
Looking at Windows 8 as a consumer surf pad I think it is perfectly OK, but nothing really new nor better than what we have with the iPad today (although I’m sure some Microsoft folks will disagree). It works just fine for e-mail and browsing the web, and my two year old found enough games to keep him entertained (the favorite by far was the “Lost in space” game that came pre-installed). As a consumer device it will come down to a battle of mindshare and eco-system building. With the iPad being a de-facto monopoly today we’ll see how this goes.
I think the more interesting angle is for us business users. Myself and I’m sure many of you use our laptops as portable hard drives, carrying our documents around on trips and between our home and office. Once in the office the laptop sits with its lid closed in the corner of the desk, plugged into an external display and keyboard. When travelling with my laptop I look with envy at the neighbor with his smaller, lighter iPad as I try to squeeze the lid of my laptop open in seat 43H on a long haul flight. Yes, for many business trips where I am mainly doing presentations, participating in meetings, and staying on top of things by reading e-mail, I probably could get away with just carrying an iPad. After all during these trips I don’t have time for tasks that require much typing anyway.
But… and these are two big buts (no pun intended)…
Occasionally an iPad isn’t enough. Like when in the middle of a trip I was asked to make a revision to my budget, something which requires the use of Excel and an Excel add-in that will only run on Windows. Since it is impossible to know if these situations will occur before leaving on a trip, I will end up carrying both the iPad and my laptop, just to be safe.
Secondly although an iPad would be enough for most travels and even the odd day in the office, it is far from getting me through a full month or even a week or regular work. Although much of my time is spent on e-mail and presentations I also create in PhotoShop, review some code in Eclipse or Visual Studio, build Excel spread-sheets, or use one of those old applications designed in the Windows XP days. Stuff that can’t be done, or at least not done well, on the iPad.
As tempting as it is to start using an iPad I find myself resisting since I don’t want to go from carrying one device, to carrying two. What I really want is a single device with size and battery life as the iPad, with enough storage to carry all my files around, which docks into my display and keyboard in the office, and that will run all the existing applications and tools I use regularly or occasionally. If Windows 8 manages to pull that off it is innovative enough for me.
Will Windows 8 be a success? As a consumer device I honestly don’t know. As a business device though I think it will.