Windows 8–One step forward, the same giant leap backwards–UPDATED

Microsoft showed off it’s “Start Screen” skin (and that’s just what it is, not an OS in itself) on top of Windows yesterday.  It’s pretty great – a melding of the Metro UI from Windows Phone and Media Center.  I love the description of “tiles” and I think this will be a great way to get rid of “widgets” (which I hate) and replace icons (which are pretty lifeless).

Check it out…

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Looks great no?  Except for the part where they showed that it’s all just a skin on top of regular Windows.  This is not a good idea.

Wired’s Charlie Sorrel said it well:

Microsoft is almost there, but it needs to lose its obsession with putting Windows on everything. Take this cool, tile-based OS and put it on a tablet, sure. But leave the mouse-based, legacy desktop OS out of it. And for God’s sake, don’t call it Windows. [Wired]

This could be a chance for Microsoft to finally come to terms with the idea that real innovation won’t happen in the developer community until we are forced to make a break with all the legacy crap out there.  The one line in the video that was supposed to make us feel better, “it still runs the existing Windows apps that you use and that you love” is really a disclaimer saying that this is NOT a revolutionary OS like Windows Phone.  It’s just a skin that will be, in most cases, ignored because it covers up the apps that are underneath.

I argue that OS X became revolutionary when Apple switched the Intel processors and forced all the developers to re-write their apps.  In some cases this was just a re-compile, yes, but it caused a revolution – a break with the old and the out-dated.  Only newly supported apps would work in the long term.

We could let ourselves get stuck into the notion that people won’t upgrade to the new OS, or heaven forbid, request a downgrade to Windows XP on new hardware, because it’s different or that it won’t run the old crap that it needs to run.  That’s why you still need the “regular” version of Windows.  Let that be what it is and fill its function, it’s different from what the “Start Screen” is trying to be.

The thing is, we’ve been down this road with Microsoft before, way back in the Win XP days with the whole “tablet” add-ons that didn’t go anywhere.  Adding a skin on top of Windows for touch doesn’t make Windows touchable.

There are moments of genius in what Windows 8 is starting to show, but I think we need to see a definite break between Windows for PC, and Windows for touch interfaces. 

more later – joel

UPDATE: Okay, I am starting to come around to the need for a convertible tablet.  Something as thin and light as a Macbook Air, with a swivel screen that becomes a touch-screen when flipped.  At that point, the entire OS should change into “touch” mode and ONLY apps that have been touch enabled should show up.  NOTHING ELSE.  I totally want to be able to read a book on my tablet, flip the keyboard, write some code or write a novel, and then flip it back and continue reading.  Please.