Last chance for Windows
This is my editorial from the Summer 2012 issue of HardCopy magazine:
The imminent launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT is big news. Microsoft has a real opportunity on its hands with Windows 8, but whether it is going to grasp it is far from certain. And if it does not, the company might as well leave the tablet and the phone market in Apple’s capable hands.
As far as client-side computing is concerned, the industry has crystallised around three form factors: the desktop, the tablet and the phone. Each satisfies a different need; each makes a different demand on its operating system; and despite what anyone says, each is going to be with us for many years to come.
The phone is something most people carry with them all the time, which means it has to be small and light enough to fit in your pocket and not make you look like Dom Joly every time you take a phone call. The tablet has to be small and light enough to fit in a briefcase or reasonably-sized handbag, but above all it needs a clear and responsive display. Both need touch sensitive screens and a decent battery life.
The demands of the desktop are rather different. Here the screen can be as large as the desk can take, and certainly does not need to be touch sensitive. Instead the mouse seems a perfectly adequate control device, while every attempt to replace the keyboard over the past decades has failed.
At the moment, both Apple and Microsoft have excellent desktop operating systems in Mac OS X and Windows 7, while Apple is at a considerable advantage with iOS which runs on its highly successful iPhone and iPad devices and shares the same Darwin core as OS X. Microsoft already has a good offering in Windows Phone 7.5, and has little choice but to support its partners as much as possible. With regards to the tablet, Microsoft is doing the right thing with Windows RT by basing it on the same Metro-style user interface introduced with Windows Phone 7, but it’s got a lot of catching up to do before its hardware partners can really start competing with the iPad.
However Microsoft does have two major advantages over Apple. For a start, the vast majority of potential tablet customers are likely to have a desktop at home that is running Windows. Yes, the iPad and the iPhone do work tolerably well with Windows through iTunes (once you have mastered its eccentricities), but Microsoft has a huge advantage when it comes to ensuring that the integration between these various Windows devices can be a truly seamless and rich experience. Secondly, Microsoft has all those servers sitting in the back offices of all those corporations. Again, Microsoft can make sure that its tablet and phone solutions can be transparently managed and secured by the IT department, and capable of deep integration with the likes of SQL Server, Exchange and SharePoint.
So my message to Microsoft is to stop fooling around with the Start button and start concentrating on what’s really important.