Editor’s note: This was originally written in August 2013… but for some reason was never posted. I’m posting it now, despite it being slightly out of date. Oh well!
I’ve used Windows 7 since its pre-beta. I used Windows 8 on a Surface Pro tablet. Now I run Windows 8.1 (beta) on my primary work laptop. And yet I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro, my personal computer. So I get around, as operating systems go, and I am in no way married to one platform. The count at home right now is actually: 3 Android devices, 2 Mac OS computers, and 1 Windows PC. If you count my work laptop then that’s 2 Windows machines.
All that to say, as an operating system, I love Windows 8. Well, 8.1. Though on principle I don’t love that Microsoft kow-towed to all the complaints about Windows 8 not having a Start button on the taskbar or letting you boot straight to the desktop, I do feel like it’s the OS Windows 8 should have been. Windows 7 was awesome right out of the box, the first version. But Windows 8… not so much.
Will Windows 8 Save the Windows Platform or Kill It?
Look, anyone who asks this question has missed the truth about Windows’s place in the world of computing. One single version — almost regardless of how great or how terrible it is — is not capable of singlehandedly derailing the whole ecosystem. Users may complain, businesses may hold off on upgrading (I’m looking at you, Vista), and the “state of computing” may not be furthered, but then they’ll fix it (or just move on to another version altogether), and those businesses will then go ahead and upgrade and move on. We saw this with Windows ME, and then Windows XP got everyone basically back with the program (though some of course stuck with 2000). Windows Vista was definitely a “skip” version, but then Windows 7 came along and has proven to be a venerable option.
So will Windows 8 continue the good-bad-good-bad pattern of late? I truly believe the answer is no, but not because it’s an overwhelmingly needed upgrade.
Look, the basic functionality, even many of the kernel-level choices, aren’t terribly different from Windows 7. For the majority of users — business and personal alike — there is no single bit of functionality (or security, or speed, etc.) that makes Windows 8 an upgrade worth forking over the cash to do right now. As long as the hardware you’re using is still in good shape, just keep on truckin’ with Windows 7. But if you’re looking to replace, upgrade, or add hardware, then by all means, make the move to Windows 8. Especially with the changes put forth in 8.1, there’s absolutely no reason not to get 8.1 pre-installed on your next machine.
The fact is, it *is* faster, it *is* a bit prettier, and it *is* more flexible. As much as people will complain about the interface-formerly-known-as Metro UI, the way that it combines with the desktop environment is actually pretty innovative and flexible, and once there is a good selection of worthwhile Metro apps available, it’ll be a decent piece of the OS. Some will never use it, and that’s fine. It’s not hurting anything if you just never use it.
Going forward Microsoft really needs to think long and hard about what the strategy is going to be. I do believe that this hybrid world of having both a tablet and a “classic” Windows environment isn’t sustainable, as it is inherently a compromise. Apple has been heading down that road, but the previews of Mac OS X Mavericks are pleasantly devoid of hardly any additional iOS-sourced ideas and UI elements. I think they’ve realized that while some technologies can be shared, as long as I have a keyboard on my desk with a screen separate, it simply isn’t the same thing as a handheld device with one shared input *and* output device, the screen. I hope this trend continues, and the two worlds remain clearly separate.
Windows, meanwhile, will persist for the forseeable future. Even if today they simply stopped making the “desktop” UI, what we know and love as Windows, we would not have a mass exodus of Windows users to Mac OS. Windows is here to stay, and it’s still the most flexible, supported, and powerful business platform out there.