I’ve seen the Windows 8 screenshots. What I see in them reeks of overreaction. Pundits are predicting a post-PC era, so Microsoft is trying their best to make a PC look and feel like a smartphone.
Why does a PC need to look and feel like a smartphone?
The smartphone interface as implemented by Google and Apple makes sense. You have a small touchscreen to work with, and that’s all you’ve got. What they’ve come up with works pretty well, given the limited options a smartphone has for interacting with you. Is it any easier or more intuitive than a computer? Not at all. The first few times I tried to use a smartphone, I found myself having to re-learn a bunch of stuff. I picked it up fairly quickly, but there was some un-learning and re-learning.
Computer GUIs make sense, given what we have to work with. Think about it. We’ve been using mice, keyboards, pulldown menus since 1984. We’ve figured it out by now. The GUIs of the 1980s weren’t perfect, but they were certainly usable, and we’ve been refining them ever since. We’ve been learning to use them ever since.
It’s probably impossible to know how many PCs are out there, but in 2007, Gartner estimated 239 million PCs were sold that year. Based on that, I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to guess there are a billion PCs in active use. Most of those PCs sold in 2007 probably are still in use somewhere, and some of the PCs sold in previous years are still in use. Let’s just call it a billion.
A billion people own these machines and know how to use them. So we’re going to foist a new, smartphone-inspired interface on a billion people?
The problem with PCs isn’t the interface. The only problem with PCs is that they aren’t the new, shiny thing anymore. They’ve become part of everyday life for about a billion people and they take them for granted, like a lot of other things. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Smartphones and tablets are new. They’re exciting. They’re where the growth is. People aren’t going to stop buying PCs entirely just because they’re buying smartphones and tablets. They may hold on to their PCs a while longer now that smartphones and tablets are competing for their sales dollars. But when their PC wears out, they’re going to buy a new one, whether they like it or not, because there are some jobs that a PC just does better than a tablet or smartphone.
One of my coworkers just got a Motorola Xoom, and he was marveling at how he could type 30 words per minute on it using a touchscreen keyboard. And that’s fine, but I wouldn’t try to do any long writing on a tablet. I can type a lot faster than 30 wpm on my IBM Model M keyboard.
Tablets and smartphones are for consumption. Creation will still take place on traditional computers.
I think it’s fine that Windows 8 will ship with an interface that works well on tablets and phones. That will allow Windows 8 to compete in that space. But if it doesn’t have a traditional computer interface–something along the lines of what Windows 7’s interface looked like–it’s a big mistake, and one that Microsoft will find itself paying for in lost sales. Because if Microsoft learned nothing else from Windows XP’s longevity and Windows Vista’s commercial failure, it should have learned that people are willing to stick with something that works, even if it’s a couple of versions back, if the alternative means relearning how to do something they’ve been doing for 10 or 20 years. Yes, it’s been 21 years since Windows 3.0 came out, so some people really have been using Windows for more than 20 years.