For years now experts (and Microsoft) have said that one of the main reasons Windows has proven so popular is the familiarity people have with the OS (aside from other reasons such as flexibility, available software etc.) and we’ve happily accepted this as a reasonable explanation. However, many IT Pros have also said that this is a poor and shallow excuse for foisting on users an interface that is fundamentally inappropriate for them.
The ‘traditional’ desktop of minimize, maximise and close buttons, the dragging of the outside of windows to resize them, the pull down menus were all designed for the computers of thirty years ago, when computers were used for exclusively business, academic and scientific purposes. For the average user then most of this wasn’t appropriate. The learning curve was too high, it was too fiddly for many users to use comfortably and for the majority of simple tasks people wanted to do; get online, check email, manage photos and communicate with people, it was simply far too much to faff around with.
When the iPad appeared people didn’t really think of it’s new iOS operating system as being one for general purpose computing, as it was designed from the ground up for tablets. The same happened with Google’s Android OS which, while far more like a traditional ‘desktop’, was still not shipped with desktop computers. When Google’s ChromeOS finally appeared it too conformed to the uniformity of the modern desktop as observed by every desktop operating system since the 1980′s.
Now though Windows 8 is breaking the mould. For the first time since the modern desktop OS was invented, Microsoft are innovating with something completely new, radical and unusual. They are the first company taking a mobile OS and translating it onto the desktop.
Now you can debate for ages the pros and cons of making such a move but I’ve now had some time to get over the initial shock and surprise and I’m coming round to the idea that what Microsoft are doing is actually a very good idea. However in doing this they could be heading down a road where they might find themselves in trouble and losing market share.
The reason for this is that, if Windows 8 proves genuinely successful; and by this I don’t just mean raw sales, I mean people enjoying actually using it, then it will prove conclusively that it no longer matters what operating system you use. Now all operating systems perform the same tasks is broadly the same way. What sets them apart is how they work with applications and how they integrate with other services. In this we can see Microsoft building their cloud ecosystem tightly into the operating system. This is a good move as Microsoft’s cloud-based products, which include SkyDrive and Office online are much more polished and integrated than anything the competition has yet been able to offer.
So we now find ourselves at a point where the operating system has truly become something that disappears into the background, a claim Microsoft rather prematurely made for Windows 7. Each operating system now won’t stand on it’s merits for being product X from company Y anymore, but will instead be judged on how integrated it is with other services and how well it offers app integration too.
Windows 8 leaps ahead of the competition here by providing APIs that permit programmers to hook their applications into all manner of services for sharing and socializing, a nice move. In doing this there can be little doubt that Windows 8 will launch as the most progressive operating system available.
But where does this leave iOS, Android and other operating systems? I believe now we may see a push for these operating systems to begin appearing on the desktop too. After all, if Windows 8 can completely change the Windows paradigm and people can be happy with transitioning to a new interface and a new way of working, why can’t they just as easily move to Android on the desktop or perhaps even WebOS?
Where the operating system market has opened up in the last few years is nothing to where I believe the same market will be taken in the next few years to come. We’re heading into exciting times where the OS is simply a facilitator for the things you use. This is the way it really ought to be.