The next version of Windows has been leaked and frankly it is not really the ‘next version’ but rather an update. An update that streamlines the weird dichotomy between the traditional desktop and a touch based interface popularly known as metro. Although the term metro has been dropped thanks to a supposed lawsuit, I will use these terms here for ease of writing. Windows 8 is a divisive product as I wrote in my review last year. It is not a re imagining of Windows, it is not the next version of Windows – it is what Microsoft believes the main mode of computing will be in the next twenty to thirty years.
Criticism has come in thick and fast and many of the points are valid. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Why alienate almost every user who has come to both love and hate the traditional desktop? Why not simply release something like Windows 7 with some brand new features. The answer is simple – We are in the middle of an era switch.
It irritates me when people talk about the post-PC era because that is simply being presumptions. We are not in a post-PC era but we are near the end of it. You don’t rename things until the time has past. The only people who are coining these terms are those who benefit from branding and marketing the future in ways they prefer. I am looking at you marketing and journalism folks. Don’t get carried away, the traditional mouse and keyboard with a desktop PC is here to stay for a good few years to come. We are not going to dump everything we are familiar with now and just go touch only tomorrow. But that will not last past ten years.
We are not in a post-PC era but we are near the end of it.
I am in my mid twenties and I can safely say that my generation will still prefer the traditional desktop over touch interfaces especially when it comes to productivity and content creation. After all, most of us are already fast typists and can wield the mouse swiftly with speed and precision. We are the generation that mastered these interfaces from a very young age. I was fortunate to play with MS DOS 6.22 on an old 486 computer and familiarized myself with a command line styled user interface. I was 10 years old then and was quickly switched to Windows 3.1. I remember typing ‘win’ to start Windows. I remember editing autoexec.bat, system.ini and messing things up to the point my aunt had to drive across the island to fix the mess I made. These are great memories, these are moments in computing you will never forget but these are also the very things that will pass away.
My point is simple, my generation is the last that will embrace the traditional desktop. The art of flipping through windows and the beloved ‘Alt+Tab’ is something that the new generation does not understand. I am blessed to have many nephews and nieces (from my cousins). Because I am the tech guy in my extended families, I am the source of digital entertainment to them. In many ways, they look at me the way I looked at LAN gaming shop owners when I was young.
The stunning part comes from those below 12. They absolutely have to touch the screen.
My nephews and nieces are generally sorted into 2 age groups. One above the age of 12 and the other below. Those above the age of 12 are generally comfortable with handling my desktops and laptop. They understand the desktop and the concept of windows. The stunning part comes from those below 12. They absolutely have to touch the screen. This is the generation that grew up touching tablets and smartphones before they ever used a computer. I was trying to explain to an 11 year old about why there were two buttons on a mouse. The disconnect between the two eras is astonishing. And this is exactly why Windows 8, RT and now Blue will continue to move away from the traditional desktop.
What About ‘Real’ Work?
But how would you get work done? That is what every one thinks when told that the future is touch. Can you imagine writing, handling spreadsheets, doing precise image editing, editing and encoding videos on a tablet or a phone? No. Not everything can be done on a tablet or a smartphone for now. There are many things that I just can’t see happening anywhere close. For example, precise digital content creation requires a very high degree of accuracy from touch devices. Yes, you can draw on a Wacom and now even a Galaxy Note 2. But making detailed corrections to a video and the like is not going to happen. Touch has to be amazingly sensitive and you will need a stylus. The blunt finger tip of yours just will not cut it. Top tier professional work can hardly be done on tablets and phones for now. But.
There’s a big but. How many of us handle such kinds of work? Out of a list of a thousand friends or so, I can only name ten. This is anecdotal but I’m a geek and my social circle should be biased towards the tech heavy people, yet it stands only at 1%. Most people don’t need it and this includes office workers. Those who use nothing more than Microsoft Office applications. Even statistical software like Stata can easily be done on a tablet without problems. The mobile era is ready for simple data input and manipulation. And that’s what 90% of the world needs.
The mobile era is ready for simple data input and manipulation. And that’s what 90% of the world needs.
When we say an era passes, it doesn’t mean every single device dies out. Mainframes have passed us by for over 30 years yet we still use IBM Z9 servers and a small select group of people work on them daily. I see the future where only content creators will require powerhouse traditional workstations. They will become the minority because their case use scenarios are already very different from what a mass majority of people use their PCs for. And this includes me. I will always need my Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Premier. Yet, it is important to see the world beyond me and the generations after mine to see why Microsoft is taking such a confounding route.
Right Vision, Wrong Timing?
Windows has to change and adapt or be left far behind. Microsoft isn’t resting on its laurels because it knows that the microcomputer or the personal computer as we know it, is slowly but surely passing away. Mobile computing is the future, not the present and the company is gearing for it. Windows Blue is just one of the many more steps that Microsoft will have to undertake to transit into a touch first user interface.
Mobile computing is the future, not the present and the company is gearing for it.
I believe what Microsoft is doing is right but the timing in which it has chosen to push touch may be a tad early. Nonetheless, whether be it Microsoft or some other operating system that gets the timing right – there’s no use crying for the old desktop.
Things change and while we are inertia laden beings, change must be understood if not embraced.
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