How Windows 8 Beta Could Underwhelm Us

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Most of the PC-using corporate world is still in the middle, or even just at the early stages, of migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7 and now along comes the Windows 8 beta in the next few weeks.

We’ve had the chance to look at the Windows 8 developer preview for a few months now, and we’ve got even more questions about Microsoft’s next-generation OS than we’ve ever had. As the weeks go by, we’re beginning to get that knot-in-the-stomach sensation that Windows 8 could be more like Windows Vista than Windows 7.

The Windows 8 beta could underwhelm us in three key areas. Because it will be beta software, and not a final release, there will be time for Microsoft to fix them. But depending on what we’ve seen from the developer release, they may not be quick fixes.

First of all, we’ve already been underwhelmed by the dearth of announcements by major Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) that they will optimize their applications for the Metro interface that will come with Windows 8.

If you don’t believe new application software for a new platform is a big deal, just call over to HP’sTouchPad marketing department.

Metro has the ability to make desktop and laptop personal computing much more efficient and user-friendly, as well as optimize touch-based displays and use patterns. But let’s see Adobe Photoshop optimized for Metro and touch, or AutoCad.

Heck, let’s see some Microsoft software like Visio go there.

The fact that so few marquis ISVs are talking about their ground-breaking plans for Windows 8 applications is unsettling. Without major ISV buy-in or development for Windows 8 on PCs, the OS will be a tough sell.

Second, we’re not convinced that Windows 8 will offer enough value across hardware platforms to make it worth the disruption of upgrading right away.

Take a look at Apple. The look and feel of its iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion operating systems are distinctly different from each other -- even with the Launchpad added to Lion last year. But that doesn’t matter all that much because the applications leverage the iPhone, iPad and Mac hardware platforms equally well and with consistency. Applications like Facetime, iCal, Contacts, iTunes and Reminders work equally well on the mobile iOS devices as they do on the Mac.

From what we’ve seen in pre-releases of Windows 8 on industry-standard PCs, as well as Windows Phone 7 (which is very similar to Windows 8 Metro), there still appears to be a lack of consistency in how applications will function on different hardware platforms. You’ll still have to make significant adjustments in apps like Outlook and Skype between devices. That adds complexity that rivals like Apple and, to a lesser extent, Google, have been able to remove.

If the Windows 8 beta can’t show progress in breaking down complexity between hardware platforms, it will be a let down.

And, a third area of concern is migration costs. Even with Windows 7, which was a major improvement over Windows Vista, there were still ridiculous barriers to migration from one platform to the next. Early upgrades from Windows XP to Windows Vista gave many solution providers fits. When Windows 7 arrived, Microsoft refused to provide a straight upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7. Instead, it gave us silly, circuitous options like “Windows XP Mode” in Windows 7 and Windows 7 “downgrades” for enterprises that wanted a lot of lead time to make the upgrade.

With the lion's share of enterprise desktops still running Windows XP, who wants to bet that straight XP-to-Windows 8 upgrades will be just as slick? The Windows 8 beta will begin to provide us with some answers.

We’re rooting for Windows 8 because we love when technology gets better and enables us to do more, do it more efficiently, and do it better. But seeing will be believing and we’ll start to see in a few weeks.

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