All it took was a few leaked screenshots from an early build of Microsoft's Windows "Blue" OS to set off a furor among industry pundits this week. Opinion -- as one might expect where anything Microsoft is concerned -- varied wildly, ranging from the camp that proclaimed the imminent death of the Windows Desktop to Windows 8 critics disappointed that "Blue" seems more of a tweak than a rewrite to users who want to know what all the fuss is about anyway.
What they all agree on: The Start button isn't coming back. Fuhgeddaboudit.
Computerworld's Gregg Keizer, polling analysts' reactions to "Blue," concludes that Microsoft is determined to kill the decades-old, decades-rich Windows Desktop. He quotes Patrick Moorhead, principal of Moor Insights & Strategy, saying, "Microsoft is serious about the Modern UI [aka Metro]. ... They're sending a signal that [Modern] is the future for Windows." However, not to worry about the traditional Desktop disappearing anytime soon. Moorhead predicts "just as it took 10 years for DOS to get out of everyone's system, only when Modern is completely ready will the desktop disappear. It will take five, six, or seven years, to bring all the important desktop apps into the Modern UI."
ZDnet's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, on the other hand, sees a much shorter timeline in his crystal ball. He quotes blogger Paul Thurrott, who looked at the leaked Windows "Blue" release, and speculates that Microsoft is going to ditch the desktop in the next major release of Windows. Computerworld's Preston Gralla also jumped on that bandwagon, saying, "There's a reasonable chance that Microsoft will finally get around to killing the Desktop in Windows 9."
But despair not fans of the traditional Windows Desktop: ZDnet's Ed Bott lays out five reasons why the Windows Desktop is not going away, including the fact that 4 million desktop apps need somewhere to run. Bott writes: "Backward compatibility is the lifeblood of Windows. The idea that those legacy apps will be orphaned in a single release is ludicrous." Besides, he continues, "Microsoft already has a 'no Desktop' option: Windows RT. Does anyone really believe that Microsoft would dump the OS that sold 60 million copies in its first two months and put all its chips on the one that has sold perhaps a million or two copies in the same period? If so, I want to play poker with you."
InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard has made his disdain for Windows 8 clear since its release, so it's probably no surprise that "Blue" left him in a decidedly black mood:
With "Blue," Microsoft has a tremendous opportunity to patch up the scratchy spots in Windows 8, making it more suitable for the enterprise desktop and laptop and less jarring for the billion-plus experienced Windows customers. If the leaked version I saw is any indication of what will appear this fall, you can write this one off, too. I'm struggling to think of a less impressive upgrade to Windows, ever. If your idea of a compelling upgrade to Windows involves a Metro Start screen where -- OMG! OMG! -- the tiles can be either bigger or smaller, hey, have I got a product for you.
Leonhard notes the changes in the pirated, early version of Windows "Blue," including resizable side-by-side screens, more options in Metro's PC Settings screen, a few new charms tricks, and a new version of IE that looks identical to the old. But he points out, "I couldn't find one, single, solitary change -- much less an improvement -- to the old-fashioned Windows Desktop. ... It looks like we're in for a Metro facelift by the end of the year, but precious little more."