Microsoft's Windows 8 beta has been publicly available for nine days, and it's clear hardly anyone likes it. IDC predicts Windows 8 will be "largely irrelevant for users of traditional PCs." Tablet sales, it says, will "disappoint." I've talked to more than a dozen people in IT and the user community, and I've found no fans. The reaction is a sure sign that Windows 7 will remain the desktop OS on the dwindling pool of traditional PCs for years to come, but the new world of devices -- tablets, smartphones, and ultralights, both stand-alone and dockable -- will run something else: increasingly the converging iOS and Mac OS X, and perhaps Android.
Windows 8 is a real tragedy, because unlike the Windows Vista debacle, Microsoft actually had a clue that the world is changing and is trying to adapt to it. The time has come to retire the Windows as we've known it since Windows 95. That's what Microsoft is essentially trying to do with Windows 8, making the new Metro UI (or Metro OS, on some devices) the default "OS" for users and relegating Windows 7 as the legacy OS behind the curtain.
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I know that upsets many Windows users, but it needs to be done. It's too late for a gradual transition, as Apple has been undertaking for five years with its iOS reset and measured Mac OS X convergence. But sadly, Microsoft's execution on this necessary but difficult transition is threatening the whole effort, and it'll likely hasten both Windows' and Metro's retirement.
Microsoft can fix some of the mess it has made so far with Windows 8 -- before the product ships this fall and falters in the face of iOS, Mac OS X, and even Android. I hope it does, so I'm offering my suggestions in this post. We need a strong competitor to Apple.
Why people don't like Windows 8
Several commentators have likened Windows versions to "Star Trek" movies: Only every other version was good. In that view, Windows 7, XP, and Windows 95/98 were good, and Windows Vista, 2000, and Me were bad. It's not quite every other one, but close enough. The issue is not uneven execution -- though there's some of that. The basic problem with Windows 8 is that it forces together two very different OSes -- Windows 7 and Metro -- in an unnatural combination and is applied monolithically to several kinds of device contexts.
The InfoWorld Test Center's excellent first-look review of Windows 8 details the confusing and brain-sapping relationship between the traditional Windows 7 desktop and the new Metro UI or, more precisely, the lack of relationship. My colleague J. Peter Bruzzese -- InfoWorld's resident Windows admin expert, a true Microsoft fan, and MVP-certified Windows admin -- has been brought close to tears by Windows 8's dual personae. My colleague Woody Leonhard -- a longtime Windows expert -- is also befuddled by the parallel universes that inhabit Windows 8. InfoWorld's Neil McAllister also flays Metro's poor UI and exposes Microsoft's incoherent approach to Metro's usage.