The hidden hardware challenge for Windows 8

Predicting the fate of Microsoft's PC business based on the Windows 8 software alone is a mistake

Windows 8 demos at Microsoft's Build developer conference have been very compelling -- inspiring even. But nothing about the UI will change the underlying challenges with Microsoft's open ecosystem. Users will still have to deal with frustrating experiences, even if the blue screen of death is replaced with a blue frowny face.

Windows 8 looks promising

InfoWorld's own Galen Gruman gave Windows 8 quite a glowing initial assessement. He even went on a limb and suggested that HP's decision to jettison WebOS could have been due to Windows 8:

But if Windows 8 is nearly as good as the demos look, Microsoft could very well win the mobile wars, despite years of failures in Windows tablets and mediocre smartphone efforts. If Hewlett-Packard CEO Léo Apotheker had seen a preview of Windows 8 tablets, that would explain why he suddenly killed the WebOS-based TouchPad tablet last month.

[ Take a look at Microsoft's forthcoming OS in "Windows 8 Metro: The InfoWorld visual tour." | Follow the latest in open source developments and thinking with InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter. ]

Other reviews of Windows 8 have been cautiously optimistic that Microsoft may finally have an OS to combat Apple.

The only problem is that software alone is not enough. The real test for Microsoft is how Windows 8 will demo on the hundreds or thousands of devices -- PC and mobile -- that will be optimized to run Windows 8. I stress "optimized" because every hardware vendor will play that card, when in fact, no piece of software can be optimized for everything. That's where marketing and reality depart.

Configurability versus design choices

Daring Fireball's John Gruber wrote a thought-provoking post about Apple's long-term sustainable advantage residing not solely on its design, but its supply chain. The two points are related and will impact Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy, especially as it grows beyond the desktop to tablets and mobile devices with a single operating system. Gruber wrote:

Design is largely about making choices. The PC hardware market has historically focused on three factors: low prices, tech specs, and configurability. Configurability is another way of saying that you, the buyer, get a bigger say in the design of your computer. ([Ars Technica's Peter] Bright points out, for example, that Lenovo gives you the option of choosing which Wi-Fi adaptor goes into your laptop.) Apple offers far fewer configurations. Thus MacBooks are, to most minds, subjectively better-designed -- but objectively, they're more designed. Apple makes more of the choices than do PC makers.

I've been thinking of this more and more as part of my day job, and I can fully understand why making choices is hard for vendors. Clients tell us that they want to make choices, because a lack of choice can sometimes lead to vendor lock-in. But these same clients demonstrate higher satisfaction with products that have been, in Gruber's words, more designed and, thus, present fewer choices to buyers.

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