As all my close friends all know, I use Windows 8 on my laptop, and now even they use it as well. I seem to have inspired a movement, among my social circles, to switch to Windows 8, the new pre-release operating system from Microsoft. From a consumer standpoint, Windows 8 is a pleasure to use, although the interface may be jarring for some, as seen in Chris Pirillo’s How Real People Will Use Windows 8 video.
In the video, Chris’ father crosses from Metro to Aero, but due to a lack of physical icons for switching, he never figures out how to get back to Metro. This may be one of Windows 8’s shortfalls; its lack of visible buttons may produce a learning curve for existing users. But, for the most part, the Windows 8 experience is great. It’s fluid even in virtualization within my first Generation Mac mini, and does hold true on its promise of being a Windows 7 successor with much lower CPU and memory requirements. I now use Windows 8 on most of my PCs because, even though I have volume licensing of Windows 7 Ultimate, Windows 8 is simply a better experience for the end user.
Microsoft has stuck a little too close to Apple’s playbook this time with the multitouch and Windows Store procedures, but behind the cool icons and flowing, smooth graphics experience is something I didn’t believe could come from Microsoft. Perhaps the viral video of now-CEO Steve Ballmer is not enough for Microsoft to remember what it is: a developer-focused company. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Apple had better software, and IBM had more support — so the only way Microsoft could compete was making the most usable developer tools, and by coaxing developers to adopt the Microsoft platform. The company allowed developers to port apps from OS/2 and many programming languages not natively supported to make Microsoft Windows “the easy option” for application development. Since it was easier to develop for Windows, developers stuck behind the new product, and thanks to the infinitely expanding number of apps for Microsoft Windows, it has kept the market share of companies like Apple and alternatives like Linux minimal.
But this time, Microsoft is going back to the drawing board, radically redesigning Windows (which has its pluses and minuses, as previously mentioned on LockerGnome) and changing the fundamental ways in which the operating system works.
The “Desktop” mode in Windows 8 is still an Aero experience, still uses the same APIs, and is truly an improved version of Windows 7 with some minor app redesigns and further integration of the Office ribbon into pretty much every system app. But Microsoft doesn’t want you to write Aero apps anymore, and many of my favorite legacy apps as well as some apps written for Vista have been broken by the Windows 8 release. Older versions of the Adobe Creative Suite won’t run, for example, and much software ported directly from Linux (like KDE for Windows) causes errors and even system crashes on my well-equipped testing machine.
So the obvious solution is to just try to develop for Metro, and maintain your Aero release. Good luck. Metro is not even faintly based on Windows 7 — it’s in fact based on HTML5 and Internet Explorer 10, and basically is a framework for Web apps with Windows controls, similar to the defunct project Google Gears. Also, to release Metro apps, you need to be approved in the Windows 8 App Store and go through a process with guidelines and restrictions seemingly copied directly from Apple’s website. The difference? If you want all the features that you need to develop effective apps, you need to download eight different sets of tools (I suppose eight for Windows 8?), download the consumer preview, and run and install software for hours. Once you’re done ransacking your machine with the five gigabytes of programming materials, launch Visual Studio 11 Beta. Activate that, then activate the rest of it, and finally get to programming with a blank slate. (Not to mention the almost 2.5 GB of RAM required to run the environment.) Compare that to Apple’s XCode which, while it gets some criticism from developers, is one quick and easy download with all the tools you need and more.
Most developers would simply give up halfway through what I describe. But wait! Didn’t we hear this before? Remember the media frenzy about the BlackBerry PlayBook’s labyrinthine development process? (If you have not seen Jamie Murai’s scathing letter to RIM, it is here.) While Windows 8 is easier to develop for, it is not that much easier; while the interface does look nicer for sure, repetitive tasks and constant crashes make it impossible to develop on Windows 8.
As a developer, I can say it is frustrating that Windows 8 breaks cross-platform support (not officially, but its new APIs are not compatible in the least). Microsoft is using the same slightly irritating tactics Apple has for years to promote its own frameworks and products.
But, as I mentioned earlier, there is one problem.
Microsoft doesn’t actually have developer support yet. At least Apple waited until it began to get developers rolling out apps before it promoted its own frameworks through policies ([cough, cough] banning Flash and Adobe cross-development [cough, cough]). Microsoft is rushing into a new technology it has created — one that I love from a consumer standpoint, but one that truly causes headaches for developers.
The fact of the matter is that if Redmond can’t get developers to sign on, Windows 8 is a no-go. Since Microsoft is starting from scratch, it has to win over developers again. What I can say is that if, to build a simple Web browser, someone has to hack the Windows 8 registry, I’m not sure developers will jump at the opportunity.
Until then? I’ll stick with just glancing at my Live Tiles and playing Cut the Rope on my 32 inch screen.