June 2, 2011
The key problems with Windows 8

I just read a great article on the fundamental problems associated with Windows 8 by John Gruber, below is an excerpt:

Microsoft’s demo video shows Excel — the full version of Excel for Windows — running alongside new touch-based apps. They can make buttons more “touch friendly” all they want, but they’ll never make Excel for Windows feel right on a touchscreen UI. Consider the differences between the iWork apps for the Mac and iPad. The iPad versions aren’t “touch friendly” versions of the Mac apps — they’re entirely new beasts designed and programmed from the ground up for the touchscreen and for the different rules and tradeoffs of the iOS interface (no explicit saving, no file system, ready to quit at a moment’s notice, no processing in the background, etc.).

The ability to run Mac OS X apps on the iPad, with full access to the file system, peripherals, etc., would make the iPad worse, not better. The iPad succeeds because it has eliminated complexity, not because it has covered up the complexity of the Mac with a touch-based “shell”. iOS’s lack of backward compatibility with any existing software means that all apps for iOS are written specifically for iOS.

There’s a cost for this elimination of complexity and compatibility, of course, which is that the iPad is also less capable than a Mac. That’s why Apple is developing iOS alongside Mac OS X. From a piece by yours truly, writing for Macworld back in January:

The existence and continuing growth of the Mac allows iOS to get away with doing less. The central conceit of the iPad is that it’s a portable computer that does less — and because it does less, what it does do, it does better, more simply, and more elegantly. Apple can only begin phasing out the Mac if and when iOS expands to allow us to do everything we can do on the Mac. It’s the heaviness of the Mac that allows iOS to remain light.

When I say that iOS has no baggage, that’s not because there is no baggage. It’s because the Mac is there to carry it. Long term — say, ten years out — well, all good things must come to an end. But in the short term, Mac OS X has an essential role in an iOS world: serving as the platform for complex, resource-intensive tasks.

Apple’s radical notion is that touchscreen personal computers should make severely different tradeoffs than traditional computers — and that you can’t design one system that does it all. Windows 8 is trying to have it all, and I don’t think that can be done. You can’t make something conceptually lightweight if it’s carrying 25 years of Windows baggage.


I assume the thought process by Microsoft’s management team for Windows 8 must be:

  1. The advantage of Windows is the plethora of Windows based software and applications.
  2. If Windows 8 adjusts its UI on top of previous versions of Windows sourcecode, then Microsoft can enter the tablet market easily with a host of programs that can be incorporated into the Windows 8 universe.

This however, ignores the following problems:

  • Windows 8 is flawed because it is a minor UI overhaul on top of the old Windows.  This means that software / applications for Windows 8 (and Windows 8 itself) is is still fundamentally resource intensive, just like its legacy desktop focused counterparts.  The key problem with this comes from battery life.  Apple is redesigning iOS with battery life, stability, and resource use in mind.  Windows 8 is neglecting that.
  • Additionally, all the bugs and problems of the prior Windows OSs are dragged along.  This disrupts the simplicity attraction associated with with tablet devices.  Bringing along old software will also bring a clumsy user experience carrying along all the frustrations associated with Windows desktop devices (but exacerbated because the interface isn’t customized for tablets).  That is why tablet applications should be designed from the ground up keeping in mind the touch screen interface.

On top of the problems mentioned by Gruber, I have a few concerns of my own.  Namely, this key quote:

Fully touch-optimized browsing, with all the power of hardware-accelerated Internet Explorer 10.


I think I’m stating a commonly held belief when I say that Internet Explorer is traditionally prone to many security flaws.  The integration of Internet Explorer with Windows magnifies those security concerns.

Now imagine malware exploiting an Internet Explorer flaw.  If you think getting rid of viruses/malware on a PC is a pain, imagine how difficult it will be on a tablet device?  Not a pretty thought.