Things aren’t looking good for Windows 8. Developers and software professionals have been posting their impressions of the final version, known as the Release to Manufacturing build, since the middle of August, and the popular sentiment is not overwhelmingly positive. Microsoft has also made a 90-day trial available to the general public, though you’ll have to jump through a few hoops to get it (details are available here). This is the fourth public preview of what has turned into the biggest ever reinvention of the world’s most widely used operating system, so those who follow the tech press should be more or less familiar with what’s new. I’m trying to keep an open mind and will be spending the next few months with the RTM as my primary OS before I make any concrete conclusions for myself.
From what I’ve seen so far, the general tone of the tech-familiar seems to be one of subdued resignation. People might have hoped for and vocally demanded an official backtrack of the Metro (now known as “Modern”) UI and touch-centric strategy, but this facet of Windows 8 has instead become completely unavoidable. Public opinion of the new Modern environment and its apps is overwhelmingly negative—the music, videos, mail and calendar have been described as underpowered and borderline useless. Even worse, no one seems to be able to get the hang of the new, reduced concept of multitasking or the gestures designed for touchscreens.
There’s some amount of praise and respect for having made such a bold move, even if it is given only grudgingly. Some are enthusiastic about the futuristic, forward-looking experience. Many point out the various other improvements in Windows 8, such as better battery life and SkyDrive integration. Those who do see Windows-based tablets in their future are excited about the possibilities that will open up. Plus, of course, the apps and experiences can only improve over time.
The next Vista?
However, millions of everyday users are not familiar with the radical changes to Windows and won’t have any choice when it comes to what’s preinstalled on their next laptop. Offices that decide to roll out upgrades will also have to take on massive staff retraining efforts. Things are going to behave unexpectedly and people don’t react well to change.
This brings us to the unfortunate conclusion that at least for a year or two, Windows 8 is going to be the next Vista. It will work well enough, but people will avoid it based on hearsay and apprehension. The biggest thing working against Windows 8 right now is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Windows 7, and no amount of advertising will change that. The world’s current favourite OS doesn’t feel tired, incapable or old-fashioned in any way. Its replacement will be new and different, but not appreciably better. People are going to demand Windows 7 long after Microsoft would like them to have moved on.
This time, though, Microsoft might not oblige them. It has too much invested in the brave new world of Windows 8—phones, tablets, laptops and desktops will be unified for the first time. Office and all the major Web services have been reinvented to match, and Microsoft has changed its own logo for the first time in 25 years. The company has clearly thought long and hard about the enormous risk it's taking and is literally putting everything it has on the line. If there is mass revolt against windows 8, Microsoft will only, at best, jump on the “rapid release” bandwagon and bring something new out next year. Whichever way this situation plays out, it will define the next era of computing and personal technology.