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Why Windows 8 will not be a major release for Microsoft (editorial)

Many of us are eagerly awaiting for Microsoft to release Windows 8 so we can use first-hand all the new features the operating system will provide. But when you really think about it, is Windows 8 really a major release or just another Windows version tailored to tablets?

Microsoft’s riskiest product, as said by Steve Ballmer, is Windows 8. But is Microsoft taking too much of a risk with Windows 8 or have we not realized the method to the madness? Windows on Arm (WOA) was introduced to us during CES 2011 and revealed to us in-depth recently but isn’t it just another version of Windows tailored to specific devices? Microsoft’s plans are farther out than any of us can imagine. Yes, we realize that Microsoft is trying to enter the tablet market with force, and there is a second user interface, but completely removing the start menu and making the start screen the interface of choice? Windows 8, in my opinion, is not a major release.

Windows 8 is not an ideal version of Windows for business users. Why is that? The typical business or corporation does not need the “fluttery” and “flattering” user interface that Windows 8 has and the start menu is counted on by many to reach certain programs within seconds. Microsoft has even stated that businesses should focus on upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 first, then worry about upgrading to Windows 8. Windows XP, which debuted in 2001, is still used by many of Microsoft’s business customers. Microsoft even went as far as extending support for Windows XP until 2014. Microsoft sees the logic in this, but why can’t we?

Before the BUILD Developer Conference last year, we saw numerous Windows 8 leaks. We received Windows 8 builds 7850, 7927, 7955, Server 7959, and 7989. It looked like an ordinary copy of Windows 7 with slight modifications, right? What we didn’t see was the new Metro UI at the time. These builds leaked before the unveiling of the UI in June, therefore the expectations were slightly different. Step by step, Microsoft was making big changes.

The Developer Preview was released on September 13, 2011. Eager developers and many consumers hogged the servers that very night hoping to install it. The build, itself numbered 8102, contained the new start screen, and a variety of “test” apps. When you pressed the Desktop button you had the taskbar, the start button, and your friendly neighborhood icons, and with a slight registry hack the start menu could be re-enabled for those who didn’t have the Metro fever. As remarkable as this was, we had figured that Windows 8 would include an option to disable the start screen, and provide access to the old menu. But as newer builds and pictures have shown, that may not be the case.

Around Windows 8 build 8195, pictures were leaked and many were stunned, including me. What was there for 17 years … just was not there anymore. The iconic button that symbolized the action of Windows 95 all the way to Windows 7 disappeared. Microsoft removed the start button from the taskbar, leaving one small “gap” between the Internet Explorer button and…well…nothing else. Yeah, when you move the mouse over the area a “start” tag comes up, but what is the future of the start menu? Assuming that the button is no longer there, Microsoft isn’t really trying to gain the attention of business users at this time.

The success of Windows 8 is debatable, due to the two possible paths it could take. Let’s consider the two possible outcomes.

Designed for Tablets

Microsoft’s main goal is to develop its Windows operating system for tablets. Microsoft states that it has PC support, but according to usage of the Developer Preview, PC use is not ideal, especially with the removal of the start menu and start button. Microsoft has urged companies and businesses to not jump to Windows 8, and to stick with Windows 7 because of its efficiency. Windows 8 will not be a major release, and will just be Microsoft’s entrance into the tablet and app market.

OR

Fallback Solution

Not everyone likes change. Radical change, such as the removal of the start menu and addition of a start screen, Metro interface, and Ribbon UI, will make it harder for those who are barely learning how to use Windows 7. Same with businesses. It takes more time and money to teach an entire organization how to use the new operating system, not to mention the cost and time it takes to deploy the upgrade. Microsoft should offer a fall-back solution which mimics the Windows 7 interface in some manner with slight (not drastic) changes. And put the start button and menu back!

Just because Windows 8 doesn’t have the start menu, doesn’t mean Windows Server 8 will not. Windows Server 8 needs the start menu to access tools and such, which may mean there is hope. Assuming Windows Server 8 keeps the start menu, Microsoft may even have the brains to actually make a certain version of Windows 8 (whether it be Enterprise or Professional/Ultimate) which allows the enabling/disabling of the start screen, start button, and start menu.

Whatever choices Microsoft makes in the development of Windows 8 makes it crucial to its placement as a minor/major release. Windows 7 was not a major release, but for many people it was a great successor to Windows XP and it annihilated Vista’s bad karma. The company has repeatedly stated that this will be a single-sized operating system to rule them all, but how can you tailor the operating system towards tablets and not focus on the PC aspect as well? Microsoft can make Windows 8 a major release, but so far it looks like it will end up dead in the water.

What’s your take on this? Leave your questions or comments below!

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