So Microsoft announced on Thursday, through a monstrous eight thousand word blog post I didn’t read, more details about Windows 8. Specifically they talked about Windows on ARM, or WOA for short, because everyone loves an acronym. New acronyms are like a little piece of Christmas in February, which is fitting because there is a metric fuckton of snow outside right now.
One of the curious revelations in this blog post was the news that Windows 8 on ARM would feature the traditional desktop (it had long been speculated that it wouldn’t), but that the desktop would only be available to use Office 15 (slightly modified for touch), Internet Explorer 10 and the file explorer. No other programs will be allowed to use the desktop on ARM. It makes sense from Microsoft’s prospective; they want to put Windows on ARM devices, but they also want everyone to use the cross-platform WinRT (Metro styled apps) to develop for it.
But from a user’s prospective this will be a terrible experience. If you give a non-technical user a Windows 8 desktop PC and a Windows 8 ARM tablet, just try explaining to them why seemingly identical operating systems can’t both run Photoshop. In fact, explain to them why they can’t do anything in the desktop. Want to zip some files to send in an email? Don’t try installing WinZip. Want to listen to music in the media player of your choice? Sorry about that.
Which begs the question; why is the desktop even there when giving users an environment they recognise just gives them false expectations of the product? The answer is obvious, this is a stop gap to allow you to run traditional Office apps and to access Windows features that haven’t been ported to Metro, such as advance settings panels, the file explorer, the registry, etc, etc. The desktop is hanging of Windows 8 on ARM like a cancerous growth because Microsoft is afraid (or doesn’t have time) to go the whole way and ditch the classic desktop.
Microsoft has been touting “no compromises” as the selling point of Windows 8, but so far it’s sounding like nothing but compromises. I understand they wanted to build a single operating system for both desktop and mobile, but if the classic desktop on mobile devices is almost useless and a terrible user experience, and desktop users don’t want the metro start screen (the experience of that is still a question), you begin to wonder if they should be two distinct products.
Microsoft could easily present them as two separate products, one for desktop and one for mobile and have the underlying core OS be the same under the hood. In fact, isn’t that exactly what Mac OS X and iOS is? Both the improvements in the Windows 8 desktop and the Metro start screen for tablets look like they could be successful products, but I just don’t understand why Microsoft seems determined to make an inferior product by making them conjoined twins.