Thought Chasm these posts, while infrequent and poorly thought out, are also not all that complex, structurally.

Surface computing and a productivity device

I hesitate to diatribe on the Windows 8 issues again[1]. Not because I can’t fill eight thousand words with all its idiosyncrasies and keep you at the edge of your seat. I clearly can. But because it’s so new that it feels like I’m yelling at a toddler to learn algebra faster[2].

But I use a Mac at a company that’s decidedly not-Mac and have a vested interest in how the next generation of devices will cater to and alter lives. So I’m forced into curiosity about how Microsoft views future PC-ing.

In line with the grand vision of powerful and accessible mobile computing, Windows 8 is amazing. (I’ll let that sit a minute…)

If you’re a recent DOS convert, you’re probably shaking your head. You also probably hate Metro, or the UI Formerly Known As Metro For Microsoft Windows 8 Runtime Desktop Environments Home Edition. And, you’ll probably hate when I say the next bit:

Metro isn’t what’s wrong with Windows 8. You are.

Okay, just kidding, but you’re definitely accountable. Microsoft missed the mark on almost everything and they’re mostly to blame, but now they’ll cater to you. That’s why they’ll fail.

Apple had the Mac, which didn’t even use the command line. Then the iPod, which didn’t even allow rapid sharing of songs. Then the iPhone, which didn’t even have a hardware keyboard. Then the iPad, which didn’t even have Office. The iPad maybe isn’t a productivity device, but they’re doing okay.

Notebooks are getting thinner and smaller and will eventually just be tablets with accessories, just like the Surface. It’s inevitable, so why is Microsoft failing in the tablet space? Three reasons:

  • Internet Explorer and Office

  • Rushed the hybrid idea to market

  • They have no backbone

The idea of a tablet that does everything will happen, just not with Windows 8, and probably not before the until the hardware can keep up. It’s not because of the big UI shift.

Internet Explorer, Internet Explorer, and Office

I’ll say it: IE10 is pretty decent. Sure, many people will use alternatives, but it’s a surprisingly decent browser. Then, in Windows 8, Microsoft made two of them. They failed.

I understand there are security implications that lead to a Desktop application that runs legacy software. I realize the integration of that Desktop with the new UI is difficult. Taking IE into Metro would break legacy products and use cases. Yawn, etc.

But when you don’t make that separation, you break your operating system.

Office, a suite of applications that most people just assume is essential, comes with the Surface line. That’s smart. Unfortunately, no one thought to make Office touch-centric first, so now it’s in the Desktop application and barely usable with fingers.

By making a terrible tablet experience built in to their tablet, they failed.

Rushed to market

The Surface line is around to respond to the iPad, and seemingly only in response to the iPad. In tablet usage, iPad is about 85% and Surface is probably less than 4%. In true multitasking tablet usage, iPad is 0% and Surface is probably over 90%. How?

Congrats, you’re first!

While better than a Zune, releasing a Galaxy Gear isn’t exactly impressive either. Microsoft would have been better served to wait and iron out the issues stated above that fundamentally break the experience.

Yes, you need something out there to get some traction in the applications market. But if developers see you breaking your own experience or not bothering to make tablet versions of your tent pole applications, they won’t invest in making their own. The Desktop application runs all their software already and needs a mouse anyway.

Because there’s no incentive and large costs, they failed.

And they’ll backtrack anyway

The Surface and Windows 8 are bold moves. They recognize the broad trends of shrinking computers and demanding mobile consumers; both being pretty clear.

While Windows 8 was executed poorly, to ignore for now the absurd launch of a ridiculous Surface RT/Surface Pro/Surface 2/Surface Pro 2 bullshit, they were at least heading the right direction.

There was GUI computing over command line. Or software keyboards over hardware. These trends opened up computing to wider audiences and provided massive increases in flexibility, and you, the “core” power users, hated them. You’re always wrong, but Microsoft has no balls.

By releasing Windows 8.1 with the traditional start experience and catering to you, a small, vocal subset of their user base, they are showing no respect for the much larger current and potential user base. A “desktop” is just a mess of broken metaphors and legacy extrapolations that people have grown used to.

By bowing to your tiny legions and ignoring an entire world of people who want something better, they failed.

Microsoft had some real potential here. I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Instead, they released two confusing models of a machine dripping in compromises, with an operating system that enraged power users and confused casual users in equal measure. They made two versions of their own browser and didn’t even bother to update their core suite for the very users they were trying to target.


  1. Based on the scorecard there, Surface failed because limitations of their software forced odd hardware decisions and turned off Enterprise.  ↩

  2. Compared to a five-year-old learning calculus, which is apparently totally possible.  ↩

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