Last night Microsoft gave its final keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show. We spent all last week talking about what Windows 8 for ARM tablets might be like, hoping that we would get some answers at CES. Unfortunately, the keynote offered little in the way of new announcements. So what else can we possibly say about Windows 8 and tablets?
Brian said last week that it looked like Microsoft's Windows 8 tablet strategy was based on their desktop OS and not their phone OS. I think he's half right. In the keynote, Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Tami Reller stated that there would be no need for developers to create separate apps for ARM-based and x86-based versions of the Metro. By taking the Metro UI and making it run on multiple platforms (and alongside a desktop OS in some cases), it’s definitely way more complex then a phone OS. But it’s not a full desktop OS, either. Reller demonstrated a device that operated both the Metro and traditional interfaces, however each interface had its own separate applications. The Metro UI had Metro apps from (that will come from an app store), and the traditional UI was running a pretty normal looking version of Office. These Metro apps clearly aren’t related to traditional Windows applications at all. The Windows 8 Metro UI should really just be called Metro OS or something. But then this "OS" still runs side-by-side with the traditional Windows UI on some devices? Weird! Another problem that comes up is that now developers have to get applications from the two different interfaces to talk to each other on the back end. Perhaps they can share the same files, or both be attached to the same cloud services.
As well, it's still unclear what combinations of interfaces will come for which platforms and form factors. Obviously, we’ll have both ARM and x86 versions of Metro for tablets. What about the Metro + traditional UI version for x86—is it for a tablet with a keyboard and mouse? Or is it for a laptop with a touch screen? Regardless of the answer, this device will be the holy grail for some users. But then what about traditional x86 laptops that don't have touch screens? Will they still have the Metro UI with Metro apps available to use? And x86 tablets probably won't have the traditional Windows interface, right? It will be interesting when we get to see a matrix of all of the different combinations of Windows 8 form factors, platforms, and interfaces.
Finally, is there actually a place for Windows 8 tablets (regardless of platform)? I think there could be. The manageability of Windows combined with the killer app that a touch-based version of Office would be creates an attractive tablet for enterprise environments. (As for the other apps, they would come along as needed. For example, if there's a Facebook app for iOS, several different Android app stores, and Blackberry, then surely a Windows 8 Metro Facebook app would come along—and the same would be true for other common apps.)
Whatever the variations of Windows 8 Metro UI, we can consider it to be a whole new platform, not simply desktop Windows OS optimized for tablets.