Given the skyrocketing success that the iPad has enjoyed -- and the new iPad sold to the tune of 3 million in its first three days -- one has to wonder what's to become of the PC. Certainly, there's no shortage of analysts predicting that tablets will someday soon render PCs an afterthought. That can't be making the folks at Microsoft very happy, but you certainly didn't expect them to take this change in the computing landscape lying down, did you? Buckle up, because here comes Windows 8, a new operating system from Microsoft that promises to be equally at home on a desktop, laptop or a tablet. It is due out later this year, and many speculate that it could be the iPad's greatest challenger. Now, where have we heard that one before?
iPad reigns supreme -- for now
Expert after expert says the same thing: When it comes to tablets, the Apple iPad is the market, at least for the time being. For example, Harry McCracken, writing for Time, says "so far, the tale of the tablet market is a story of Apple flourishing and almost everybody else crashing and burning." He notes that the book-seller tablets -- the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and the Amazon Kindle Fire -- are the exceptions, but that's because they are pointedly not trying to be a direct iPad competitor, caring more about selling content then turning a profit on their hardware.
What's up with Windows 8?
Enter Windows 8, a scalable operating system that will run on Intel/AMD-powered desktops, laptops and tablets, as well as on less-robust ARM CPUs, which are used in many smartphones and tablets. Windows 8 is expected to be released in October, Bloomberg reports, and will include the touch-friendly and app-centric Metro interface, which is designed to work equally well on tablet, laptop and desktop computers.
The hope, Mashable.com says, is that by placing the Metro UI on every Windows computer going forward, software developers will be more or less forced to develop apps that will (or should) work on tablets as well. But the catch, the site's Peter Pachal adds, is that Metro is optional; that is, users can opt to turn it off and use the traditional Windows desktop version if they'd prefer. If that's what most Windows users decide to do, the hoped-for flood of apps could peter out to a trickle in short order.
In addition, the availability of the two interfaces could cause confusion for tablet buyers. PC World notes that despite carrying the Windows moniker, and despite the availability of what looks like a standard Windows desktop (if you decide not to use the Metro interface), ARM-based tablets will not be backward compatible with older Windows applications -- only with ones written specifically for Windows 8 and beyond. Compounding the confusion, some slate and convertible tablet computers using Intel/AMD processors -- and that are backward compatible with older applications -- are expected to be offered as well.
Beginning in February, adventurous users (and reviewers) have had a chance to try out a "consumer preview" of Windows 8 and the Metro interface, and its reception has been mixed. To be sure, some have come away very impressed. Mark Spoonauer at Laptop Magazine lists 10 ways Windows 8 is better than the iPad. Dave Goldman at CNNMoney calls Windows 8 a "game changer." He adds "Beautifully designed apps, ultra-simple navigation, and instinctive commands make it hard to believe Metro came from the same company that brought us Windows Vista."
At the same time, Vista was very much on the mind of Adrian Kingsley-Hughes at ZDNet.com as he evaluated Windows 8. He notes the potential for tablet use, and allows that this is a pre-release product with lots of bugs and incomplete features still to be ironed out, but he also finds lots of trouble spots. His assessment: "I see Windows 8 as a massive gamble for Microsoft, and right now I can see the potential for it to fail harder than Windows Vista did."