Windows 8 and the Surface tablets: The experts weigh in

 
Windows 8 computer Windows 8 has prompted the launch of new hybrid computers which can function as a standalone tablet or be connected to a keyboard to act as a touch-enabled laptop

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Windows 8 marks what is arguably the most radical tech launch of the year.

Microsoft aims to leapfrog the competition by offering a touch-based, dynamic, futuristic-looking interface which can run on processors designed for both high-spec computers, and chips more commonly associated with smartphones.

Its market-leading status is at stake.

More than 1.5 billion devices currently use a version of Windows, making it by far the most installed operating system, according to tech research firm Gartner.

But investors are more concerned about the firm's growth prospects amidst growing competition for customers' cash.

"We think the industry changed with the iPad launch because the tablet is effectively a PC - it doesn't need to be connected to a network to work and runs third-party applications," Steve Brazier, chief executive of research firm Canalys, says.

Windows 8 screenshot Windows 8 introduces a new user interface designed to be operated via a touchscreen

"Once you segment the market that way, Windows share of the global PC market has fallen to 72%. Three years ago that would have been over 95%.

"If you add the PC market together to the smartphone market - which we call the intelligent device sector - Windows share falls to 32%."

Windows 8 and its close relation Windows Phone 8 are designed to reverse that trend. One thing is certain: Microsoft's efforts will have industry-wide ramifications.

A study by Gartner indicates worldwide PC shipments were 8.3% lower than the previous year in the July-to-September quarter. That spells trouble for companies including HP, Dell and Acer which have seen sales decline as a consequence.

A successful launch might recharge demand, but first they must face the prospect of a challenge from Microsoft's own tablet, Surface.

The BBC asked a selection of industry experts for their views of Microsoft's new products:

SINK OR SWIM

Start Quote

Raimo Lenschow

Success could spark a comeback story for the company”

End Quote

Raimo Lenschow is Barclays bank's software analyst. He says Microsoft's share price and wider fortunes hang in the balance.

In our view, Microsoft needs a successful tablet to prevent an erosion of market share and loss of earnings from its core Windows and Office businesses.

The key question on our and most investors' minds right now is how much traction the Windows 8 system and Surface tablet can gain.

A success could spark a comeback story for the company, while failure would reinforce concerns about the firm's core products.

Microsoft's management has remained fairly reticent about providing forecasts for sales and the expected adoption rate of the products, which is likely due to the fact there could be a wide range of possible outcomes.

What's more, for the Windows 8 launch the situation is somewhat different from previous launches, as the strong momentum in the new tablet category from the iPad and Android-powered devices is negatively impacting the PC business, and hence raises questions as to whether previous cycles are still a good indication for the current launch.

Raimo Lenschow

  • Covers the US software industry for Barclays Capital
  • Repeatedly ranked one of the top equity analysts in his field by the Institutional Investor news site

Given the lack of certainty, we prefer to wait on the sidelines before making any detailed predictions about the product's success.

Although the new tablet will likely have meaningful sales right from the start, the addition of a significant hardware product to Microsoft's business model is likely to put pressure on its profit margin.

FULL-FAT OR SLIMLINE?

Start Quote

Sarah Rotman Epps

While RT devices have longer battery life, many consumers may find the trade-offs in terms of task flexibility too restrictive”

End Quote

Sarah Rotman Epps is a senior analyst at the market research firm Forrester. She warns that Microsoft risks confusing consumers by offering two flavours of its new operating system.

Most consumers don't pay attention to the chipset in their device, but Microsoft's latest update to its Windows operating system forces buyers to confront the trade-offs of chipset choices.

It gets confusing quickly: There are two versions of Windows to choose from, Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Windows 8 has two choices of chipsets: x86 (such as Intel Core i5, what your PC is probably running today) and new x86 system-on-a-chip (SoC) designs from Intel and AMD, which function more like the chip in your mobile phone.

Windows RT works only with ARM-based chip designs by Nvidia or Qualcomm. Here are the trade-offs that will matter to most consumers:

• Battery life and boot time versus "performance": Windows devices with SoC and ARM chips have the longest battery life and the shortest boot time, but they won't perform as well for intensive computing activities. The Microsoft Surface running Windows RT that I've been testing stutters while playing 1080p video, for example, but Windows 8 tablets running Core i3 or i5 don't have this problem.

Sarah Rotman Epps

  • Senior analyst at Forrester Research
  • Specialises in disruptive consumer technology products

• Task flexibility: Windows RT does not allow users to do activities like install an alternative browser, install plug-ins (which are required to make many websites work), or access Flash websites unless they are pre-approved by Microsoft. Windows 8 devices let you do anything you would normally do on a PC.

While RT devices have longer battery life, many consumers may find the trade-offs in terms of task flexibility too restrictive.

HITTING HACKERS

Start Quote

Rik Ferguson

It's great to see Microsoft continuing to take security seriously”

End Quote

Rik Ferguson is director of security research at the anti-virus firm Trend Micro. He thinks Microsoft has made several advances in its new operating system.

Microsoft has taken advantage of computer hardware to increase and speed up security in Windows 8. Dedicated computer components can now be used to ensure that malicious code is not loaded as Windows boots up and self-encrypting hard drives take the load off when making your data illegible to snoopers and thieves.

The new capabilities are designed to effectively limit the possibility that malicious software is loaded before the operating system. This kind of malware, known as a rootkit, can often bypass or even disable key security functionality and hide its own presence entirely.

Windows 8 also provides a means for security software to ensure that it is the first thing that gets loaded when the PC is powered on, in a further effort to stop malware from overriding your protection.

When it comes to authenticating users, Microsoft has added some functionality obviously designed for those touchscreen devices it is anticipating.

Rik Ferguson

  • Director of security research at Trend Micro
  • Awarded "ethical hacker" certification from IT association the EC-Council

Picture or pin logins can be used once a user's password has been set, as a shortcut to logging in. While this feature may be convenient, research during beta testing has demonstrated some serious weaknesses that could allow an attacker to uncover the actual password of accounts using this feature, so discretion is advised!

There are several other features that I don't have the space to detail here, but it's great to see Microsoft continuing to take security seriously and allow specialist security providers to integrate more deeply with its system.

OPEN VERSUS CLOSED

Start Quote

Jason Kingsley

If Microsoft own the shop window there is an argument to be made for it deciding what to put in it”

End Quote

Jason Kingsley is chairman of Tiga - the trade association representing the UK's video games industry. He reflects on the controversy caused by Microsoft's decision to launch its own curated app store from which it will take a cut of the sale price.

The power of touchscreen computers of all sorts is very impressive and means our creativity as games developers can be unleashed.

Is it right therefore that some hardware manufacturers offer shop windows that place limitations on the sort of game that they take?

Should Microsoft, for example, only offer products in its Windows that it considers are suitable?

In a situation without a monopoly I would say that this is for the market to decide. You can put your carefully crafted game through Microsoft's certification system and have it featured in its shop window, or choose not to take that route and release the game on the same platform in the wild.

If Microsoft owns the shop window there is an argument to be made for it deciding what to put in it after all. There are many players who want a curated service, where certain technical and editorial standards are enforced, other users will be just as happy with making their own minds up and taking a risk elsewhere.

Jason Kingsley

  • Chairman of UK games industry association Tiga
  • Co-founded video games studio Rebellion

But while the full Windows 8 system allows choice, the Windows RT version only lets new apps be installed from the store, meaning some games will fall foul of a ban on 18-rated titles. That decision worries some who see Microsoft turning away from its "open platform" roots.

What we do know as an industry is that things change very rapidly and that the market is a brutal and unforgiving place. Which approach is the right one for both creators and distributors will be defined simply by the market and people power.

EVOLVING THE INTERFACE

Start Quote

Dan Kraemer

We might think of Windows 8 as today's neo-modernist interface”

End Quote

Dan Kraemer is co-founder of the Chicago-based design consultancy IA Collaborative. He says the look of the new Windows system marks a significant step forward in computer interfaces.

User interface (UI) is one of the most impactful manifestations of human centred design in our modern society. And while it's one of the most progressive spaces for design, I believe it will follow a historic aesthetic sequence.

We can think of Windows 8's approach not as a right versus wrong, but as evidence of the progression of a category.

Take a look at architectural styles over the ages. One hundred years ago, decorative styles like Victorian and Art Deco prevailed as architecture emerged as "art," much like early web design.

In the mid-century Modernists demonstrated "less is more" with nearly no ornamental elements and stark simplicity - think the Google search page prior to all those whimsical banners.

At the same time, understanding of architecture elements and new materials emerged. Now we have neo-modernism which embraces a less rigid, more emotive expression of modernist. We might think of Windows 8 as today's neo-modernist interface.

Microsoft's rejection of skeuomorphism - the idea that applications need to look like their real-world equivalents - distinguishes it from Apple's OS X whose calendar app features a leather-skinned interface with ripped paper to hint at earlier entries. Apple's design has been attacked by some as being "kitsch", but praised by others for humanising the interface.

Dan Kraemer

  • Creative director of IA Collaborative
  • Clients include Nike, HP and Caterpillar

Windows 8 clearly moves away from this, at least in part - it still uses icons, shapes and colours to identify states which relate to our "real" world.

As a designer, I am energised by the fact users are becoming sophisticated enough to handle both kinds of design. Each interface is a unique opportunity to engage and inspire users while progressing the discipline forward.

INTERESTING AGAIN

Start Quote

Kirk Schell

All consumer-targeted computers will feature touchscreens in less than a decade”

End Quote

Kirk Schell is the vice president of Dell's consumer products division. To take advantage of Windows 8's touch interface his firm is releasing a laptop whose screen can swivel in its bezel to lie flat against its keyboard, among other innovative designs.

This is an exciting time as it makes people want to look at the different type of computers out there.

I see more innovation as companies act to take advantage of the Windows 8 environment, when in a purely price-driven market you would have seen less.

Windows 8 is a catalyst to invest more in differentiation. That's a good thing as it will get people out to see what is happening. There is new news.

A big box retailer in North America described it to me this way: When big tube-based TVs were the norm and we introduced flatscreen displays, the biggest driver wasn't that consumers had high definition material they wanted to play. It was that they saw all these slim TVs hanging on the wall, looked at their big box in the corner, and said: 'I am so behind the times I need to upgrade.'

We think that with the launch of computers that they want to touch and which offer other new technologies, that people will look at their old PC and think they at least need to go and look at what's new.

Kirk Schell

  • Vice president of Dell's client and consumer product group
  • Previously headed up the firm's Shanghai Design Centre

This is not just a tablet story.

I believe that all consumer-targeted computers will feature touchscreens in less than a decade. At the moment there are manufacturing capacity and cost issues, but the price difference to include the feature will come down to tens of dollars.

People like more ways to interact with their device and there will be more cool things to come.

 

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 338.

    Tablets may be useful in some instances, but they are not replacing desktops. The severely reduced computing power and awkwardness of typing or moving things by touch means it is mostly a novelty.

    Pun intended, even accessibility is crippled.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 337.

    This release seems like it's trying to tap into the we-all-want-something-quirky-and-cool-but-ultimately-useless market that Apple and Samsung are dominating, but generally leaving professionals as they are. As long as they keep up support for Windows 7 - which I find has been absolutely brilliant since its release - that's fine with me.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 336.

    Spot all the green windows haters blah, blah, blah. Windows 8 runs real applications unlike some other OS's. Andr@id is a toy. On a Tablett it still thinks it's on a phone. IOS is an overpriced Loonix distribution run on overpriced hardware. As for loonix itself, unless you are a geek you'll be forever asking for help. If you can get the darned thing started to begin with.

    Best Windows ever!

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 335.

    I am Confused by some of the Comments here . Windows 8 Will never be an OS Intended for / Home PC's / or the Corperate environment. (You can tell by looking at it ) . What it is quite obvously aimed at is the for Mobile / Tablet market . Think of IOS (Mobile/IPAD) compared to OSX (MACS). I cant see a problem with this ??? Microsoft need an OS to enter the Mobile/Tablet Market

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 334.

    Personally I think its the wrong direction for MS to take. While I use Win7 I find it a product that lacks creativity in its basic functions. I am always saying to myself why can't it do that. I find it a very limiting piece of software which has fallen way behind the innovation of the smartphone club but imo simply copying ideas from smartphones for Win8 is not the answer.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 333.

    Scan UK are asking nearly £80 for the DVD of Windows 8 64 bit Pro......

    i think i will be sticking to my Windows 7 64bit for now :)

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 332.

    As a designer, I need precision. Which means I need a fine point to move around. My finger just isn't going to do it. I use a Wacom tablet/pen: trying to make the same movements with just my fingers, without having to zoom right in and back out every 5 seconds would be a nightmare. This is why I won't ever have a touch-screen computer. They are, literally, "pointless" for me.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 331.

    #328.

    Time to Logon to desktop funcitonal use (Ubuntu): 20sec.
    Time to Logon to desktop funcitonal use (Windows): 3minutes to infinite

    Time to recover from Disaster Recovery (Windows): 5 hours to never
    Time to recover from Disaster Recovery (ubuntu): Pretty good and can also mount Windows Disk drive which Windows itself can't read.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 330.

    I've had a HP laptop with touch screen for 2 years. It works but I prefer to use the keyboard and mouse pad. I think the problem is that visually I like some distance between me and the screen when doing serious work. I also have a tablet for surfing when watching TV. Laptop too heavy/bulky for that function. The touch screen facility makes that device, in that role, perfect. Horses for Courses.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 329.

    It looks like the new Xbox dashboard ie disgusting and difficult to navigate, unless what you want is right there 'on top'. This may be fine for the bandwagon jumpers who just want to use their shiny new tablet to check their Facebook or Twitter accounts, but otherwise it looks fiddly. Definitely a gamble for Microsoft, but does everything these days need to be 'appified'?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 328.

    #309
    Time to configure peer-peer network (Windows): 0 secs
    Time to configure peer-peer network (Ubuntu): 5 mins + 5 hours research
    Range of useful software (Windows) : immense
    Range of useful software (Ubuntu) : medium
    Range of premium software (Windows) : very large
    Range of premium software (Ubuntu) : very limited
    Pay your money, take your choice.

  • Comment number 327.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 326.

    The malware protection intended to stop apps loading first is nothing of the kind, it's merely there to prevent people using cracks to pirate it which load before windows and set the appropriate bios based keys.

    If MS claim to be adding this to prevent rootkits, they're lying through their teeth, virtually no rootkits operate the way mentioned above.

    It's to protect their wallet. nothing more.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 325.

    Dan Kraemer writes and talks like a computer. Maybe he has been involved with too many tablets? What a jerk.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 324.

    Have had the pleasure of being an early adopter. So have Windows 8 on Laptop, Desktop & Mobile device. Windows just gets better and better. After almost 6 months I have no intention of going back.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 323.

    You see the mess your phone screen becomes after a few touches.Imagine having to clean up your PC all the time.It is also unergonomic to use a touchscreen PC unless it is flat on a desktop you are continually stretching your arms...I've got one and never use touchscreen ..it's maybe fun for kids,but a pain in the neck(quite literally)for adults.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 322.

    @320 "My kids love it."

    Of course they will. It feels and looks like Fisher Price designed it!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 321.

    I know that there are workarounds but should the end user have to resort to 3rd party solutions to make their product work? Surely the whole point of BETA testing was to identify and fix these problems before giving it to the public.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 320.

    @JohnSheridan. I disagree. I've been using the final version of Windows 8 for a few weeks now (it's been available for some time as part of a subscription service) on my non-touch laptop and an old PC. I find Windows 8 much easier to navigate between different apps than previous versions. My kids love it.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 319.

    I doubt we will be rolling out a comedy version of Windows like this. We have 2000 users who don't need to be relearning an interface while trying to do their day jobs.

 

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