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:


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.


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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.


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Rik Ferguson

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

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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.


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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.


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.


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

    Comment number 378.

    Instead of a tablet or a new operating system could I simply be able to get a cheap wireless keyboard with a trackball mouse that fits on either side of the keyboard. But why want something that is cheap and useful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    @372 What about when different users have different startup options and logon program launches?

    If one other persons posts about how they don't want to stop using a mouse and keyboard....Ahhhhh
    A PC and tablet are two different things!!
    I've got W8 right in front of me and guess what, I'm using a mouse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    I use a mix of Win7 and Ubuntu 12.04 at home, Vista at work. I still have a XP machine as a backup but its not used regulary.While I use Linux I don't hold it as a badge of honour,its a cheap easy tool but not for regular non-technical users no matter what the Ubuntu fanboys say. Win 7 is brilliant, after being forced to use Vista I hated MS but Win 7 won me over.I don't use Apple as I'm not rich.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    More common sense.
    A system that uses memory to remember the last start up on short down and start up is completed in a few seconds. Users would use less electricity since turning off the computer when not in use would not cause a significant wait to start up again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    @361 - Your comment was probably the funniest thing I've read today, especially coming nine minutes after I gave my reaction to the "fifth look" I've given windows 8. I guess I can't believe my memory of how bad it is until I sit down again and get reminded that yes, it really is that unusable.

    Perhaps you should try standup, you seem to have a knack for comedy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    Been using Windows 8 for over three months (2 Months Pre-Release and 1 Month full release) and i'm very impressed. It takes a few days getting used to the different shortcuts, but the removal of the start button is fantastic.

    It's got style and fluidity to the movement. Press the windows key, type what you want and there you go.... The indexing capability of Windows 8 is very good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    Could we actually have a system with common sense.
    Startup set up to do all the set up and not ask the password until the entire startup process is done. Enter the password and the computer is totally ready for use.
    A screen button to turn on and off the internet connection so you are not wasting cycles when the work you are doing does not involve the internet. Also less power wasted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    windows 8 is ONLY licenced to work on 1 computer at a time, so if you have a pc AND laptop you have to buy 2 windows 8.

    if your an office with more computers you pay for each computer.
    a nice little earner for Mr Gates

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    At £24.99 for the download version Windows 8 will sell like hot cakes. All this rubbish about it's not a proper operating system blah blah. For somebody like me with an old laptop running Vista it's worth a punt at that price.I have used to RC version and thought it was fine. As to the Start button not being there, well so what.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    Let me guess, most of you still use a dial phone cause the buttons were 'too out there'? Its called change people, no one said you have to use the touch screen for everything. Theres still a mouse&keyboard on the desktop version. So to those 'designers', you can still use your Wacom tablet with the bonus of a faster OS. Give the OS a solid weeks use before jumping on the bash Microsoft bandwagon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    An important distinction between the Surface tablet, especially the Surface pro which runs full Windows 8, and currently available tablets is the availability of MS Office. With this added functionality, it is very possible that the Surface Pro will be seen in business settings and will replace iPads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    I am certain this version of windows will be a marmite version some will love it many will loath it. to remove the ability to have an effective desktop qwill enable some sysops to more tightly lock down work computers but wait till they have to maintain them

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    A) mobile and touchscreen device to rival competitors
    B)Intergration with PC/ Xbox360/WP8 for media Music / Photos etc
    C)MS Office on tablet devices
    D)Full Group Policy managment and authentication from within the Enterprise environment

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    I agree 100% with 362.zenofone.

    For serious use give me a PC/Laptop with a keyboard and mouse any day. Infact I'd rather use them for casual surfing too.

    What are tablets for?

    My brother in law showed off his iPad when he came to stay.

    We played with for half an hour (and I went "Wow") then it never got touched again. The kids occassional got their sticky hands on it now and then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    I think it is going to be a success, Microsoft has for years written code used on hardware they haven't had 100% control of, including Windows 7 which is a gem. But now they are providing the hardware as part of the package; they have the money and expertise to pull it off. Just need folks to get used to the changes, but everyone has an iPad now and that was different when it came out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    When somebody comes out with a touchscreen that can be replaced for the price of a mouse or keyboard, I'll consider Windows 8. Mice and keyboards take daily physical abuse and are the most frequently replaced parts. Any business that considers total cost of ownership will quickly conclude that touchscreens are a money pit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    I agree with many comments lodged already, Windows 8 seems to be aimed at the tablet users, surfers and media consumers. The many people using their desktops and base stations for professional use will stick with Windows 7 as 8 is no improvement and no use to them. Touch screens are not a match for precise use of pointers and keyboards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    @ 355.UnCivil_in_NY

    I think you need to take another look/have a proper play with W8.

    The new desktop layout is big and clear, it links in with other MS products (in my case it's on a laptop which happily talks to Xbox, XP destop and Vista laptop). I also found it easy to navigate, once I got over the fact the much-loved start button has gone after nearly 20 years!

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    Just to give it a fair shake, I booted up the Win8 test box and gave it another try. I was roon reminded of why I didn't like it the first time around. The number of times I muttered sentences starting with why? how? and "what the..?" told the whole story. It's interface is downright counterintuitive. Even Unity wasn't this bad, and Unity made me drop Ubuntu.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    Over half an hour ago I posted questioning why the fanboys haven't posted a single reason for why they prefer this new operating system. Still no replies. So, basically I can assume they like it because it is new and, in their eyes, new must be better.
    If Microsoft built a new bicycle it would have no pedals!


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