Enter Windows 8

So today marks the launch of Windows 8, surrounded by a flood of controversy about the two-pronged interface (classic desktop vs. “Metro”) and the two-pronged SKU model (WIndows RT which runs Metro only, and regular Windows which also runs the desktop).  Sure, a lot of people are going to feel duped into buying an RT device without realizing its lack of a desktop, and a lot more people are going to feel frustrated with Metro (at least at first).  But it’s RT which I think presents the biggest stake in the ground here.

The fact that it exists at all speaks volumes about Microsoft’s plans for the future of Windows.  It’s an acid test to see whether or not the desktop is truly dead.  And I’m talking about the metaphorical desktop – the one on your computer screen.  With the desktop gone, so to is all of the Windows software baggage.  All of the software inconsistencies from inconsistent distribution to inconsistent installer experiences to inconsistent UI is wiped out because none of that legacy stuff can run without the Windows desktop.

Instead, the only way users can get application is through the pretty, Microsoft-controlled Application Store.  All software has to pass the Microsoft gatekeepers in the same way iOS software has to pass the Apple gatekeepers before being listed in the iTunes App Store.  The new distribution and installation model is handled by the Microsoft Application Store, and the UI is Metro.

And here’s there bet: if developers can get by with this model, and users can get by with it, then we can kill off the desktop with all its baggage within the next couple versions of Windows.  And if we can do that, maybe Windows will have a shot at being hip again.

In case you’ve forgotten or you’re not old enough to remember, Microsoft has done this before.  Remember DOS?  Prior to Windows 95 (and ignoring Windows NT), “Windows” itself was what Metro is today.  It was the outlier, trying to be something hip, that most users weren’t used to.  By the time Windows 95 hit, DOS programs were effectively dead, and Microsoft had successfully completed a transition to a new paradigm.

So if Windows 3.x is comparable to what Metro is today (something new and hip), then DOS is comparable to the Desktop (old and drab).  It’s on its way out.  Windows RT is a bit of a bold move though.  It might serve them well as their acid test of a desktop-less Windows.  Or if sales are bad, it might assert that users can’t in fact live without the tried-and-true desktop.

To be certain, today’s launch of Windows 8 is Microsoft’s bold statement that the next decade of end user computing is upon us. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how it plays out. We hope you’ll join Appcast for the ride!

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