Earlier this week, Microsoft took the initial wraps off of the next version of Windows (aka "Windows 8"). As someone who loves personal computing and loves the Web, there’s a lot I find exciting about what we just announced. The official announcement Previewing ‘Windows 8 states the following
The demo showed some of the ways we’ve reimagined the interface for a new generation of touch-centric hardware. Fast, fluid and dynamic, the experience has been transformed while keeping the power, flexibility and connectivity of Windows intact.
Here are a few aspects of the new interface we showed today:
• Fast launching of apps from a tile-based Start screen, which replaces the Windows Start menu with a customizable, scalable full-screen view of apps.
• Live tiles with notifications, showing always up-to-date information from your apps.
• Fluid, natural switching between running apps.
• Convenient ability to snap and resize an app to the side of the screen, so you can really multitask using the capabilities of Windows.
• Fully touch-optimized browsing, with all the power of hardware-accelerated Internet Explorer 10.
The video below introduces a few of the basic elements of the new user interface. Although we have much more to reveal at our developer event, BUILD (Sept. 13 - 16 in Anaheim, Calif.), we’re excited to share our progress with you.
If you’re a web developer this represents an amazing opportunity and one that should fill you with excitement. Of course, you shouldn’t take the words of a Microsoft employee but should also listen to what even people with cynical opinions of Microsoft are saying such as Mike Mace in his article Windows 8: The Beginning of the End of Windows where he writes
So it's far too early to make any judgments on Windows 8, which Microsoft just previewed (link). There are an incredible number of ways it could go wrong.
But. I've got to say, this is the first time in years that I've been deeply intrigued by something Microsoft announced. Not just because it looks cool (it does), but because I think it shows clever business strategy on Microsoft's part. And I can't even remember the last time I used the phrase "clever business strategy" and Microsoft in the same sentence.
What it means to the rest of us
The history of platform transitions is that they are huge opportunities for developers. They reset the playing field for apps and devices. Look at the history: The leaders in DOS applications (Lotus, Word Perfect, etc) were second rate in GUI software. The leaders in GUI apps (Adobe, Microsoft, etc) were not dominant in the web. It's actually very rare for a software company that was successful in the old paradigm to transfer that success to the new one. Similar turnover has happened in hardware transitions (for example, Compaq rode the Intel 386 chip to prominence over IBM in PCs). And yes, there is a hardware transition as part of Windows 8, since it will now support ARM chips, and you'll want a touchscreen to really take advantage of it.
So if you're running an existing PC hardware or software company, ask yourself how a new competitor could use the platform transition to challenge your current products. Here's a sobering thought to keep you awake tonight: the odds are that the challengers will win. The company most at risk from this change is the largest vendor of Windows apps, Microsoft itself. Microsoft Office must be completely rethought for the new paradigm. You have about 18 months, guys. Good luck.
By the way, web companies are also at risk. Your web apps are designed for a browser-centric, mouse-driven user experience. What happens to your app when the browser melts into the OS, and the UI is driven by touch? If you think this change doesn't affect you, I have an old copy of WordStar that you can play with. Google and Facebook, I am talking to you.
You should read the rest of Mike’s post because it has an interesting perspective. I strongly believe in the core premise of the article that Windows 8 is disruptive. Not only is it disruptive to the software industry as a whole but it will be disruptive even for the way Microsoft does business today. When Steve Ballmer said Windows 8 will be Microsoft's riskiest product bet he wasn’t kidding.
Out of disruption comes opportunity and if you’re a web developer you have a front row seat in taking advantage of this opportunity. Don’t waste it. You should register for the BUILD conference. I’ll be there and with any luck I may even get to give a talk or two. See you there.
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