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Why Windows Blue heralds the death of the desktop

Brad Chacos | March 27, 2013
Brace yourselves, faithful PC enthusiasts. You aren't going to like what I'm about to say. Heck, I don't really like what I'm about to say. In fact, I'm almost terrified to lay out my case in black and white. But that doesn't change the fact that it needs to be said.

First and foremost, PC sales have stalled or outright declined in shipments over the past two years, moving roughly 350 million units in 2012. That's hardly chump change, but smartphones already outsell PCs--nearly 208 million moved in the fourth quarter of 2012 alone--and IDC (whose parent company also owns PCWorld) expects tablet sales to grow to 350 million by 2017.

The Windows 8 modern interface shines on mobile devices--until you're unceremoniously dropped into the legacy desktop for one reason or another. Ditching the desktop would make Windows much more palatable for those exploding market segments, and it would let the company focus its resources on a single, unified interface.

Plus, there would be no easier way to quell complaints about Windows 8's schizophrenic interfaces than to ditch one of them. Do you know how much Microsoft has invested in the modern UI? Indeed. In a one-interface universe, the desktop becomes odd man out.

Finally, if Microsoft dumps the desktop, all or most Windows software will be distributed via the Windows Store (as open platform stalwarts like Minecraft's Markus Persson have ominously noted). Not only would that allow the company to maintain a tighter rein on security--to wit: poisoned apps are incredibly rare in the iOS App Store--but it would also give Microsoft a 30 percent cut of all Windows software. Closed platforms have their business advantages.

Paving the road

Of course, even Redmond can't just quit an institutional bedrock like the Windows desktop cold turkey.

That's where the genius of Windows Blue and its rumored yearly Windows updates come in. Sure, yearly releases allow Microsoft to iterate and introduce new features quickly, but they also allow the company to wean you off the desktop just a bit more, year in and year out, until the death of the desktop becomes relatively painless. Losing the desktop would be like losing that third cousin twice removed whom you saw at family reunions once per decade.

And, in fact, the desktop death spiral has already begun.

Windows Blue and a new round of Windows app updates further Microsoft's great transition away from the desktop. Microsoft is migrating even more essential Windows functions to the modern UI , as well as implementing enhancements--such as a new split-screen Snap feature, which cuts back on multitasking woes; improved touch support for Mail; and the ability to sync documents with the modern SkyDrive app--to nudge desktop devotees over to the Tiled side.

The creeping irrelevance of the Control Panel is just the beginning. Ars Technica found hints a new modern-style FileManager app lying dormant and inaccessible in the Windows Blue leak.


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