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How Windows Red can fix Windows 8: The right strategy for Microsoft

Galen Gruman | June 4, 2013
A proposal to rescue Windows 8 and fulfill Microsoft's promise to deliver a modern computing experience on both PCs and tablets.

When Microsoft first outlined its strategy 32 months ago to bridge the old style of PC computing with the new world of tablet computing, we were optimistic. Although Apple had revolutionized computing with the iPad, creating the fastest-adopted technology ever, its approach walled off the tablet from the PC, with two different operating systems, user interfaces, and applications. Instead, Microsoft promised a unified, adaptive approach that would satisfy everyone.

But that's not what Microsoft did. In fact, it did the opposite: It created a horribly awkward mashup of two fundamentally incompatible approaches that worked poorly on both PCs and tablets. Microsoft made a peanut butter and pickle sandwich, and the world has recoiled at the thought ever since, with Windows 8 falling behind even Microsoft's other big failure, Windows Vista in adoption. As InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard famously wrote in his review of Windows 8, "Yes, it's that bad."

It doesn't have to be that way. Despite its unworkable marriage of desktop and tablet, of traditional input and touch input, Windows 8 has many compelling notions that deserve widespread adoption.

The answer is not Windows "Blue," aka Windows 8.1, which (based on what we've learned so far) offers only superficial changes. No, the answer is Windows Red, InfoWorld's proposed redesign of Windows 8 that takes the best of Windows and Windows Phone, eliminates the unworkable aspects of the Desktop and Metro (aka Modern) mashup, and provides a road map for Microsoft to achieve its original Windows 8 aims.

Here's how Windows Red fixes the flaws in Windows 8 and accentuates its strengths.

The marriage of Windows 7 and Metro is annulled
Theoretically, creating a dual OS for use on legacy PCs, modern PCs, and tablets was a good idea. But Microsoft's approach was fatally flawed, ignoring its own UI guidelines. It didn't so much integrate the traditional PC with the modern tablet as slap both approaches onto both devices.

On a tablet, the Windows Desktop simply doesn't work. All the controls are too small for gesture use — as Microsoft's own UI guidelines make clear. Everything is too small to touch and often too hard to read.

We had assumed that the Windows 8 Desktop would provide contextual adjustment when apps were running on a tablet — essentially enlarging buttons, menu controls, and the like, as well as using the option of a simplified menu to reduce screen clutter, a more intelligent take of Microsoft's "most recently used" menus that frustrated Office 2000 users. We didn't expect that most traditional Windows applications would require users to manually invoke the onscreen keyboard when in text fields.

On a PC, the Metro environment is too big and too simplistic. We had assumed Metro would scale its density to take advantage of the larger screen and finer selection capabilities of mice. But that didn't happen either.

 

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