No it’s not an advance fractions question from next year’s final school maths exam, it’s an important question about the future of Windows.
2009 has been a very big year for… Windows XP, it was the year we all rediscovered it and tens of thousands of people got shiny new installations of XP loveliness on their teeny tiny new netbooks. It’s lovely, it runs all your programs, connects to the internet via Wi-Fi, it does everything you need really.
2010 will be an equally big year for Windows 7. It’s already off the starting blocks with a loud bang but when it begins to get market saturation in netbooks next year it’ll really fire the public’s imagination.
Why is this? It’s simply because vast numbers of people will suddenly realise that it’s not the performance dog they’ve been led to believe. People have stuck with Windows XP for years now because of the bad reputation Vista had. In 2010 netbooks are set to shatter the perception that Windows 7 is just ‘another version of Vista’ and it’ll break into the mainstream in a big way. 2010 is going to be Windows 7’s year, people will be talking about it, even asking if it will come with their shiny new PC and getting all excited when it does. 2010 will be the year that Windows XP dies.
But if Windows XP, with it’s plethora of major faults in security and usability, has been good enough for people since 2001, what will this mean for Windows 8 in 2012? With Windows 7 being far more advanced than XP, especially with a far easier to use interface, more intuitive explorer, beefed up security and better update monitoring, the next version of Windows will have to bring something extremely special to the table in order to win hearts and minds.
And this is the problem. There’s been an absence in recent years of true innovation on the desktop. The things the likes of Apple and Microsoft would like us to think of as innovation, multi-touch, libraries and better backup solutions, aren’t that at all. True innovation touches our lives in a very special way and fundamentally changes the way we do things. These come along once in a blue moon on the desktop and include such gems as the Windows 95 interface, the advent of the mouse and the GUI and the Office 2007 ribbon.
But with only two and a half years to go now until Windows 8 ships, and only eighteen months before it will be feature locked, is there enough time for Microsoft to innovate?
Microsoft has one of the biggest R&D labs in the world. Those clever people at Microsoft research have brought us many things that have excited us, in a conceptual way, and even a few that have made it through to the mainstream such as Surface and the forthcoming Natal for the XBox 360. Are they sitting on the next big thing for the desktop OS however, and the bigger question will be are Microsoft brave enough to implement it?
We can be certain that the next big thing isn’t going to happen unless either A) we get a full switch to 64 bit architecture, which Microsoft have already said they’re not going to do in 2012, or B) Virtualisation is built into Windows at the OS level allowing the stripping out of all the buggy legacy code and, sadly, not enough motherboards yet support hardware virtualisation to allow this to happen by 2012 either. So we’re stuck, Windows 8 will not be revolutionary, simply because of Windows XP.
There are too many computers out there, especially in the business space that are still running XP. They’re using older hardware that doesn’t support the features necessary for Microsoft to be able to make the OS jump into the future in the way Apple was able to do when they released OS X. Microsoft are severely limited by this and so the hamstrung Windows 8 will have to find new ways of standing out, or risk being missed out by businesses and the public altogether.