Windows 8 tablets. Are they going to fail?

Much has been mentioned about Windows 8 and how it is going to be Microsoft’s saving grace. The main appeal to Windows 8 is how it is touchscreen friendly and how it has a great Metro style ui. Lots of people have been downloading the developers preview versions so they can try it out.

The talk of how great it will be on tablets is often heard. Microsoft not content with the happy noises people are making are looking like they are going to screw it up.

Three facts are behind my concerns. Firstly Windows 8 will have support for ARM processors, which are low power and ideal for use in phones and tablets.

Secondly Windows 8 also supports something called “Secure boot” which locks down the bootloader on the device to only allow signed operating systems to run. This is a security feature to stop viruses from altering the boot settings. So it is flaunted as a good thing.

Thirdly Intel and Microsoft are refusing to discount their products.

Have you ever dual booted your laptop or pc? You download Ubuntu or something along those lines and run it alongside Windows. I do this on most of my laptops, I don’t know why, just because I can. Well when people initially heard about Windows 8 tablets they got all excited imagining dual booting these tablets with Android, Ubuntu or some other distribution. Someone from Redhat spotted that all Windows 8 machines would have secure boot turned on and that it couldn’t be turned off and to top it off Secure boot would only signed software to boot as well. Which means the pc manufacturer would have to digitally sign the version of Windows to get it to run. Great news for the Linux community! Microsoft backtracked a little and said that the feature could be turned off on x86 machines but not ARM based machines. So they have basically put a stop on a huge potential modding community getting various Linux distributions running on the upcoming Windows 8 tablets. Unless someone makes a Windows tablet using one of the new Intel x86 mobile processors it will be a disaster.

Intel and Microsoft both want to make money with Windows 8. But neither of them seem to have analysed the market they are about to enter. Maybe check the prices of the current top end best selling tablet and make your devices come in under that price. The new Windows 8 tablets are rumoured to cost way more than an iPad.

Which makes me wonder which tablet people will actually choose. It’s not like your home pc where you just buy one and oh look it’s got Windows. Tablets are a little better researched than that. I feel another round of origami devices coming on.

Lastly I feel I should point out that what Windows have done with the bootloader is no different to what Apple have done with their devices. Yet we don’t complain about that. For some reason I just thought Windows 8 would just be great, yet the more I read about it the more I worry.

Source – Wikipedia

Mike Daisey goes to the Apple factory
Do we need this sort of thing in the UK market?
  • Anonymous

    The linux stuff is substantially irrelevant to the success of windows 8 tablets.

    What is is relevant is price, performance and capability.
    Price? No idea… I think we may have some clue about the costs of an intel solution – not cheap – but right now we have no idea about ARM – which I would suggest will be comparable to or better than that of an iPad2 (or, for that matter, a decent ICS device). If that ain’t true then its game over.
    If we ignore desktop apps for the moment, WinRT i.e. Metro apps should perform very nicely on an ARM device as well as on intel. Desktop apps are another question – we’re not talking high end processors (ARM or Intel) but I think that perf should be adequate.

    Which brings us to capability – whether the Windows Desktop is included on ARM (at all) or in all SKUs for intel. Obviously on ARM it will require that desktop apps are pure .NET or are recompiled and that’s an argument for not including it at all on ARM (which would almost certainly be a mistake).

    So right now realistically performance shouldn’t be an issue. We’ve no idea about the price of ARM hardware (intel is currently expected to be high, but should guarantee desktop) and we’re uncertain as to capability.

    In other words its barely worth speculating… at least until the beta due next month appears.

  • The_Prof

    Good article – think it covers my main ‘fears’ about this platform.  I’ve seen a couple of sites band figures about such as $800.00 for an average Windows tablet!  Lets suppose the operating system itself is great (which I also, for a few reasons doubt), and is performant (runs fast on the devices), and supports a great variety of software (which also sounds like it might not happen).. Who in their right mind is going to spend almost twice what a basic iPad costs for something inferior by design?  Sure, there are plenty of people around with more money than sense, even this day and age, but there are only so many!

    With the Kindle Fire coming along, I’m sure your average consumer will not be able to justify the cost of these things.  Microsoft, again proving that it’s completely out of touch. 

  • Price will be an issue initially as people try to figure out what a windows 8 tablet is.  If they’re looking for a cheap consumption device, like the Kindle Fire, or even a high end consumption platform like the iPad then there is no compelling reason to go for a windows tablet.  Of course windows will allow users to consume internet services like any PC or mobile device but at
    its heart it is a productivity platform and this is where its strengths really lie.  The challenge for Microsoft is creating a platform that is as comfortable consuming internet media as it is at
    creating that same media.

    Given the problem Microsoft has had getting the message across for windows phone I’m concerned about their ability to get past this identity issue.


    Further I think that this identity crisis is exacerbated by the software itself.  Having used win8
    quite a bit I’ll say it looks brilliant on a slate but it is miserable on a laptop.  It seems to have trouble deciding whether it’s a mobile/consumption OS or a desktop/productivity OS and
    I think that will be its biggest weakness. 

    The sleek metro UI and the ability to run my windows productivity software?  Wow sounds
    great.  Then you realize that all of your old software still runs in the same old mouse driven UI, which we all know doesn’t work all that well when your primary input device is a finger.

    Conversely the touch oriented Metro UI is painful when your input device is a mouse.  Things that are easy to get to with a swipe of the finger are an exercise in frustration with a mouse.

     Hey look at my shiny new windows tablet, it has great specs, fantastic battery life and it’s the envy of all of my friends.  Now let me just load my trusty old windows tools on here and…what do you mean it isn’t compatible?  Arm Processor? What does that mean? Its windows it should be able to run Windows 95 software on this thing!
    Anyway as long as windows tries to be all things to all people it’s in danger of failing.  I
    think MS would be better off drawing a clear distinction between their mobile UI and their desktop UI, allowing users to configure which one is used and under which circumstances it switches between the two and lastly by using its standard variant modeling to separate cheap mobile only versions from fully capable professional versions.

  • Matt Peddlesden

    I must admit I find it amusing that you feel that Windows 8 will be bound to fail because people won’t be able to use Linux instead…

    When it comes to costs – it’s all up for grabs, who knows what devices will be out and where they will fit, what they will be able to do and so forth.  Maybe your $800 Windows 8 tablet will actually be the equivalent of a very high spec desktop/laptop that if you plug a keyboard and a monitor in to basically *will* be a desktop.  We don’t know how you can compare a “Windows 8 Tablet” with what we currently see as a tablet, particularly until we start seeing what the hardware vendors are going to start putting out.

    You’re trying to look in to a space that has far too many unknowns, far too many variables, and drawing conclusions that are simply not reasonable to draw IMHO.

    Not able to run Linux on an ARM tablet – ok, but the rules, as I understand it, mean that OEM’s cannot deploy Windows 8 on an ARM tablet without the secure boot loader… nothing to stop the OEM’s from producing a second version of the exact same machine that comes with Linux or Android installed and then you the consumer can vote with your wallet.

    Frankly, I don’t think the average person gives two hoots whether they can put Linux on their chosen devices.  Most Android users probably have absolutely no idea there’s linux under the hood and probably don’t care either.  The only people that really care about it one way or the other are the techie minority; and we won’t be the ones affecting the major sales figures.

    Besides, there’s nothing to say that it won’t be possible to run a Virtualisation app like VMWare or Virtual PC on your tablet and then run whatever OS you wish.  Virtualisation has got to a point these days that it is fabulously fast and efficient and even supports 2D and 3D hardware acceleration and access to USB and other low level hardware.

    Getting back to whether Windows 8 will succeed or not? For me the Jury is out on that one, I kinda want to like Metro but then having use the preview I only ever went straight back to the classic desktop and lamented the loss of the “Start” menu.  Basically, I wanted Windows 7 back having not found anything in particular in Windows 8 that said “wow!”.  On a pure touch screen device i’m sure metro is fabulous, but on my laptop with a good old mouse and keyboard… not so good IMHO.

    I heard in a podcast a little while back with Mary Jo Foley that Microsoft are *possibly* looking at unifying code base between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8.  That has some cool possibilities for apps running cross platform and will only fuel the convergence of devices formats that we’re in the middle of at the moment.  One thing that was quite alarming out of that however was they were *speculating* that it looked likely this meant a total reboot for the Windows Phone platform and that Windows Phone 7 apps would likely not run on Windows Phone 8… what kind of a negative impact that could have with Windows Phone developers is difficult to predict.  Must admit I still find it difficult to believe Microsoft would do that.

    One thing is for sure, the next year as all these new devices come out will be very interesting.  Microsoft need to be producing a game changer in their offerings in order to be able to catch up with iOS and Android.