“Blue” iOSsifies Windows

Back in August, Mary Jo Foley had reported on Windows “Blue”, a code name that was assumed to stand for an interim update to Windows 8. No other details were known, so I thought “Blue” would be some kind of service pack and forgot about the news.

Now Tom Warren claims that unnamed sources have revealed the plan: Windows Blue is Microsoft’s future low-cost OS with yearly updates. Microsoft officially declines to comment, but assuming those sources are trustworthy the following picture emerges:

  • Blue succeeds Windows 8 as Microsoft’s consumer OS with an annual update cycle, but will continue to use the same name for now.
  • Blue will be cheap or even free, implying that the very cheap Windows 8 upgrade pricing will be the new standard.
  • Blue will be backward-compatible with existing Windows 8 apps, but any new submissions must use the new Blue SDK.

Cheap or free OS upgrades with planned annual obsolescence? Microsoft evidently intends to copy Apple’s entire playbook. The benefits to users are obvious: less money spent on the operating system, and a guarantee that new apps work well with new devices. The benefits to Microsoft are less clear since Windows sales have traditionally contributed a large portion of the company’s revenues. Microsoft must hope that its cut from app sales, and possibly its profit from Surface devices, makes up for that lost revenue.

The old Windows desktop with its open distribution model has no place in this picture, and Warren’s article does not mention it at all. I still expect that Microsoft will eventually remove the desktop from consumer Windows, though perhaps not as early as next year. Then the desktop may live on in dedicated professional Windows editions, for businesses and developers, that will most certainly not be free.

More on Windows 8 and Surface

Microsoft’s iOSsification requires that consumers accept Windows 8, however, and that system continues to elicit confusion. Jakob Nielsen caused quite a stir with Windows 8 — Disappointing Usability for Both Novice and Power Users. I share his disappointment that Metro offers only a simple split-screen view. If it’s supposed to be our personal computing future, I want as much of the desktop’s power and flexibility as possible with touch input, not just a glorified phone UI. Tim Anderson also mentioned Metro’s lack of discoverability, a notorious problem with minimalistic UIs. Lukas Mathis thinks Windows 8 is going in the right direction, but in a bit of a stumbling half-step.

So how is it selling? Microsoft claims 40 million copies in the first month, but of course those include sales to OEMs and channel stuffing. We’ll have to wait for Microsoft to publish activation numbers, or for reliable Internet usage statistics.

I enjoy kicking three-legged puppies, so let’s also troll the Surface RT some more! Self-confessed iPad lover MG Siegler thinks it’s time for a robust drop test — right into the garbage can. And Jason O’Grady, another Apple fan, returns his Surface RT for a refund. Both cite the same familiar reasons: lack of polish, sluggish software, poor ecosystem. So it’s no surprise that upstream suppliers see Surface RT orders cut by half, “with other Windows RT-based tablet orders also seeing weak performance.”

Meanwhile, next year’s Surface Pro has finally received a price tag: $1128 for the 128 GB version plus Type Cover – not cheap, but still acceptable for what you get. The technical specifications (PDF) are all-around superior to the Surface RT: twice the RAM and static storage, full HD resolution, decent Core i5 CPU, and a precise pen for handwriting and (presumably) desktop mouse input. The price does not include Office but Home & Student is cheap (and OpenOffice is free).

Speaking of which, the Pro is so attractive because it runs Windows desktop software… and that’s precisely what Microsoft doesn’t want you to do, in the grim dark future where there is only Metro. What will Microsoft do if its new business model requires ditching the desktop, but users refuse to buy systems without it?

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