Microsoft executives took to the stage at the annual BUILD developer conference on Tuesday to give the world its first real look at the future of the Windows operating system. The reception, as you’ve likely read by now, has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, Apple bloggers were apparently so flustered by the platform that they resorted to bombarding Twitter with jokes about cooling fans and Silverlight instead of stopping for a moment to realize that Microsoft is showing us the future of computing. The PC was the future, and it let people perform functions they never thought possible. Then the tablet was the future, and it let people interact with content in ways they never thought possible. Now, the future means all things to all people. Read on for more.
I’ve mentioned it before on several occasions, but the point is much easier to make now that Microsoft has given the world a better look at its vision of the near-term future of computing. PCs are not going away. They will continue to be the primary means of computing for business and consumers alike. Tablets are not going away, either. They will continue to provide a much more intuitive way to interact with a consumer electronics device. Microsoft’s vision, however, unifies these devices.
One platform to rule them all. The technology exists to enable users to carry a single device that is as portable and usable as a tablet, but also as powerful and capable as a PC. It has a battery that can last all day, but it can also run Photoshop, Excel and Outlook. It can weigh next to nothing and slip into a slim case, but it can also power two monitors and run proprietary enterprise software.
When Windows 8 is finally bestowed upon the masses, each and every user will have Apple to thank. Windows 8 as we’re seeing it today would never have existed if competition from the iPad — and the iPhone before it — had not illuminated a giant light bulb over all of our heads: platforms can be both capable and intuitive. Apple’s iOS is the most fluid, logical, user friendly mass-market platform in the world, and it has forced the competition to look at products in a new light. Companies have been incredibly slow to adapt, however, and that is why Apple is currently the biggest tech company in the world.
But the iPad was only the beginning.
Apple paved the way but Microsoft will get there first with Windows 8. A tablet that can be as fluid and user friendly as the iPad but as capable as a Windows laptop. A tablet that can boot in under 10 seconds and fire up a full-scale version of Adobe Dreamweaver a few moments later. A tablet that can be slipped into a dock to instantly become a fully capable touch-enabled laptop computer. This is Microsoft’s vision with Windows 8, and this is what it will deliver.
People debate it all the time, but the simple fact is that “real work” is significantly more difficult to do on the iPad or on an Android tablet than it is on a Windows or Mac PC. Debate all you want. Android and iOS apps are dumbed down and infinitely less capable, typing is on a tablet is a pain in the ass unless you carry a Bluetooth keyboard, and the experience as a whole is severely limited.
We are not living in a “post-PC” era today any more than we were on January 26th, 2010, the day before Apple unveiled the magical iPad. Apple would love a post-PC era, of course, since personal computers no longer represent the bulk of the company’s revenue, but Microsoft is showing us that there is a better way. And that better way, as it turns out, is a PC.
Down the road, Mac OS and iOS will merge into a single platform or OS X will adopt enough iOS-like characteristics that Apple will finally be comfortable with slapping it on a touch-enabled device. Lion is the beginning of this process, though I sincerely hope future iterations offer less resistance. At that point in time, Apple will be able to offer a computing solution that is infinitely more versatile and capable than the company’s current solutions. A solution like Windows 8.
If the iPad ushered in the post-PC era, then welcome to the post-post-PC era.