By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 3:17 pm
Last week, a passel of leaked PowerPoint slides appeared to give a sneak peek of Microsoft’s plans for Windows 8. (I should call them “alleged Microsoft PowerPoint slides” or something, but Mary Jo Foley and Ina Fried are accepting them as the real deal–and that’s good enough for me.)
Among the features mentioned: A new technology for superfast startups (a perennial boast of new versions of Windows dating at least back to Windows 98), multiuser login via face recognition, an improved help system, and a tool for restoring Windows to its original settings without munging your data. The company would apparently like to help PC makers build machines that have some of the “it just works” reliability associated with Macs. (It turns out that consumers are willing to pay for a better experience–apparently, the price premium that Apple commands is about more than unicorn tears.)
It would be a mistake to take the leaked slides as a definitive guide to the upcoming OS: Windows 8 is still early in the development process, and the details in the deck were prepared to address early questions from hardware types, not to serve as an overarching prospectus. And Microsoft’s early pitches for forthcoming versions of Windows usually haven’t been a terribly reliable predictor of the products it’s actually shipped–just ask anyone who took the initial scuttlebutt about Vista very seriously.
But thinking about Windows 8 left me mulling over what I’d like to see when the the OS (which may well be called something other than Windows 8) arrives. Here’s my quick wish list–I’m assuming that Win 8 will still be recognizably Windowsesque rather than an utter reimagining for the Web era…
A Windows that’s like Windows 7, only more so. Windows 7’s streamlined simplicity and emphasis on staying out of your face makes it one of the best Windows updates. But lots of opportunities remain to take the same idea further, and to fix remaining annoyances. One thing that drives me bonkers: If an application in the Taskbar is trying to alert me, the Taskbar won’t minimize even if I’ve set it to automatically hide itself…which often leaves it covering up the bottom of an application I’m working in. The alerts are rarely urgent, and it’s sometimes tough to figure out which app is doing the alerting. So when I set the Taskbar to autohide, I want it to autohide. Period.
All in for tablets, or not at all. The leaked slides talk about Windows 8 being designed to run well on three primary types of computers: laptops, all-in-one desktops, and slates (aka tablets). It’s the last category that worries me. I’m not convinced that it’s possible to design a top-notch tablet OS unless it’s designed only to run on tablets–and 98% of existing Windows software assumes the existence of a physical keyboard and a mouse. Suggestion to Microsoft: Build excellent tablet-friendly versions of Office and other key apps, and devote a ton of effort to helping third-party developers tabletize their programs.
More Web integration. Google Chrome has a clever feature which lets you iconize Web apps like Gmail so you can launch them from the Start menu and they look more like traditional apps. Microsoft should swipe the idea and build it into Windows–and pursue other ways to blur the lines between desktop software and Web-based service a lot more than it’s done to date.
Some silver bullet for security management hassles. On a day-to-day basis, the single biggest difference between using a Windows computer and a Mac isn’t that Windows types are more likely to suffer devastating security breaches. It’s that they spend more time futzing with anti-virus utilities and other security software. The worst ones are a horrendous timesink, and even the best ones demand more of your attention than they should. I’m not sure what Microsoft can do here, but I think it would be very much in its own self-interest to address the ongoing drudgery of Windows security.
No half-baked features. Microsoft, much more than Apple, has a tendency to add stuff to operating systems that never lives up to its potential and sometimes turns, over time, into annoying cruft. (Windows 7’s Device Stage leaps to mind.) Fewer but better features wouldn’t be a bad mantra for the upgrade.
A really good version of Internet Explorer. Yes, it’s easy enough for anyone who wants to switch to Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, Flock, or any other browser to do so. But the teeming masses who will use whatever browser Microsoft provides deserve to flourish, too–and technical advancements like HTML5 can’t change everything unless IE supports them. Microsoft’s technical previews of Internet Explorer 9 look impressive, but it still hasn’t released a full-blown IE9 beta–so it’s premature to form any real opinions about the browser that’s likely to come bundled with Windows 8.
Data recovery done right. The backup features built into Windows are usually disappointing. Or they don’t come with every version of the operating system. Or both. First-rate data protection should be an unalienable right of operating system users. I’m not saying Microsoft should clone Apple’s Time Machine–it’s not free of its own gotchas–but it should take the challenge as seriously as Apple did.
Okay, that’s enough wishing for now. Got any additions for this list–either mundane practical ones or pie-in-the-sky stuff?