Windows 8: Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

There just doesn’t seem to be any rest for the weary here in the Linux blogosphere lately, what with the release of Ubuntu Linux 12.10 “Quantal Quetzal” last week and the “Rectangle with Rounded Corners” 5 not long before that.

Next up? Well, it’s Windows 8, which officially launches on Friday.

FOSS fans’ hackles have already been raised by the Secure Boot saga, of course, and the growing din of fanfare over in the neighboring Redmond territories is doing nothing to settle them. No wonder Linux Girl had to push her way through the crowds down at the blogosphere’s seedy Broken Windows Lounge.

‘Color Me Skeptical’

A lively discussion was already under way when Linux Girl arrived, in fact, and it was sparked by a recent InformationWeek article. Entitled, “Windows 8: Do I Really Need a Single OS?” the article ponders Microsoft’s single-platform approach.

“If I skip Windows 8, some folks say I’m losing the appealing opportunity to synchronize all of my devices on a single platform,” wrote author Kevin Casey. “Color me skeptical.”

“Skeptical,” of course, is many FOSS fans’ middle name. Those on Slashdot and beyond have had plenty to say.

‘I Manage Just Fine’

“I can understand where they are coming from,” began Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien. “I am hopelessly confused by having Android on my phone, Linux on my desktop at home, and Windows on my desktop at work. Some days I just stare in blank incomprehension at these gadgets…

“Wait, no I don’t,” O’Brien added. “I actually manage just fine. Hey Microsoft, the term is ‘lowest common denominator.’ It is not generally a compliment in technology.”

In fact, “no one really needs a single OS,” agreed Google+ blogger Linux Rants. “In fact, from a security standpoint, it’s a bad thing.”

‘The Same Vulnerabilities’

Running a single OS means that “every single device you have has the same vulnerabilities,” Linux Rants explained. “If one is compromised, they’re all compromised.”

Varying your operating systems “not only between different kinds of devices but even with the same kind of devices is just a good idea,” he added. “It’s a much worse idea to have a single OS when that single OS is Windows, and don’t let Microsoft convince you otherwise.”

Indeed, “you don’t need a single OS, you need a single kernel, and that kernel is the Linux kernel,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza told Linux Girl.

‘What Has Microsoft Spooked’

“What do cellphones, routers, notebooks, desktops, and servers have in common?” Espinoza explained. “Linux. Windows might be able to do all those jobs, but even if it manages to do one of them as well as does Linux, it certainly won’t do them all so well.”

In fact, “it may not even be that long before Android starts making serious inroads on the desktop,” he added. “After all, if you’re already used to it on your phone, why not have it on your tablet? And once you have a phone and a tablet running Android, you may well want to see it everywhere.

“This is, of course, what has Microsoft spooked at the moment,” Espinoza said.

‘They Want to Create a Need’

“Sure, Microsoft wants you to have just one OS (Windows), and of course, to have a Surface to read news and e-books, an X-box to play your games, a Zune to listen your songs and a Kin to make phone calls…,” Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol offered.

“Ludicrous — they want to create a need that no one has,” he opined.

“With Android, iOS and MacOSX (or any GNU/Linux variant out there), who needs Microsoft and Windows 8? No one,” Ebersol concluded. “Reminds of that open source saying: In a world without fences and walls, who needs Windows and Gates?”

‘Win 8 Is Simply Too Uncertain’

Windows 8 is nothing short of “a train wreck,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet asserted.

The problem, hairyfeet explained, is that “Win 8 is ‘a jack of all trades, master of none’ that tries to be a desktop AND an OS for tablets AND an OS for phones and frankly it does NONE of them well. It’s no wonder reviewers have been calling it ‘Windows Frankenstein,’ because it can’t make up its mind.”

So, “why does the guy need one OS? Simple, he don’t, and certainly not Win 8,” hairyfeet concluded. “In fact, if someone insisted on only one company, I would tell them to buy Apple — Win 8 is simply too uncertain at the moment.”

‘The Interface Needs to Be Different’

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack took a similar view.

“My desktop has an interface designed for a larger screen and heavy use of the mouse and keyboard,” Mack told Linux Girl. “My cellphone has a design optimized for a much smaller screen, no mouse and as little use of the built-in keyboard as possible (mainly relegating it to text entry).

“The thing Microsoft seems to not understand is that the tradeoffs mean the interface needs to be different between each form factor,” Mack explained. “After spending years learning the hard way that people just don’t want a start bar on their cell phones, they are now making the opposite mistake and inflicting a cell phone interface on their desktop users.”

Mack’s prediction? “Win 8 will make Vista look like a smashing success and won’t be recoverable until they roll back all of Win 8’s interface changes,” he said. “The entire PC market will feel the resulting financial pain.”

A Consistent Paradigm

Users don’t need a single OS, but they do need an OS with a version for mobile phones, tablets and personal computers, suggested Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.

“What device we use depends on where we are,” Lim explained. “We might start writing an email on the mobile phone while on the train, continue it on a tablet when we are in the coffee shop, and finish it with the computer once we get to the office.

“It would be preferable if our journey which started on a 4.3-inch screen, moved on to a 9.7-inch display and ended in a 13.3-inch machine could use an app launched with a common icon on all three devices, and had common buttons once launched,” he opined.

So, “do you need one OS? No,” Lim concluded. “But you do need two or three operating systems that look and run in the same way.”

‘The New Normal’

Last but not least, “the world does not need a monopoly in hardware or software,” blogger Robert Pogson opined. “There’s nothing in it for us.”

Microsoft “may think a single OS for everyone will keep the cash cow flowing, but it won’t work,” he explained. “Small, cheap computers are overrunning all client positions, and diversity and open standards are the new normal.”

In short, “M$ has peaked and is in decline,” Pogson concluded. “Consumers, retailers, OEMs and shareholders know it. Expect rapid adjustments in all market strategies in consumer tech. That won’t include anyone giving M$ an exclusive deal.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • I just question all operating systems these days. Why all of a sudden do we need change for the sake of change? Ubuntu and Unity, Windows 8 and its tiles, OS X and its IOS integration. I guess they all hope we end up being married to one ecosystem from mobile to desktop to tablet. But in reality that is not the case for most of us. At least I give Apple credit for doing its OS X changes slowly. Microsoft to me just made a huge mistake pushing a new UI on Windows users all at once just to gain a small percentage of tablet market. The ends don’t justify the means.

    • I can answer that, its because hardware sales are down so they are trying to get you locked into appstores so they can sell you APPS, which if I ever run into the guy that started calling programs "apps" I swear I’m gonna smack ’em.

      The "dirty little secret" is that software has simply NOT kept up with hardware and unless some breakthrough happens it’ll be MANY years before it catches up to what they were selling a couple of years back. I mean how many people are even gonna stress a low end AMD triple or quad? they aren’t, just that simple.

      Of course the other "dirty little secret" is the EXACT SAME THING is about to happen to ARM, you have the ARM group talking about "dark silicon" because the batteries won’t be able to feed these monsters…sound familiar? Kinda like those hour and a half Mobile P4s? And again software just isn’t keeping up, you have 5 core ARM chips and programs that are single threaded, so just like with X86 there is gonna be another "race to the bottom" as these factories crank these suckers out trying to keep the factories busy instead of idle.

      Mark my words, just as AMD is laying off people and Intel is running fabs at less than half capacity because they have more chips than buyers so too will you see dual core tablets at $50 this time next year and companies losing their shirts on Android because there simply won’t be enough demand to deal with the supply, not as long as we are in a global depression. the ONLY company that won’t bleed is Apple, because they have built themselves into a fashion brand and just like how wearing last year’s Air Jordans isn’t considered cool neither will be using last year’s iPad. But even Apple won’t be 100% immune, the iPods and Macbooks don’t move like they used to and Cook went against Job’s wishes to come out with an iPad mini simply because they aren’t moving as many iPads as needed to keep the stock price up.

      So companies like Apple,MSFT, and Canonical can "try" all they want, they can’t wish their way out of a global depression. MSFT especially will be hard hit, I’m predicting Win 8 is the new Vista which will leave them with no real share in mobile and flatline PC sales. They SHOULD have gotten on their knees and begged AMD and Intel for cheap X86 tablets as THAT would have sold, but Windows on ARM? its like water wings on a duck, just pointless.

  • There is A REASON why this is happening, and its because for all intents and purposes X86 has become like your washer and dryer, something you really don’t replace until it dies.

    I mean look at what I was selling for my $450 special FIVE years ago, a Phenom I X3 with 4Gb of RAM and a 300Gb+ HDD…what is your average user gonna do that will slam that CPU? NOTHING. Heck I have a customer running the latest Solidworks on one of those and is happy with the performance.

    So Win 8 is a Hail Mary pass trying to get into cellphones and tablets because MSFT thinks they are gonna be the "new thing" but I got new for them, with the exception of Apple the bottom is gonna fall out there too…why? Because you already have the ARM group talking about "dark silicon" because the batteries can’t feed the chips and there is a race to the bottom to keep people buying and the factories cranking, just as their was with X86.

    Mark my words, this time next year we’ll have 7 inch dual core pads for $50, nobody will be making squat on Android as the market is flodded, the ONLY company that will make out is Apple and Amazon, Apple because they are about fashion more than tech and using last year’s iPad is like wearing last year’s sneakers, and Amazon because it isn’t about the tech, its about selling products through Amazon so they can practically give away the kindle and make money.

    MSFT is the new IBM, they need to accept this, spin off mobile to sink or swim on its own and focus on keeping those hundreds of millions of desktops sold each year. I think that MSFT is already figuring this out though, as I have a feeling they are gonna quietly allow Win 7 to be sold on non touch devices and just push Win 8 on tablets like surface. I just hope when it bombs Ballmer gets fired, he truly is the worst CEO they could have, with his myopic focus on Apple.

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