Now that the Windows 8 Consumer Preview has been picked apart the question I’m asking is how many more shoes are there left to drop? As we’ve all seen, the current Microsoft philosophy (particularly for the Windows group) is to only release information that needs to be released. I conclude there is still a lot we don’t know about Windows 8 and related products.
How about a couple of things that we have hints about but no definitive answers. The first is what editions will Windows 8 be available in? A leak from HP suggests fewer editions, dissection of the Windows 8 registry suggests more editions. I’m betting there are fewer editions, but not as few as the HP data suggested. For example, the HP information failed to take WOA into account. And the registry data is suspect because engineers would have reserved values for all potential editions before the marketing side had worked through what actual editions were to be offered. The proliferation of editions that occurred starting with Windows XP was the result of a number of dynamics that don’t need to hold true for Windows 8. Bifurcating Windows into two editions, a basic offering and a professional offering made sense as volume growth slowed and an increasing amount of resources went into features primarily of interest to large enterprises. But then things went crazy. Home Premium, for example, exists as a way to charge for the Media Center functionality. However for Windows Vista Microsoft also reportedly rebated most of the difference between Home Basic and Home Premium as marketing incentives for OEMs. So effectively there was no price difference and OEMs simply offered Home Premium on new PCs. For Windows 7 Home Basic was targeted more narrowly as a way to have a lower priced edition for emerging markets. With the advent of WOA and its altered business model Microsoft could eliminate Home Basic and rely on WOA for addressing the low-cost emerging markets requirement. Ditto for Windows Starter, an even lower cost version designated for Netbooks. WOA addresses that need too. Windows Enterprise and Windows Ultimate are technically the same, differentiated by licensing model rather than feature set. I suppose Microsoft could keep them separate, although the world would be a happier place if they eliminated Ultimate and just made Enterprise individually licensable. Another alternative would be to fold Enterprise functionality into Professional and leave Enterprise primarily as a licensing tool (including a way to obtain MDOP). This leads to a 4 or 5 edition world. WOA, Home, Professional, Enterprise/Ultimate. That gives Microsoft the pricing flexibility it requires yet makes it much simpler for the user community to understand which edition they require.
The second, and more interesting, hint is around the level of Kinect support that might be present in Windows 8. There have been reports of OEM’s preparing notebooks with built-in Kinect support. They wouldn’t be doing that if the only software that was expected to be on the market from Microsoft was the current Kinect SDK. I belive that manipulating Metro-style apps with Kinect will be fully supported in Windows 8. I also believe that manipulating Office 15 with Kinect will be fully supported. So imagine you are giving a Powerpoint presentation and you just wave with your hand to advance to the next slide. You use gestures to switch to a demo app. Etc. Microsoft likely hasn’t revealed this as part of the Consumer Preview because consumers do not have the hardware to take advantage of it. So extensive Kinect support could be one of the big reveals that Microsoft is saving for near or at product launch.
The Windows release strategy is also still unknown. Built-in Metro apps, like Mail, are Windows Store apps and so can be updated at great frequency. But what about Windows itself? The norm for mobile devices has become annual releases with even more frequent minor updates (essentially service packs with minor functional improvements). Windows’ main traditional competitor, OS X, has (with the exception of 10.4 “Tiger”, which had a Windows-like 30 month development schedule) had a more frequent update schedule than Windows. After Tiger Apple went to a two-year cycle between releases and now appears to have put OS X on an annual cycle. The competitive pressure to put Windows on an annual cycle is pretty intense. With the need to re-engineer Windows now out of way the biggest technical inhibitor to putting it on an annual cycle has been addressed. The bigger question is how willing the Windows team is to adapt their engineering methodology to the demands of the shorter cycle. The Windows Phone team has proven it can be done at Microsoft. Will the Windows team say anything about changes to their release cycle, or will this remain a secret until it is time to reveal the first such release? While I would expect Windows President Steven Sinofsky to prefer the latter approach, he may bend to one reality: User’s may be more comfortable adopting Windows 8 if they know they won’t have to wait three years for Microsoft to refine it.
Of course there will be some, probably minor, refinements to Windows 8 before final release. But those aren’t really shoes to be dropped. The exception would be if Microsoft relented on its apparent decision to move the entire world to the Start Screen and provided a way to retain the Start menu. Improbable but not impossible. Want something completely off the wall? What if Microsoft re-introduced the notion of Windows Workstation (for those who recall, Windows 2000 came in a Server and Workstation edition) that was a Desktop-only version of Windows 8? Or at least could be put into a Desktop-centric/Start Menu mode? Just what is the notional Professional Plus edition that appears in the Windows 8 registry? Could that be the “Windows Workstation” that I just suggested? Even more improbable, but still not impossible.
Beyond what I’ve mentioned here I think there are probably more Windows 8 shoes Microsoft has yet to drop. After all, Windows 8 is an octopod.