An anonymous comment on my previous post The "no OS" device as a disruptive innovation
remarked today that "Windows 8 is partly taking us in the same direction". Indeed it is, and the word "partly" is key. My response to that comment turned out to be so long that I decided to turn it into a full post.
I can't wait to find out how important the "partly" will be. Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets will be competing against "no OS" tablets like the iPad and Android tablets, but they'll have a more visible operating system as the "cost" of being able to do anything a "real computer" can do.
Disruptive innovations start off with fewer features than the incumbents they compete against, but over time they add features and do so in ways that are more suitable to the times. Eventually there's no reason to use the old things – unless you're already doing so and perceive your switching costs to exceed the savings gained by moving to a cheaper disruptor.
With the emergence of the iPad, the people at Microsoft found themselves in a very difficult position. They had their own equivalent of iOS or Android, namely WP (which stands for Windows Phone, but it really has little to do with Windows and reflects the love of Microsoft marketing people to confuse everyone by using the same name for things that have little or nothing to do with each other, the latest example being their borrowing from "WinRT" for "Windows RT"). They could have used WP as their tablet OS. That would have matched Apple's approach, which is to let iOS slowly replace Mac OS. But Apple makes its money selling hardware, and which OS each piece of hardware uses is not important from a revenue or profit standpoint. Microsoft is a software company that's highly dependent on Windows revenue, and since WP is a direct competitor of e.g. Android it can't be sold for much money. So they needed to make Windows run on tablets, and Windows 8/RT is the result. In order to hold its own against iOS and Android it's very tablet-oriented, which these days implies a user interface that's optimized for touch. (Microsoft has actually been promoting tablets longer than anyone else, but using a stylus rather than touch.)
So it's not surprising that the complaints I'm seeing about Windows 8 from existing Windows users seem to be mostly about a perceived lack of suitability for laptop/desktop use, where touch is impractical (your arms will get tired if touching a screen requires reaching up to it). It's no wonder that some people are already pronouncing it to be a disaster, and I have no doubt that many people will prefer to continue with Windows 7 on laptops/desktops (as happened when Vista was introduced: many people chose to "downgrade" to XP), or switch to a Mac. But the concern may be overblown as it's based on non-representative usage. To use Windows 8 properly on a laptop requires a touchpad that supports multitouch and edge detection, like current Macs have but not current Windows machines. Any upcoming laptop that's designed for Windows 8 will have it. (So don't upgrade your Windows 7 laptop to Windows 8. Buy a new laptop or stick with Windows 7.)
As for tablets, Windows users buying a tablet can go with either Windows 8/RT (for some degree of resemblance and compatibility with what they're used to, plus no sacrificing of features) or iOS/Android (for a more streamlined experience on a device they intend to use primarily for information consumption rather than creation). In my own case, I can easily see myself getting a Windows 8/RT tablet, because I'm used to putting up with all the complications of Windows (even though I don't like them) and would have a hard time putting up with the limitations of iOS or Android (I use an Android 4.0 phone and frequently get irritated by how long it takes to do things that would be quick on a Windows PC or a Mac). In contrast I expect that other people who are "the opposite of power users" would find frustrations on Windows 8/RT that don't exist on "no OS" devices, like a more complicated process for software updates and having to deal with antivirus scans, and would prefer iOS or Android. But Microsoft is doing its best to minimize the number of people who would find a Windows 8/RT tablet complicated, by making it resemble "no OS" as much as practical – because that is the future.