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Design of Windows 8

Over the course of the past year, reading through the various Building Windows 8 posts, it was clear that Windows 8 would be different. The early Windows 8 Consumer Preview and Release Preview proved as much, with the very conflicting Desktop/ Metro modes. What was Microsoft thinking?

Jensen Harris, Director of Program Management for the Windows User Experience Team, has a talk on the story of Windows 8 that is worth watching if you’re curious about the Windows 8 design philosophy – “Resting on familiar is the way to mediocrity”.

In Paul Thurrott’s summary of Jensen Harris’ presentation, we see the various examples that we’ve gotten used to over time and now take for granted:

His central argument is that while each Windows revision has been familiar to users since Windows 95, people are willing to change if you give them something better. He uses many examples of such change—the PlayStation controller was also familiar but then the Nintendo Wii changed everything, cell phones that saw incremental changes until the iPhone changed everything, how the Prius changed cars forever, and so on—to explain how other companies reimagined their respective markets. And Microsoft, of course, did this as well. It went from DOS to Windows and unseated an incredibly popular DOS-based word processor–Word Perfect 5.1, which had 90 percent market share—with Word for Windows. Change happens.

On Thanksgiving day I finally spent some time trying a Microsoft Surface with Windows RT. There are enough Surface reviews out there and rest assured this post is not a recommendation to buy a Surface, but for me, regardless of the Surface being heavier than I expected and the Touch Cover taking a couple of clicks to work, I was pleased to finally see this Windows 8 design philosophy come to fruition. It will probably take another release before Microsoft gets this version of Windows 8 right for everyone, but for now, competition has worked and forced Microsoft to enter this market with both hardware and software inputs optimized for touch. In a Wired article published earlier this week, Microsoft reveals some key Windows 8 numbers that may be a small reflection on whether this philosophy has started resonating with others as well:

Windows 8 License Sales

Microsoft has sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses in the month since it launched, suggesting that the operating system is selling faster, and in larger numbers, than Windows 7. Microsoft executive Tami Reller announced the milestone at the Credit Suisse 2012 Annual Technology Conference, and the company reiterated it Tuesday in a blog post that said, “Windows 8 is outpacing Windows 7 in terms of upgrades.”

Windows 8 App Store Downloads

The top 300 apps in the Windows Store have an average of 200,000 downloads per day. The top 300 apps in the Mac App Store see around 80,000 daily downloads, the firm said.

However, until January 24, 2013 when Microsoft hosts its second quarter earnings conference call, we’ll be subject to the opinions, reviews, small news leaks and forecasts of technology evangelists, pundits, fans, critics and fortune tellers about whether Microsoft should have just stuck with familiar.