Holesgrove 1, Gruber 0.

Build - Windows 8 Preview [21]

Image by bigdigo via Flickr

After Microsoft‘s second big reveal of Windows 8 at the Microsoft Build conference yesterday, we were all treated to a big serving of humble pie on John Gruber‘s Daring Fireball website this morning as a result.

That delicious treat, of course, was Gruber doing a big backtrack from his earlier argument about “Why Windows 8 is fundamentally flawed as a response to the iPad“. This was a post that I wrote a counter-argument for which drew me into an ‘Apple vs Microsoft’ style argument that I didn’t care for but nonetheless got a lot of people’s attention.

The brain fart

Quoted from his latest piece, posted today:

It’s worth noting that Metro is more than just a new look, and more than just putting touch first. Metro apps have similar restrictions to iOS apps. According to Jensen Harris, for example, Metro apps will get “about five seconds” after they’re no longer on-screen before the system puts them into a suspended state. There’s no file manager. Users no longer quit (or, in Windows parlance, exit) apps explicitly. These tradeoffs sound familiar?

So I hereby amend my punditry. Windows 8 with the full Windows desktop will never be an iPad rival. But a version of Windows 8 with nothing but Metro looks like an excellent design for an iPad rival.

Now here’s the interesting bit about his ‘retraction’ – he was actually wrong and his comments go on to clearly demonstrate just how little he understands Windows 8.

This is something he later picked up on in a following post:

Contrary to my just-posted theory that Windows 8 might (and I say, should) go Metro-only on ARM tablets, this unit does have the traditional Windows desktop. The OS is still just a developer beta, though.

In actual fact, every copy of Windows 8 will ship with the _ability_ to load the full desktop experience if one so desired. However, Metro is designed to make people feel like they would never _want_ to use the Win32 shell in the first place, particularly on tablets.

So on one hand, Gruber thinks that Windows 8 with the full Windows desktop will “never be an iPad rival” but that with nothing but Metro it’s “an excellent design for an iPad rival”.

So, what if Win32 was physically there on the hard disk but never actually used in a tablet form factor? Would it still be fundamentally flawed, or an “excellent design”?

Let’s make it clear exactly what Windows 8 is, yet again

This is the primary argument that I was ripping Gruber for in the first place in comparison to the iPad.  What he clearly didn’t understand the first time around and continues to misconstrue now is that the Metro shell isn’t just “built on top of Windows” nor is it a ‘shell’ in quotations – it’s a true shell built on top of Windows NT (or to be exact, MinWin). Win32, meanwhile, is an alternative shell, not one layer plastered under another.

Here was Gruber’s argument in round one of this discussion:

But I think it’s a fundamentally flawed idea for Microsoft to build their next-generation OS and interface on top of the existing Windows. The idea is that you get the new stuff right alongside Windows as we know it. Microsoft is obviously trying to learn from Apple, but they clearly don’t understand why the iPad runs iOS, and not Mac OS X.

Metro isn’t a pseudo ‘app’ like Windows Media Center running on top of ‘Windows’, it is Windows, just like Win32 is.  The Window key (or button on tablets) will enable the user to flick instantly between shells, sort of like two virtual machines running side by side with one being somewhat suspended whilst the user flicks to the other one.

Here is what I said back at the beginning of June:

Guess what Windows 8 for tablets is? You guessed it – the core of Windows – MinWin – with an alternate shell to Win32 on top that is touch friendly – the ‘Metro’ immersive shell we saw today.

Oh snap.

For a guy who obviously read my initial post and tried to heckle me with a reply on his site titled “I Like My Odds In This Argument“, Gruber’s reversal in tune goes a long way in validating what I was originally saying in the first place.  Windows 8 is NOT fundamentally flawed in response to the iPad because it not only aims to supply users with the simplistic and battery saving features that the iPad does, it also aims to be much more.

2012: iPad 3 vs Windows 8 tablets in a credible and epic fight

If Windows 8 was basically built to be Microsoft’s iOS, it would be fundamentally flawed because it is obviously far too late for any tablet software or hardware maker to build a ‘me too’ response to Apple’s creation – this is something that I’ve been saying since the beginning of the year and why I continually mock Android tablets (see here and here), the TouchPad (see here) and the Blackberry Playbook (see here).

Nobody gets it – the iPad is so good and so popular that a winning competitor can’t simply try to do the iPad better than Apple, they need to make a new kind of device that makes iPad owners feel like they’ve be robbed of functionality in comparison.  With Windows 8, that’s what Microsoft is going for – a truly handheld PC that is also your real PC.

It’s not the cleanest of ways to try and compete with the iPad’s ‘PC killer’ potential but it’s far and away the best idea being brought to market in response.  I’m not predicting that Windows 8 will sell more tablets than the iPad but it’s certainly got a bright future as a tablet operating system – it was exactly the kind of response that was needed to finally put Apple on the defensive and compete appropriately.

I’ve got the popcorn in the cupboard ready to go when this next round of the tablet wars starts up next year.  iPad vs Windows 8 will be classic.

And by the way…

..I’d feel bad about the slightly immature title of this article – I’m not actually counting scores here – but Gruber had it coming to him on this one.  His verbal diarrhoea about Windows 8 back at the end of May was clearly wrong and was projected from a biased and spiteful point of view.  I’d like to think that he’s seeing things a little clearer now and taking Windows 8 as seriously as I hope Apple are – I don’t doubt for a second that the iPad 2 was a weak and minimal upgrade this year in order to save the big guns for next year’s release.

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