There's a new OS on the horizon. How do you know? The twaddle in the Twitterverse. "Metro sucks." "Win 8 will totally ROCK!" The part that particularly befuddles me, however, are two tweets emanating from audience members while I recently delivered my Windows 8 overview talk to about a thousand people in Las Vegas early this November: "Minasi says Win 8 is the best Windows ever" and "Minasi is totally TRASHING Windows 8...." Sigh; tell me again why Web 2.0 was going to make things better?
Seriously, there's a new Windows on the way, and it changes things a lot -- so it's no surprise that many long-time Windows users will have some strongly held opinions. What's more, it seems that Microsoft is listening to at least some of those opinions, so if you've got 'em, share 'em . . . but permit me to offer a suggestion or two to keep in mind when voicing those opinions, advice from someone who's been following Microsoft public betas since the DOS 2.0 beta in the early 1980s. (Someone who's still disappointed that the final version only put 360K of data on the 5.25" floppies, instead of the 400K ones the early beta offered.)
First, don't bother blogging about how completely crazy and wrongheaded you think Windows 8 is, even if, ahem, you could be at least partially right. The Win 8 choo-choo is barreling down the tracks, and it's not going to stop. If you're thinking of opining something like "If the new Server Manager is really generating PowerShell commands under its GUI hood, why doesn't it show us the PowerShell commands to help us discover things about the 2,300 PowerShell cmdlets Windows 8 includes and how to use them to better automate our systems?" then that might get someone's attention. On the other hand, if you're demanding that Microsoft scrap Metro, well, Microsoft listens, but not quite that much. (Hey, does Apple ask you what you'd like to see in new versions of iOS, as in "Do you really want a very basic multitasking ability on your iPhone 3G, even if it does make your iPhone run painfully slowly?" If you own an iPhone, I'm guessing you know the answer.)
Second, don't worry too much about the people who say that it's somehow "not fair" to comment on the currently available Developer Preview version of Windows 8, often called a "pre-beta." People can call this a pre-beta, but it's not, at least not by the standard of pre-Windows 7 systems. We first saw Windows 7 and R2 in November 2008, and if I recall correctly we'd only gotten one official beta and one release candidate before a release-to-manufacturing in August 2009. I can't think of a previous version of Windows in which we only got two pre-RTM looks, but honestly Windows 7 was really nothing more than a 1.1 version of Windows Vista, so it didn't seem all that odd -- and Windows 7/R2 was a big hit, so no one complained. Windows 8, however, is a quite different story. Server 8's long list of what can basically be summed up as "higher availability, lower cost" features and Desktop 8's all-new Metro platform add up to some very significant changes to Windows. It seems odd, then, that the Windows team plans to only give us three previews before RTM-ing Windows 8, so from my point of view the Developer Preview should be seen as either a beta 1 or beta 2, and I see nothing out-of-bounds about anyone offering a well-researched opinion. (I should note that it's unfair, however, to talk much about Windows 8 performance based on the Developer Preview. Performance tuning always comes much later in the development cycle.)
Third, understand that if you do have a well-thought-out suggestion, now -- or very soon -- might possibly be the only time period in which anyone in Redmond will even look at it. My guess is that if the Windows folks think that one Windows 8 beta and one release candidate is fine (as it was with Windows 7/R2), then releasing Windows 8 in August is fine (as it was with Windows 7/R2). Again, it seems to me that's a little ambitious, given how big a change Windows 8 is over Windows 7/R2, but I don't run the show.
Assuming I'm right, then, let me pass along a data point that backs up why I think the "Microsoft is still listening" window will close fairly soon. Back in February 2009, I talked with some folks in a Microsoft product group -- sorry, an NDA prevents me from naming them or the group -- who wanted to make a fairly cosmetic change to a piece of a wizard in Windows. I had a small stake in the change, so watched the whole thing unfold with high hopes, only to hear in early March that they were told, "Sorry, too late for a change like that; we're locking things down so we'll be ready in August." That doesn't surprise me, because Windows is a complex software project and holding the number of bugs down to a reasonable level necessitates some long lead times on lockdown. It does, however, lead me to believe that if you think my summer 2012 RTM date guess is reasonable, then so is my early March lockdown guess.
Anyway, the bottom line is this: If something Windows 8-ish sticks in your craw, now is the time to pass along your ideas, whether in your blog, as comments to the "Building Windows 8" blog, or whatever other means presents itself. As always, avoid spittle-flecked diatribes and review whatever you're writing a few times -- hey, presentation counts! -- and don't worry if someone flames you for being a "hater." (If I could just remove the words "fanboy" and "hater" from online discussions everywhere, the world would be soooo much better, you know?) And if someone says you're being unfair for talking about a not completely baked OS, well, just point them to this column.Until next month, happy holiday shopping, all!