Windows 8: Do I Really Need A Single OS?

If I skip Windows 8, some folks say I'm losing the appealing opportunity to synchronize all of my devices on a single platform. Color me skeptical.

Kevin Casey, Contributor

October 11, 2012

5 Min Read

Windows 8 doesn't launch for another couple of weeks, but it seems everyone already has an opinion on it.

That includes me. I recently explained why I'm not planning to upgrade to Windows 8 even though I'm a long-time Windows user. That generated a lot of thoughtful comments, emails, and tweets--thank you for those, and keep them coming.

When I considered the feedback on what I might be missing, one idea in particular jumped out. Am I losing out on a grand opportunity to move everything I do to a single OS? Today, I mix Windows and Android regularly, and there's a Mac in my household, too.

"There's a productivity gap when [users] come into the workplace and have to switch operating systems to work with 'in house' software versus 'mobile' software. Windows 8 bridges that gap. Same device at home as at work. Same software. Same cloud back end. Same identity system," wrote reader "moarsauce123." I received similar comments via email, too.

[ Microsoft anticipates a critical mass of apps soon after release of new OS. See Microsoft: 100,000 Windows 8 Apps Coming. ]

In this scenario, my technology life becomes simpler by virtue of having everything in a single environment--any and every application I use, plus the boatloads of data those apps generate that subsequently need to stored somewhere (and backed up for good measure). In theory, this is more efficient, and everything from security to support to upgrades should improve as a result. Windows 8--with Windows Phone 8 right on its heels--should turn theory into reality.

Comedian Todd Barry tells a joke in this vein: He receives a text message from his wireless provider that he needs to update the software on his Blackberry. He calls tech support; the rep tells him to hook the device up to his computer to install the upgrade.

"Oh, that's cool--I have a Mac," Barry says.

"Oh, you need a PC," the rep replies.

"I have a Mac."

"You need a PC."

"Hold on a second, I want to check something. Yeah--I still have a Mac."

The joke already seems antiquated. I move between Windows, Mac, and Android without much thought, much less actual problems. Is a single OS for all devices really something I need--or is just something Microsoft wants me to think I need? Ecosystem homogeneity has worked very well for Apple, after all. (The cynic might argue that anyone who really cares about OS standardization across devices is already an Apple customer.) Google is making some inroads here with its Chrome and Android family, too. Now Microsoft is catching up. It makes sense in a big-picture kind of way.

There are two related reasons why a uniform OS is probably not going to motivate me to upgrade. The first is money. The all-in scenario requires anyone who currently uses a hybrid approach to buy new hardware. Can you run Windows 8 on your current PCs? Sure, probably. But as Analysys Mason's Patrick Rusby noted in my earlier column, optimization will almost certainly require new hardware investments--be they touch PCs, ultrabooks, tablets, phones, or "transformer" models.

The second reason: Let's say there's a world in which price is not an issue. (What a lovely world, too.) Are we suddenly dumping our iPads, iPhones, and Android devices in the name of OS unification? Color me skeptical.

I do see the logic. There could be advantages in the single OS model. Moreover, I'm a one-man band. A CIO responsible for hundreds or thousands of employees probably has a different take. I asked Steven Peltzman, chief business technology officer at Forrester, to share the view from the executive suite. Peltzman, who previously was CIO for New York's Museum of Modern Art, generally thinks Microsoft is doing the right thing with Windows 8, especially given the significant headway Apple and Google have made in the corporate world. But he can't see OS uniformity--or any single feature, for that matter--driving many IT executives to rush to upgrade.

"It's nice--not thrilling, but nice," Peltzman said in an interview. "It's certainly not going to be the reason to push a ton of people over."

Not exactly a bullet point for the Windows 8 sales team. Neither is the notion that people will suddenly dump their iPads. "Are people really going to do that? Or are companies going to say: 'Don't worry about it, I'll buy you a Windows 8 tablet?' I don't think so," Peltzman said. "It's not something I'll say is never going to happen, but I think that makes it harder."

Blackstone CTO Bill Murphy sees upside in a single platform, but he strikes a more cautious note in terms of execution. "I think the unification is a great concept, and intellectually it makes sense. Having users familiar [with] and used to one paradigm would be better and all applications would run that much more easily," Murphy told me via email. "However, the devil is in the details. If they can truly [optimize the] experiences on each device then it will be a hit. If there is a penalty in usability, adoption will be much more difficult."

Forrester's Peltzman believes the opportunity is indeed there. That aforementioned gap between home and work "is screaming to be closed," he said. Peltzman points to a recent Forrester survey that showed more than half (52%) of people think they have better technology at home than at work; that figure jumps to 60% among younger employees. "Every CIO hears that on a day-to-day basis," Peltzman said.

There's the holy grail: If the hardware and software are the same at home and at work, one can't be "better" than the other. It would help if Microsoft convinced users like me that their platform is so good, we'd be fools to go anywhere else.

Upgrading isn't the easy decision that Win 7 was. We take a close look at Server 2012, changes to mobility and security, and more in the new Here Comes Windows 8 issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Why you should have the difficult conversations about the value of OS and PC upgrades before discussing Windows 8. (Free registration required.)

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About the Author(s)

Kevin Casey


Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses.

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