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Demise of the Win8 Desktop Highly Unlikely, Rumors Nothwithstanding

Le desktop c'est mort. Vive le desktop!

Le desktop c’est mort. Vive le desktop!
[Image credit: Shutterstock 131795768]

One of my favorite Windows curmudgeons has to be the one and only Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (who understandably mostly goes by his initials, SJVN). He’s been waxing bilious and profane about the Modern UI in Windows 8 pretty much since it first came along, and maintains special reserves of both spleen and ire for the difficulties it can impose upon the ignorant or unwary when it comes to finding one’s way to the desktop in that operating system. But even he is taking issues with some reporting in the wake of recent BitTorrent leaks of the upcoming Windows “Blue” release (an annual release that may do away with boxed or less frequent “major OS releases” sometime in the Windows future). That reporting — which involves long-time and well-respected Windows guru Paul Thurrott  and long-time Windows industry and technology watcher Preston Gralla— makes the proposal that Microsoft may be planning to do away with the desktop completely in future Windows versions.

My reaction to this reporting is the same as SJVN’s (and when we agree on something Windows-related, you know it has to be pretty inarguable, because otherwise we’d be arguing about it instead). “No Windows desktop mode!? No!” is the title of his reaction piece to such supposing, to which my only amendment would be: “Not only no, but heck NO!” SJVN also makes mention of “…hundreds of thousands of desktop applications that will take years, if not longer, to migrate to WinRT API-based apps…” necessary to make them work in a Modern UI-only Windows world. I just don’t think that business users will tolerate complete and utter disposal of the desktop, since that’s where most of them (including me) spend their days as they do their jobs on their computers.

SJVN also observes that Microsoft could “… move all its business apps to the cloud and make them software as a service (SaaS) apps,” a migration that he says fits nicely with Ed Bott’s “… vision of Microsoft’s future as a cloud-based service provider with its own hardware line, Surface.” This causes SJVN to pause and scratch his metaphorical head, to opine that “if moving its business applications to the cloud really is the plan, then Microsoft could indeed leave Windows 8’s desktop mode behind…” True or false though this may be, it still leaves orphaned the hundreds of thousands of commercial and custom-built applications that business users run on the desktop daily, and would have to wait for their migration from desktop to the great beyond (my tongue-in-cheek reference to their cloud-based, Modern UI friendly replacements) before they could assume the happy and virtuous state of desktoplessness, as it were.

I have to believe that sheer inertia dictates that a desktop of some kind will remain available in Windows until the vast majority of business developers have themselves made the move to the Modern UI, or whatever name the “next big touch- and mobile-device-friendly UI” might happen to take. I can’t see this happening in less than 10 years, though I would be delighted to be proved wrong. But as always, in matters of dispute like these, time will tell!

[PostScript Added 3/27/2013:
This morning, I found another story from Preston Gralla for Computerworld entitled “Three reasons Microsoft wants to kill the Windows Desktop.” In short, his three reasons are: 1. To help Windows Phone and Windows tablets gain market share; 2. to unify the operating system (by supporting only a single interface, to eliminate tension between the old-fashioned desktop and newfangled Modern UI); and 3. to lock enterprises into future versions of Windows (if enterprises build Modern UI apps, this locks them into Windows moving forward).  My response is that 1 is inarguable, that 2 is questionable, and that there’s a mighty big “if” involved in number 3. No matter what I think (or anybody else outside Microsoft, for that matter), this is turning into an interesting discussion, with a bizarre take on Microsoft’s methods and motives emerging. Does the conversation say more about the analysts, or the analysand? I wonder… ]

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Microsoft would have to be absolutely crazy to be thinking about killing the desktop. Are they really that crazy? It seems unimaginable. Something crazy is certainly going on.
Amen, Mr. Clark, Amen. But "crazy like a fox" or "crazy like a lunatic?" Can't tell yet...
My thought from the first was that the desktop was on its way out in Microsoft's view... and that the time was soon coming for it to happen. I won't be surprised if the questions a decade from now are "Was Microsoft just too early for the new paradigm? Is that the reason it didn't work then but does now?" However, I don't think the Modern UI is 'it', and I believe a better path would have been a transitional OS release that provided desktop perspectives. -- Tom