The Shape of Windows to Come

Microsoft is showing the next version of Windows sometime this week. On a tablet. With a brand new touch interface. I will wager it's one that's not stupid.

The demo that Windows chief Steven Sinofsky's expected to show at All Things D tomorrow—much like Microsoft first revealed Windows 7's new UI at the event in 2008—is going to be running on Nvidia's ARM-based Tegra chip, reports Bloomberg. (If you recall, Microsoft's big CES news was that it was porting Windows to run on the ARM architecture, in effect declaring that Windows would be everywhere. )

It's fantastic that Acer CEO JT Wang is complaining about Microsoft "really controlling the whole thing, the whole process" and being "troublesome" with its restrictions on hardware makers for the tablet version of the next Windows. It means it's less likely you'll have a shitty Windows experience. On tablets, anyway. It sounds like hardware and software will be more tightly integrated and deeply aligned. (It sound a lot like how Microsoft's playing Windows Phone.)

Which is exactly what needs to happen. What people expect from tablets is completely different than what they expect from traditional PCs. No viruses, no OS reinstalls, no dead batteries, no bullshit, really. (I'm very obviously not talking about the Windows tablets of yore.) Say what you will about the iPad and its limitations, but at the same time, it has set a new kind of standard for what people should expect out from their personal computers in terms of maintenance and just being easy to use. If the new tablet Windows resembles old Windows more than Windows Phone or iOS in that regard, it's going to blow chunks. But I suspect, I hope, that Microsoft knows what it needs to do with tablet software.

While Courier and Pioneer Studios, the skunkworks group that created it, are both officially dead, I wouldn't be surprised if at least a bit of what was developed for Courier makes its way into the Windows tablet interface. (Possibly parts we haven't seen.) Pioneer Studios' most mindblowing concepts and work might not ever be revealed in their full, totally radical glory, but pieces of what they've developed have been part of current Microsoft products for a long time, like Windows Phone and Xbox.

I also get the feeling Microsoft's going to try to launch the next Windows sooner than people suspect. Not supercrazy sooner. But earlier than has been implied.

The next Windows on tablets very badly needs to not be stupid. It needs to be amazing. It needs to surprise people. I think that's what Microsoft is setting up. Maybe I'm mistaking hopes for educated suspicions, but Microsoft's got a lot more to lose on this wager than I do. [BusinessWeek]