Windows 8 features: Tablet! Cloud! Apps! Smoke, Mirrors, Misdirection!!!

The people that profit most from a big new operating system are not the ones who pay for it

For pure entertainment, for the overwhelming bliss of wonder, understanding and relieved optimism, nothing geekish can beat being in the middle of a big crowd at a huge new product introduction with all the stops pulled out, all the show-dogs and –ponies on display, bells and whistles sounding and crowd raving to overamp'd music from the days of our youth (or someone's).

Crowds make hall fill with phosphorescent smoke and bright blue light as giants of innovation walk out on the stage – leaders of armies of technologists who will wave the rest of us toward the right path into the future, light our way with their godlike vision and promise wonders no politician would have the guts to consider.

In the dark, in the smoke in the crowd and the noise, an ancient ape brain – buried but much closer to the surface than the rational skeptical parts of our minds believe – shrieks with a toddler's joy, bathing us in adrenaline, oxytocin and phenylethylamine, washing our pleasure centers in dopamine and the sense that whatever desperate need we felt before walking in, whatever hole that exists in our lives, our disappointments, failures and disillusionment was all an illusion waiting to be penetrated, deflated and dismissed by whatever miracle we're about, to see performed before our very eyes.

That feeling is why people throw themselves into frenzies of adoration, elation and despair in the stands at a Big Game, a self-righteous protest, political rally, cheerleading sales meeting or religious revival.

Playing on our need for joy and hope

We lose our minds for just a moment; we put aside the rational being that dissects the stagecraft, wonders at the toxicity of the smoke, sees the godlike visionaries as the same empty suits filled with expensive aphorisms as the time we spoke to them last and will be again as soon as the music fades and they begin to speak.

For just a moment every flash and polish modern marketing can generate gilds a lily that was a pig's ear before the tweezing, makeup and wardrobe.

We love it. And we keep loving it, especially if we're given lavish gifts – as 5,000 developers at Microsoft's Build conference discovered this morning as they gently stroked the sleek, black, powerful $1,100 Samsung Series 7 Slate each was given early on the day Windows 8 would be formally unveiled, using the need to demonstrate Windows 8's beta edition running on a tablet just like that one in your hands, which you can keep as a bribe; souvenir.

No one implies a new operating system creates new firmament on which the world can begin anew the way Microsoft does.

No one really pays that much attention to their operating system, if it's working correctly, in fact. They just move around, tell applications to launch and connect to networks and storage and each other.

Operating systems make that harder or easier, but they don't change the way we live our lives.

The biggest choice users make to enrich someone else.

They change the fortunes of computer companies, though.

They change a developer's mind so what turns out to be an important app runs on Windows instead of iOS or OS X or Android.

They attract companies and consumers to try a few copies or a whole department on the new operating system, then lead them to buy more of particular brands of hardware that ring and whistle best with the new operating system.

New operating systems get everyone's customers to buy new things to make the new operating system more comfortable in its shabby, legacy-tastic new environment; all the new stuff makes the paint look dingy and the rug look dirty so pretty soon those have to go and in come more companies to replace paint with Paint! And clean the carpet by converting it to FLOoR and to make the rest of the company's employees jealous of the ones running a new OS with cool new hardware and excellent new Pant! And FLOoR, so the company buys more operating system.

When Windows 95 came out I combed my hair and picked all the spinach out of my teeth and drove to a studio to be interviewed remotely on CNN about Windows95, that was coming out that day.

Making a choice without guidance from a monopoly

"So what do you think?" the anchor asked after she took the feedback from a pre-taped story about how much better Win95 was than Windows 3.5 (so was cuneiform).

"Should we all rush out to buy Windows 95?"

I took her at her literal word instead of the implied one, and explained in what circumstances and for whom Win95 would be a better option than Windows 3.5.

The truth was it didn't matter whether Win95 was better or worse than 3.5; people were going to buy it anyway, or get it when they got their next computer because they didn't have a choice.

Microsoft owned the OS market except for a few arty types running Macintoshes and a few ultra geeks running Unix on their desktops and some luddites sticking with DOS.

That's still true, mostly. You have to go out of your way to avoid Windows on a new PC. Even if you buy PCs by the skid-load and get to specify component that goes into them, you still have to write into the contract that you don't want Windows and that you'll be responsible for the licenses of whatever OS you end up loading because PCs are no good without operating systems.

If Windows is a choice, remember there's more than one answer

Microsoft is nervous because you're more likely to buy a Mac than you have been in decades, more likely to buy a phone or tablet than a laptop than you have ever been, and more likely to put something other than the latest version of Windows on any kind of PC – whether that means Linux or XP or exist licenses for Windows 7 or Android or iOS or even WebOS.

Because Windows is no longer the only game in town. OS X Android and iOS and VMware and Citrix haven't run it out of town on a rail, but the next campaign for mayor isn't going to be a cakewalk, either.

So Microsoft is really, really concerned that everything go well at the Win8 rollout today and that everyone likes Win8 and we all buy it and put it on our computers and then forget about it until the next time we have to buy an operating system.

Because there's nothing exciting or entertaining about an operating system, but there is quite a lot that is profitable about one.

If a company can get you excited about a boring product, make you feel as if the future depends on your running it then makes you forget it's there until it's time to come watch the dogs and ponies perform and smell the dry ice smoke and see the blue lights and listen the the thumpity-thump of music and marketing and the same idea being driven into your head again and again when it's time to buy another operating system, then it's done its job really well and it's going to make a lot of money.

Because you're going to buy that operating system even if what you want to do you could to do you could do just as easily with the current operating system, or with a handheld or a tablet or a flat of cuneiform clay and a little stick.

You're going to buy it because it's new and it's flashy and you have an expensive gift in your hand and no one will criticize you for "keeping the platform up to date" and the monkey that keeps its head just below the level of your consciousness will rub the happy parts of your brain and grin that big grin when it gets something new, even if it doesn't like what the new thing is. It will shriek with joy and chew up all the tchatchke swag you pickthe trade-show floor and eat the free food and you'll both go to bed satisfied.

Try to sleep on the plane home, though. Because that's when the questions really start popping up about whether this whole new OS is a good idea and whether it's worth investigating going a whole different direction than you have in the past with desktop OSes and you may have just missed your chance to ask the questions that would have made the decision clear.

Because the smoke and noise and lights and monkey were all happy to help you think over and over how exciting it is that the new OS is so wonderful and beneficial and worth the cost of switching instead of sticking on that last thing and wondering that, just maybe, it's not.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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