Microsoft should position the PC as the hub for all other devices to connect to, from phones to television sets. The company should also consider building more software for non-Microsoft platforms, if it wants users to interact with Microsoft software no matter which device they are using. One key change Microsoft is embracing is the ARM chip architecture, popular in mobile devices and which Windows will now support in addition to Intel x86 processors.
One rumor is that Microsoft and hardware partners will build an ARM-powered laptop with a removable screen that becomes a tablet when separated from the keyboard. One Microsoft advantage is that all the rich applications running on Windows will be available to tablets. But Microsoft will need a user interface that is a compelling alternative to the simplicity of the iPad, and provide strong battery life and quick if not instant startup time.
"Beyond the user interface the other question is what does battery life look like with this, whether you're talking about ARM or Intel," Miller says. "If they're not really efficient, this could bring out the worst of the ARM system and show you why nobody's been able to make a kick-butt x86 tablet to date."
On start times, Miller says, "Windows needs to get to the point where boot time isn't something people think about." Unfortunately for Microsoft, the monthly security patches are an effective deterrent to hackers yet force users into long restarts. "I don't expect that to change in Windows 8," Miller says.
Microsoft's challenge was underscored by HP's decision to try to sell its PC business. HP is the No. 1 seller of Windows PCs, but Miller says "the tablet effect is real," driving down PC sales even though there is really only one successful tablet, namely the iPad. If Android tablets ever take off, Microsoft could be in a lot of trouble.
Microsoft's response: Microsoft declined to answer Network World's questions about Windows 8, but we expect to learn more at BUILD, and we'll learn a lot more next year when Windows 8-powered devices start shipping. For now, Microsoft has set up a blog called "Building Windows 8" to discuss progress.
"Windows 8 reimagines Windows," writes Windows President Steven Sinofsky. Robust USB 3.0 support and better file management are on the way, the blog promises.
5. Web servers