In the wake of the big Windows 8 Blue leak during the weekend of March 24, technology experts are wondering if familiar elements like the taskbar and desktop icons are being retired from Microsoft's software ecosystem.
Do Windows 8 Blue's tweaks, many of which target Windows 8's touch-friendly tiled interface, spell the demise of the desktop view that has come to define the Windows experience since the release of Windows 95?
Given the explosive and seemingly unstoppable popularity of computing slates—a market dominated by rivals such as Apple and to a lesser extent Google via its Android mobile OS—Microsoft has reason to push Windows into a more tablet-friendly direction. In the Blue upgrade for Windows 8, industry watchers are seeing evidence that Microsoft is distancing itself from the desktop.
In his "hands-on" experience with the leaked Windows 8 Blue build that he wrote about for his Supersite for Windows blog, Paul Thurrott, noticed that PC Setting items have been brought to the fore. Users won't have to delve into the desktop view to access their control panel widgets.
“All the action in this build is in PC settings, and if you were looking for any further proof the desktop being eased out going forward, look no further than this,” Thurrott wrote in his blog. “As noted in the previous report, there are a ton of new settings in there now, including many items that were previously only available in the desktop-based Control Panel Interface," he wrote.
"This is clearly an indication of how we get from here (Windows 8) to there (Windows 9, with potentially no desktop)," Thurrott wrote.
In contrast, the Windows 8 desktop is pretty much the same as it ever was.
ReadWrite's Mark Hachman noted that with Windows 8 Blue, there is no turning back from Microsoft's new user interface. He wrote, "But if you had any hopes that Microsoft might be backing away from Metro, forget them. In fact, if you look at Windows 8 as a transitional operating system, then Blue represents the balance tilting farther and farther in Metro's favor."
As tablets take off and deskbound PC sales plummet, Microsoft finds itself at a crossroads. By taking a hybrid approach for Windows 8 (new tiled UI and desktop views), the company kept one foot in the tablet space while maintaining strong ties with a huge library of legacy desktop software.
With Windows 8 Blue, Microsoft may be signaling to users and the business community that touch-enabled apps, not traditional desktop software, are the future.
Computerworld's Gregg Keizer noted, "Blue's spotlight on Modern—and its scorning of the desktop— also illustrates Microsoft's long-range goal, to, at some point, abandon the Windows desktop for the touch-and-tile app model."
Gartner analyst Michael Silver commented on the message Microsoft may be sending to the Windows developer community. He told Keizer via an email, "Remember, it's not just about the desktop, it's getting people and developers to embrace the WinRT API set to make the new stuff successful."