I think that no matter which group you belong to – Apple, Linux, Windows, BeOS – we can all agree on one thing: original equipment manufacturers are terrible at writing or pre-loading software. Whether it be adding pre-exisiting software to Windows OEM installs, or software they write on their own, it is universally bad. As such, I just can’t understand why Microsoft would leave creating tablet user experiences to OEMs.
While Microsoft is pushing Windows 7 on one hand, it’s promoting Windows Embedded Compact 7 on the other. Windows 7 is Windows NT, whereas Windows Embedded Compact 7 is Windows CE – different kernel, different software stack. Microsoft may have seen the light when it comes to more tightly controlling the user experience in mobile phones, but sadly, that revelation isn’t carrying over to the tablet space.
At Computex, Microsoft is showing off an ARM-based tablet running Windows Embedded Compact 7, which comes with an impressive Silverlight-based user interface, created using Expression Blend. While it is different from what we’re seeing with Windows Phone 7 (which won’t come to tablets), it does bear a close resemblance. It looks pretty darn good – well, except for the browser which uses Internet Explorer 7.
Video courtesy of Engadget.
Sadly, it won’t come to market. In their wisdom, Microsoft believes that original equipment manufacturers should create their own interfaces on top of their embedded operating system. Yes, the same companies that have taken away hours of our lives by including boatloads of crapplets on their machines are supposed to write tablet touch interfaces.
This right here is why Microsoft will not get any serious foothold in this tablet market. What we’ll have instead is dozens of different and crappy interfaces, with just as many crappy incompatible software stores filled with outdated software because the OEMs are too lazy to keep their software updated. Adding insult to injury, they’re promoting both Windows 7 and Windows Embedded Compact 7 for tablets.
By the way, I still fail to see the use in these tablets, but then again, I’m weird and still think tabbed browsing is a bit hoity-toity.
Sure, the OEMs will build the UIs, but they are talking about it being a Silverlight stack using Expression Blend as the visual design tool. Which means that there is a set of standard widgets, and all the interfaces will in fact run on the same software stack. So there is still some promise here, there is a real risk that the development efforts on this will be rather fractured design-wise, but at least it is not really a question of real compatibility problems. Plus that Silverlight is already on the desktop Windows, and will be the basis for Windows Phone 7 (and that is a huge part of things I suspect), so in some ways Microsoft is really building something that looks like a coherent software stack strategy here.
So, in summary, the technology will be the same and portable, but the UI design may get a bit bumpy. I am a bit tempted to compare the situation to the web really, since that is the model for a lot of new apps these days. There are no UI guidelines for the web either, but at least all pages are built on a similar portable technology stack.
Edited 2010-06-03 13:51 UTC