Windows 8 was a triumph and the last time I really cared about tablets

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Do you remember Windows 8? Turns out it’s actually 10 years old, but if you think back to 2022, it’s still so modern you could be forgiven for thinking it was a newer release. But it wasn’t particularly popular, and virtually all traces of it have now been wiped from Windows.


And it’s a shame.

The by-product is that I haven’t really been interested in tablets for many years, because nothing has been as enjoyable to use as Windows 8. Sure, I’ve had iPads and so on, but a Windows tablet was different because it could really be my laptop when I needed it. So naturally, Microsoft killed it.


Ahead of its time

Windows 8 echoed the design of Windows Phone 7 and 8, and I maintain that it was perhaps too ahead of its time. Windows 8 was a radical departure from Windows 7, or at least half of it was. The Start menu of old becomes this glorious full-screen experience covered in touch-sensitive tiles, some of which display useful information like the weather or headlines.

Like widgets, but less terrible because they had a consistent UI that actually worked without looking like a hodgepodge of random elements. If launched today, it would still look fresh and modern.

Windows 8 would look fresh and modern if launched again today.

The splash screen was just one part of it. Metro’s UI went straight to app design. Big and bold, and unlike traditional apps, the UI typically went side-to-side rather than scrolling up and down. Besides being interesting and unusual, it was actually a very intuitive experience. Swiping up rather than up or down felt so much more natural to me, especially on a tablet. After all, we read from left to right, right? (I don’t appreciate everybody read from left to right).

Next to Android, iOS, macOS and even traditional win32 apps, Windows 8 apps stood out. Nothing else felt like a Windows 8 app. It had its own unique take on what a touch interface should be and it was truly amazing. It made using a tablet like the Surface Pro 3 a real pleasure. The touch targets were always so big and there was never an overload of information on the screen at any given time. So everything is fine.

So of course it ended up in the trash. Well done, Microsoft.

Windows tablets are terrible now

Windows 8 was not so popular. I always thought I was afraid of change, and as far as Windows goes, this was probably the biggest change since the introduction of Windows 95. Where macOS has always been the sexy, cool alternative for kids, Windows has actually always been used by billions of people on billions of machines.

And these people don’t like change. They wanted their Windows 7. Or their Windows XP in many corporate (and government) cases. What is this radical full-screen startup experience full of colorful blocks? Get this from our ThinkPads business issue. The players, too, did not really appreciate it. You only had to look at Steam’s hardware surveys to see how long too many people had stuck with Windows 7.

I have always attributed his lack of popularity to fear of change.

I’m being facetious but there’s some truth in that. Change is scary, and in a corporate world, it can just break important things you need to do your job. The thing is, Windows 8 still had a desktop mode. But it was hidden, at least at first, behind this new splash screen. The Start Menu returned, of course, but perhaps Microsoft could have undone some of the negativity by offering a Professional Edition without the Start screen. After all, if you lived on the desktop back then, you didn’t install many Microsoft Store apps, did you?

The problem for me is not that people didn’t like it. Obviously, a lot of people didn’t like Windows Phone either (and those people were all wrong), but choice makes everything better. The problem I have is that starting with Windows 8, Microsoft-powered tablets have become, well, awful. Simply awful.

Windows 10 at least tried to have a tablet mode, although it wasn’t very good. The splash screen was ok, but Windows 10 itself wasn’t as tactile as Windows 8 and so the whole experience fell apart. And Windows 11 certainly didn’t do anything to improve it.

As such, you now have tablets like the Surface Go 3 and recently announced Surface Pro 9 running a desktop OS that isn’t remotely optimized for touch. Imagine how bad the iPad would actually be if it just ran macOS without any real effort. Microsoft had its iPad moment and killed it instead of trying to improve it and come up with a solution that works for everyone.

Stuck with an iPad I don’t really care about

I have a Surface Go 2, but I don’t use it as a tablet. I use it as a compact laptop because that’s what it is. Even the arrival of Android apps on the desktop won’t magically turn it into a must-have tablet.

Like almost everyone, I have an iPad these days. Why? Because I like to use a tablet for certain purposes (including entertaining kids) and it’s the only one worth buying because Apple at least seems to care. But it’s like a washing machine or a microwave, really. I use it, but I don’t like it.

What I loved was Windows 8 on tablets, that futuristic operating system launched 10 years ago that was perhaps just a victim of being too ahead of its time. I wish he was still there. Instead, it went to the graveyard of other great Microsoft products with Microsoft Band, Mixer, and Windows Phone.

And it’s a bit sad.

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