Could Windows 8 and the Surface Make Microsoft... Cool?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 25 2012 5:19 PM

Could Windows 8 and the Surface Make Microsoft... Cool?

Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, is joined by excited Chinese students on stage
Steve Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows Division, is joined by Chinese students on stage during the Windows 8 launch celebration in Shanghai on Oct. 22.

KeLei Zhang / Microsoft

Let me stipulate upfront that, at 30, I am too old to even claim to know what's cool anymore. But as I futzed around with Microsoft's new Surface tablet and Windows 8 operating system at the company's big launch event in New York City on Thursday, it struck me that my 12-year-old nephew would totally dig this stuff. Although he would probably laugh at me for using the phrase "totally dig." Unless that's, like, back in.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

As my colleague Farhad Manjoo has pointed out, the main effect of Windows 8 in the short-term will be to flummox and exasperate millions of lifelong Windows users. Sure, you can still use it in old-school "desktop" mode if you're a fuddy-duddy. But with its heavy emphasis on the blocky, graphically oriented Metro interface, Microsoft is clearly pushing us all into the touchscreen age.


Most of us will go kicking and whining. Having tried out Windows 8 on a multitude of machines (and Windows RT on the Surface), I can vouch that its operation is not immediately intuitive to anyone raised on previous Windows or Apple operating systems—or even most other mobile operating systems, such as iOS and Android. And there's not a lot of handholding. You figure things out by trial and error, like a kid playing with legos for the first time. After trying unsuccessfully to get back to the "start" screen from a video app for a good three minutes, I almost—almost—caught myself wishing for the return of Clippy.

But once you get it, you get it. And preteens and teenagers will get this quickly, mobile natives that they are. Because Windows 8 and Windows RT (the tablet version) are fully of-the-moment in the way they sort information: not according to antiquated file-type categories like "apps," "browsers," "documents," and "Web pages," but thematically, as in "sports," "music," "people," "travel," and "games." Forget the mouse and the click—you do everything by touch, tap, and swipe. Of course, all that is true on the iPad too, but Apple's desktops and laptops have yet to make this leap. And its tablets so far are not quite the hybrids that many Windows devices are, especially those built with Windows 8 in mind.

Apple, of course, seeks and gets a lot of press for its products' appeal to youngsters—Apple's Tim Cook went heavy on the "iPads in schools" theme at Tuesday's iPad mini launch event. But Windows RT looks still younger and fresher than iOS, at least to these semi-wizened eyes. Or maybe it's just more confusing to old folks, which is a selling point for adolescents in its own right. My grandmother loves her iPad. I can't see her fiddling with a Surface.

With schools across the country apparently buying into the iPad hype, I can imagine a scenario in which kids put up with the old folks' Apples during the day—then go home at night and pull out their Surfaces.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.



The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories to the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
Oct. 22 2014 9:00 AM Wailing Against the Pansies: Homophobia in Whiplash
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 9:19 AM Nine Actors Remember Their Famous Horror-Movie Deaths
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 8:43 AM Thunderstruck: Rock Out With Mother Nature’s Evil Side
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 22 2014 7:30 AM An Illusion That Makes Me Happy and Sad
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.