Microsoft Windows 8, Office 2013, IE10 and the Consequences for Web Developers

Microsoft revealed this week that Windows 8 will be released on Friday October 26, 2012. The editions have been simplified:

  • Windows 8
    the primary version for the home market.
  • Windows 8 Pro
    Windows 8 with professional features including Remote Desktop server, file encryption, virtualization, VHD booting, etc. Windows Media Center is not included but will be available at additional cost in a Media Pack.
  • Windows 8 Enterprise
    Windows 8 Pro with features to assist software management in larger organizations.
  • Windows RT
    Only available as a pre-installed OS on ARM-based tablets.

Until January 31 2013, existing Windows XP, Vista and 7 users can obtain a downloadable upgrade for $40. It doesn’t matter which version you’re running; you can switch to Windows 8 standard or Pro for the same price. The aggressive discount is good news for web developers; many XP users will upgrade and abandon legacy versions of Internet Explorer.

Windows 8

Windows 8 provides several new opportunities. Native Windows applications can be developed in HTML5 and JavaScript, websites can interact with Metro UI tiles, a chromeless browser is available and the new Windows Marketplace can monetize your development efforts.

Whether users like the OS is another matter. Windows 8 is a radical departure from previous editions and, while Metro may be ideal for tablets, it could confuse those using desktop PCs. Abandoning the ‘Start’ button after 18 years will either be a courageous and innovative decision or a disaster of Vista-like proportions.

Microsoft Office 2013

According to the Microsoft system requirements, Office 2013 will only be available on Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012. Companies using XP or Vista must therefore:

  1. retain an older suite (even if they’ve paid for ongoing Office upgrades), or
  2. migrate to Windows 7/8.

Those choosing the second option will not (or cannot) remain on IE8. It’s possible that the decision to drop XP/Vista support from Office will encourage more browser upgrades than Windows 8 itself.

Internet Explorer 10

While IE10 could arrive earlier, I suspect Microsoft will reveal their new browser on the same date. IE9 may have been a match for competing browsers when it was released, but it is 18 months old in October. It’s been left behind and an upgrade is long overdue.

IE10 looks impressive. If they can deliver the promised HTML5 feature set, performance and automated updates, Microsoft will regain more respect from the web developer community.

Unsurprisingly, IE10 will not run on Windows XP. Unfortunately, it won’t run on Vista either. While Vista was hardly a success for Microsoft, it currently accounts for 8.1% of desktop users — that’s higher than all versions of Mac OS combined.

Vista is dropping, but at a far slower rate than XP. It was Microsoft’s flagship OS less than three years ago and anyone who purchased a PC at the time still has capable hardware running Vista. While it’s easy to berate the early versions, the OS did improve with age — many users had little reason to upgrade.

We therefore have Windows XP users stuck on IE8 and Vista users stuck on IE9. That situation could continue for many years if Windows 8 isn’t a success.

IE Legacy Versions

IE10 is an important psychological leap: IE8 will be two versions old. The browser won’t die overnight but it’s another nail the coffin.

However, web developers still need to test IE8. IE6 and IE7 haven’t disappeared completely, either. It’s not possible to install the legacy browsers on the same PC and, while there are some useful tools such as IE’s compatibility modes and IETester, they’re not identical and can only be used for superficial testing.

Windows 7 offers XP Mode; a virtual copy of Windows XP allowing real installations of IE6, 7 and 8 to run as though they were native applications. It was the primary reason I opted for Windows 7 Professional, although it could also be run on the Home edition if you had a spare XP license.

Windows 8 has dropped XP Mode, although it does provide built-in Hyper-V OS machine virtualization. It’s therefore possible to run XP VMs for IE testing without additional software such as VirtualBox or VMware. I’ll miss XP Mode but there will be fewer reasons to use it when the old browsers are dead and buried.

The EU Browser Choice Screen

On March 1, 2010 the EU forced Microsoft to offer a browser choice screen so European users could choose an alternative to Internet Explorer. The system has been beset with problems such as accusations of unfair bias and non-random array shuffling algorithms.

Microsoft has now subjected itself to further EU investigations. A technical issue has prevented the screen appearing on fresh installations of Windows 7 SP1 since February 2011 and up to 28 million customers may have been affected. Microsoft has apologized but EU investigators have stated there will be sanctions if an infringement is confirmed.

I’m not convinced the browser choice screen had a significant impact on market share. It arrived a decade too late, made little difference during the year it was operational and Chrome managed to overtake IE without assistance. Its re-introduction will not influence IE6/7/8 migration since most Windows 7 users already have IE9 … but the law is law and the screen must appear in Windows 8 (Windows RT is another matter, but I’ll save that debate for another article).

Mostly Good Then?

Whether you’re a Microsoft user or not, the combination of competitive Windows 8 upgrades, Office 2013 and IE10 is good news for web developers. While IE on XP and Vista remains a concern, the older versions should die out at an increased rate and HTML5 application development will become easier.

Let’s just hope Microsoft can keep pace with the other vendors. Frequent Chrome/Firefox-like updates are not necessary, but 18-24 months between IE versions is an eon in web-time.

(For the record, I am a Windows user. This article contains my own opinions and has not been financed by Microsoft or one of their competitors. Let the pro/anti-Microsoft comments commence!…)

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  • http://zenshadow.com/ Trevor Geene

    In general, I am a Windows person when it comes to my PC’s. But I am very worries about Windows 8. In my opinion Windows only comes out with a good OS every other time.

    Example:
    95 – Sucked
    98 – Good
    ME – Horrible
    XP – Great
    Vista – Terrible
    7 – Amazing
    8 – ???

    Only time will tell, but give there track record we are all in for some hell.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Nicely worked out … although you missed Windows 2000 which was OK and sort of breaks the pattern. Going back further, NT4 (post 95) was good too.

      • Matt

        Don’t forget 98SE. Was Windows 2000 a consumer OS?

      • anonymous

        @Matt

        2000 wasn’t aimed at the consumer. Neither was NT, nor 2003, which were also omitted by Trevor. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say they he intentionally omitted versions of Windows that weren’t meant for average Joe. If the inclusion of Vista, 7, and 8 makes you doubt that, bear in mind that Vista marked the first time the business and consumer oriented product bore the same base designation.

    • Chris

      So 95 “sucked”. Well, what would you have preferred to use at that point in time? 3.1 or perhaps even DOS? Oh, and Vista is “terrible”, but W7 (which if you didn’t realize, is a tweaked version of Vista) is “amazing”. Seems you don’t have the faintest idea what you are talking about.

      • anonymous

        Not Trevor, but I think I’ll field this.

        > Well, what would you have preferred to use at that point in time? 3.1 or perhaps even DOS?

        Either, actually. I stuck with DOS until ’95c. I figured (correctly, I might add) that compatibility with 3.11 or DOS would still common enough in post-’95 releases that it’d be easy to tough it out until MS ironed the wrinkles out of Win’ ’95. I was partially correct—it was easy to tough it out, but it took MS about a third of ’95’s entire life-cycle until they finally managed to get it tolerable. …less than year later they released ’98.

        > Oh, and Vista is “terrible”, but W7 (which if you didn’t realize, is a tweaked version of Vista) is “amazing”. Seems you don’t have the faintest idea what you are talking about.

        In case it somehow escaped your notice the very reason Vista sucked is precisely because it is little more than a beta release of 7. Seriously, Vista sucked. It’s decidedly lacklustre in comparison to its more recent sibling, and that’s without taking into account that just about every second thing that improved on XP was buggy and/or under-supported on release, and in some cases even had to be back-ported from 7.

      • Jim S

        Mac System 6 or 7…..
        Not an Apple fanboy (typing this on a Macbook, but use Windows 7 PC a lot more and all my desktops for a decade have been Windows) but the Mac system was waaaaaaaaaayyyyy better than Windows 95. Further, I thought DOS was more reliable / productive.

    • http://brianswebdesign.com Brian Temecula

      When I started in with Windows, it was version 3.1, and it was released on floppy discs! You had to at least be somewhat familiar with DOS because it ran on DOS. I don’t even remember having Internet Explorer back then. Our first internet experience was AOL, and it was on dial-up. We have it so good now!

      • Tim Goyer

        That was because I believe 3.11 (or maybe Workgroups) was the first version to offer a TCP/IP stack built in.

  • http://www.stillpixel.com Ron Rattie

    A $40 upgrade fee?? Wow, Microsoft really does copy everything that Apple does don’t they? Not trying to sound like a fanboi or anything, but Apple pushed acceptance and penetration of newer versions of OSX by keeping the upgrade cost low.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Mmm, I see what you’re saying but, after a short while Apple forces you to buy a new desktop PC!

      • http://www.stillpixel.com Ron Rattie

        I’m running Macs from 2007 and 2008 that will all be getting the Mountain Lion upgrade as soon as it’s available. I think that’s pretty good in my book.

      • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

        That’s not really accurate Craig… I don’t get much into the OS religious wars much but I’ll call it how I see it and you’re attempting to perpetuate a myth.

        I’ve been a MS guy since the MS DOS days and then Win2.1 (I think). I finally got fed up after buying a VIsta laptop 15 days too early to qualify for the free upgrade to Win7 so I decided my next purchase would be a Mac. It’s a tool that does a job and if it’s got enough HP, you can load it up with VM’s and run whatever OS you want. I have half a dozen or so copied of WinXP, Seven, Server 2008/2010. It’s the same machine I bought nearly 3 years ago 16gig RAM a TB HD and it’s just as fast as it was when I unpacked it. I won’t be buying a new one soon.

        So regarding Win8… I’ve been beta testing it for a while now. I’ve got an MSDN subscription so I got the version with Apps. I’m not crazy about the beta of IE10… It’s still lacking a lot of the CSS3 and HTML5 support that is already available in Chrome, Safari & Firefox. I’ll be watching this one closely. I think Win8 is much better than Vista was for sure as far as opening and closing goes but they really need to gt their collective crap together regarding IE to convince me that it’s going to be worth the effort.

        Andrew

      • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

        Admittedly, my comment was a little tongue-in-cheek. But, to be fair to Microsoft, many people are still running their 11 year-old OS on ancient hardware. And it’ll happily load software written more than 20 years ago. Apple don’t have the same attitude to supporting older systems but I guess they don’t need to.

  • http://www.bluesmoke.ro Daniel

    I don’t know about you, but some of the websites I designed look awful in IE10! It seems to me that the bullshit in IE is returning! IE9 is by far the best IE ever and unfortunately I think it will remain so for a long time…

  • http://twitter.com/PauldeWouters PauldeWouters (@PauldeWouters)

    win 2000 wasn’t really an OS for the home user, was it.
    I’m using the Windows 8 release preview for my day to day dev work, and it’s pretty stable except for some driver and program incompatibilities. I mostly regret not being able to play minecraft on my ageing Dell laptop.
    But once you close the Metro interface, it’s pretty much like working on Windows 7.

  • http://www.stillpixel.com Ron Rattie

    98se, Win2k sp1 and Win7 are Microsoft’s best OSes IMHO.

  • sillyness

    Windows NT workstation and Windows 2000 workstation were never really meant for the consumer market. And NT was not a good operating system. It was well known for its blue screen of death.

    So 95 “sucked”. Well, what would you have preferred to use at that point in time?
    Chris,
    Possible Answers: MacOS 7.6 and 8.
    I did not convert to windows until windows 98. I wasn’t very impressed with windows 95 either. Every one has their own opinions. Perhaps, you don’t have the faintest idea what you are talking about. And, Yes, Vista was terrible.

    • http://accessibleweb.eu Richard

      My dates may be suspect but I think there was another option at the time of OS2 v2 – certainly OS2 was around.

      Personally I liked Windows NT v4 which incorporated the Win 95 style interface in place of the Win 3 style interface.

  • http://infigadgets.com Tushar Agarwal

    The Windows 8 is based on Windows 7, but i guess the most worthy feature will be the metro tiles and one click applications access.

  • Steffen

    Is there any news about the html-rendering engine for Outlook 2013? Any good news possibly?

  • Brian

    Despite the fact that you could install XP on 8’s virtualization features, that’d also entail finding a full copy of XP for purchase at a reasonable price somewhere on the web. Being that there are pieces of legacy software that I use regularly that depend on XP Mode to run without conflict, its exclusion from Windows 8 comes very close to being a deal-breaker for me in terms of upgrading, even at the reduced cost.

  • http://www.xoogu.com/ Dave

    $40 upgrade fee = good
    No included XP license (and no info if the XP Mode license is transferable) = bad

    XP Mode is very important for me for testing sites on the myriad IE versions.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      I agree.

      Scrapping XP Mode is possibly in Microsoft’s commercial interest; they don’t want users relying on XP even if it’s virtualized. There are rumors that VirtualPC/XP Mode won’t run on Windows 8 and the download page only offers Windows 7. But I would certainly hope the XP Mode license is transferable in some way.

    • Capsaicin

      How bout disabling the myraid of IE versions. They all suck. Including IE9

  • http://www.throwthemout.com John

    I’ve been using Windows 8 for a couple months now and love it. The new UI takes a little getting used to, but you can use a Win7 type UI, too.

    You can see with the new UI, they’ve moved towards one that works on desktop, tablet, smart phone, etc., so that all will feel seamless in usability. Start up and Shutdown times seem much shorter, too.

    You can download the preview version here:
    http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/release-preview

  • Capsaicin

    “The aggressive discount is good news for web developers; many XP users will upgrade and abandon legacy versions of Internet Explorer.”

    Can I get a “halleluja” please. Stand up n sway with the music while that good feeling washes over you.

    Amen Brotha!