For better or worse, I think I have finally come to terms with Windows 8 on my home computer. It has some pros and many cons, which I have accepted in my simple home environment, where I don't do any electronics development. Windows 8 is clearly an operating system that attempts to straddle the chasm between desktop and tablet computing. That it is not particularly successful is not the issue.
What concerns me is that Microsoft appears to have decided that the tablet market is the future of computing, and that desktop and laptop sales are declining as a result. As Microsoft improves Windows 8 (for tablets), the desktop/laptop market will decline further. Sooner or later, that market will die. We are already seeing PC suppliers like Dell run into problems.
I don't know about you, but when I am developing a product, even if it is purely a Windows application, I need a good keyboard and at least two big screens. I despair when I think of having to develop on any laptop. (Having performed some work using the Osborne 1, http://www.obsoletecomputermuseum.org/osborne I know something about this. )
What will we use for the keyboard? Microsoft's Surface does have a much better keyboard than its competitors, but it is not a full-sized keyboard. The display of any tablet may provide wonderful graphics, but switching between applications is a pain when you could have two applications open side by side. What about the whacks of memory required by compliers and synthesis engines?
From my experience, the iPad operating system is simply an extension of a PC (as a generic term), presenting a different user interface to the PC and providing very limited development capabilities. Even the word processor and spreadsheet apps are primitive. Equivalent Android offerings are only a little closer to those of a normal PC.
They have a USB port, so you can support peripherals and work with files to some extent. However, the Surface is a complete system. According to the pundits I have been reading, it is also Microsoft's chosen future. Perhaps the consumer market will not accept Microsoft's direction. In that case, my concerns will turn out to be groundless, but I imagine there will be a period of instability.
Let's extrapolate from Microsoft's perceived direction. What operating system will be supported by all the new tools? Right now, it seems to me that everything from FPGA/microcontroller IDEs and schematic and PCB capture environments to PROM programmers and even tablet application development tools runs under Windows 7 and (occasionally) Linux.
Will all these companies convert to some other OS? Will they even port their products to Windows 8?
Surely, the cost will be too high to justify in many cases, and we will see some thinning out of the herd as marginally profitable software disappears. And what about us users? All our tools will become obsolete, and we will have to raise the funds for new development environments. Industry legacy support will become problematic, as well.
Even if we all end up migrating to Linux and the GNU tool chain, what will we use for hardware? If there is anything equivalent to a modern PC, it will be outrageously expensive, since the economies of scale will no longer be the norm. Is Microsoft blind to the fact that it is sawing off the branch on which it is sitting? Perhaps there is some other strategy.
If your company produces tools that run under Windows 7, do you have any contingency plans? If you use any tools that run under Windows, how do you feel about the future of electronic development and your PC?
(This blog has been previously published on EETimes. )