Windows 8 Surface Pro could be an OS/2 victim

If it runs desktop Windows so well, who needs tablet apps?

One of the biggest knocks on the Windows 8 Surface Pro model is that, while it runs Windows desktop programs fantastically, there are not a lot of tablet apps for it. That is absolutely true. A quick tour through the Windows store and you quickly see it pales in comparison to the offerings in iTunes and Google Play. On top of this, many of the tablet-optimized apps available are either from Microsoft itself or ports of desktop programs that really don't take advantage of the touch/tablet interface.

The question is will we see more tablet-optimized and designed programs for this platform? Well, Microsoft certainly has the money and muscle in the developer channel to try and make it so. But I think they are in danger of being OS/2 Warped. What do I mean by that? Let me tell you.

Do you remember OS/2 Warp? I do, I loved the OS. It was so far ahead of Windows and even Windows NT when it came out. Many of its features are just recently being added to modern OSes. IBM had a great marketing slogan for Warp as well. It ran DOS programs better than DOS itself. It ran Windows programs better than Windows. You could fine tune your DOS settings to give games and programs more memory than they had in standard DOS. It was great. Windows programs looked better, ran faster, and crashed less in OS/2 than they did in Windows itself. It was great. Native OS/2 programs were also great when they were available.

But that was the problem. With its ability to run DOS and Windows so well, who needed native OS/2 programs? Other than custom apps, the commercially available OS/2 application market never materialized. There was no MS Office (a good example why there may not be an iOS version ever). Word Perfect had a version, but by and large, there were just not enough OS/2 native apps. The biggest reason is that a lot of people didn't need them. If you had a Windows or DOS version of your program, it ran just great in OS/2. Why take the time to make a native OS/2 version when OS/2 users could use the Windows and DOS versions?

Over time, OS/2 could not survive trying to be a better Windows. Every time Microsoft made a change, IBM had to catch up. OS/2 didn't have its own stable of applications that made you not fire up the Windows VM so much. In the end, it doomed OS/2. Technically superior, perhaps, but out-marketed, out-developed, and ultimately killed by Microsoft Windows.

The same thing can happen to Windows 8 Surface Pro. It runs Windows applications as well as any laptop or desktop. That is great. There are literally millions of programs that run on Windows. But if I have them, what incentive do developers have to develop tablet versions of these programs? What incentive do I as a customer have to pay for a separate tablet version? At the end of day, the answer to these questions is going to go a long way to determining the ultimate success of the Surface Pro. Microsoft needs to come up with the answer here.

In the meantime, if you can get your hands on a Windows 8 Surface Pro, enjoy using this new class of device. But while running those Windows programs, ask yourself if you'd be willing to pay for them, and what a real tablet version of that program would look and feel like.

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