You may have heard that Windows 8 tablets with 7 or 8 inch displays will come with a free copy of Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student. Clearly Microsoft is trying to make Windows tablets more attractive to some users than Android or iOS devices.
But at the same time, it seems Microsoft doesn’t actually expect you to run desktop-style apps (like Office 2013) on small tablets.
In a speech at the Computex trade show in Taiwan this week, Microsoft’s Antoine Leblond talked about some of the things the company is doing to make Windows run better on tablets with screens smaller than 10 inches.
That includes tweaking the software with better support for portrait mode and for devices with thin screen bezels. But it also includes making it easier to access key functions in the “Modern” user interface without switching to the Desktop mode. OK, that makes sense, since “Modern” apps are designed to work with touchscreens and with devices a variety of screen sizes and resolutions.
But something about this quote still seems a bit odd when you consider the fact that Microsoft is including one of its most important desktop apps with small Windows tablets:
Now, one of the things that’s interesting about a small device like this is that it’s actually the kind of device where you really want to be able to stay inside what we call the modern experience. The desktop on a device that small is actually really, really hard to navigate. So things that force you to go into the desktop are really problematic.
To put that in context, Leblond is saying that Windows 8.1 has a new Settings app that lets you access most of the functions available in the traditional Control Panel. That’s not a bad thing.
But if Microsoft’s overall attitude is that nobody wants to use desktop-style apps on a small Windows PC, then why exactly is the company bundling the desktop version of Microsoft Office?
Also — why would anyone choose a Windows tablet over an iOS or Android device unless they wanted to run desktop apps? Right now there are millions of Windows apps that aren’t available with a Modern UI and which aren’t available for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, or any other operating system.
But if you expect users only to run touch-friendly apps from the Windows Store, then you’re positioning Windows 8.1 as a competitor to Android and iOS… and each platform already has a far richer app ecosystem. The only compelling reasons I can think of to choose Windows is support for desktop apps, and maybe support for running two or more “modern” apps in side-by-side windows.