‘Too much and too soon’ – Steven Sinofsky looks back at Windows 8, 10 years later

‘Too much and too soon’ – Steven Sinofsky looks back at Windows 8, 10 years later

‘Too much and too soon’ – Steven Sinofsky looks back at Windows 8, 10 years later

‘Too much and too soon’ – Steven Sinofsky looks back at Windows 8, 10 years later
Zoom / A billboard showing Windows 8 in Times Square in New York at the Microsoft Store in October 2012.

Selfie by Steven Sinofsky

on me October 26, 2012Microsoft released Windows 8, a hybrid tablet/desktop operating system that ran into major risks but got Various reviews. Ten years later, we caught up with former Windows division chief Stephen Sinofsky to explore how Windows 8 got started, how it predicted many of the current trends in computing, and how he feels about the operating system later on.

In 2011, PC sales began to decline Year after year in a trend that has alarmed the industry. At the same time, the popularity of touch screen mobile applications on smartphones and tablets has skyrocketed. In response, Microsoft developed a flexible operating system that would ideally scale from mobile to desktop seamlessly. Sinofsky accepted the challenge and worked with many others, including Julie Larson Green and Panos Panay, Head of the Surface Team, to make this happen.

Windows 8 represents the most dramatic transformation of the Windows interface since Windows 95. While this operating system introduced the Start menu, Windows 8 removed that distinct menu in favor of a Start screen filled with “live tiles” that work well on touchscreen PCs like the Microsoft Surface designed for this. purpose, but Frustrating Desktop users. This has led to great opposition from the press and PC sales continued in decline.

The iconic Windows 8 startup screen, with colorful live tiles and metro interface.
Zoom / The iconic Windows 8 startup screen, with colorful live tiles and metro interface.


Despite its flaws, some aspects of Windows 8’s interface predicted how we use tablets and other mobile devices today, including some features (like side-by-side apps and edge-to-screen swiping) that were once considered too complex and that Apple later adopted on the iPad . Aside from necessary improvements (like restoring the start button for desktop users, which happened in Windows 8.1), one could argue that Windows 8 was way ahead of its time, or “too much and too early,” as Sinofsky said in the interview below.

Ars Interview: Steven Sinofsky

To understand Steven Sinfosky’s background at Microsoft, it’s helpful to know that he has worked at the company for 23 years, beginning in 1989 as a software design engineer. After joining the Microsoft Office team in 1994, he made his way to managing the development of Office 2000, XP, 2003, and 2007. Two years later, he became head of Microsoft’s Windows division and oversaw the launch of Windows 7, which became a widely successful product for Microsoft. After the launch of Windows 8, Sinofsky left Microsoft in December 2012.

Stephen Sinofsky at a Windows event in 2012.

Stephen Sinofsky at a Windows event in 2012.


In 2020, Sinofsky start writing Detailed historical accounts of his time at Microsoft, they turned into a Substack newsletter called Hardcore Softwarewhich he publishes regularly. He’s been thinking deeply about his history a lot lately, which makes this prime time for a retrospective interview, which we had over email. His answers have been slightly modified for formatting, punctuation, and brevity.

Ars Technica: What was the first driving force behind the Windows 8 interface design changes? The iPad?

Stephen Sinofsky: You never say the first reason, but the primary motivations for changing the Windows 8 interface were because Windows is gone.

If you look at the way Windows was thinking when we built Windows 7 (2006-2009), the world was very focused on how the computer would do the computing for what the industry calls the “next billion”. Windows 7 ended up being built at the end of a vision that will never come true: the PC powering the computing billions with PCs.

As we now know, with the iPhone in 2007 (+ apps in 2008) and Android in 2008 (+/-), not only the next billion but the next billions were on smartphones. Given this way people would have used computers exclusively, if there is any hope for increased use of computers, it will come from having a more compatible experience with smartphones. This applies to core user interface (drivers) and metaphors (touch) as well as fundamentals such as cloud storage and all-day battery life and also the way mobile platforms have raced computers, such as sensors.

The primary goal was to update computing on a PC to align with the modern computing experience on smartphones. This could easily be thought of as “catching up”, but really, the whole design was about taking the core of the PC and pushing it beyond smartphones: sharing between apps, improving touchscreen typing, life files, file management, support Device (printing!) etc., that didn’t exist on smartphones.

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