The Windows desktop is at once the most important and least important part of the Windows experience. On the traditional desktop and laptop, it’s fundamental; it’s where most apps run, and it’s where most users want to be. The perceived downplaying of the desktop in Windows 8 was one of the many reasons that desktop users were unhappy with the operating system.
But on the tablet, the desktop is a liability. Small, fiddly apps that aren’t designed for fingers do not make for a good tablet experience. Every time a tablet user has to use the desktop—and on Windows 8.1, they will have to do so at least some of the time—then that tablet user has to suffer an experience that is, at its heart not a tablet experience, and it’s no fun at all.
The Windows desktop: totally essential in some situations. Totally unwanted in others.
Microsoft does have a desktopless Windows—it’s called Windows Phone—and many wanted the company to use the operating system as the basis for its tablet platform. Through necessity, Windows Phone is a complete touch environment, with every feature usable with fingers alone. When Windows 8 materialized, with the full desktop in tow, the reaction was bemusement. Sure, technically you could add a mouse and a keyboard to a tablet and use that desktop for desktop software, but that was hardly the point of tablet systems.
This was doubly so on the ARM-powered Windows RT tablets. These had the full desktop, but unlike their x86 counterparts, couldn’t even run desktop software. The desktop was a necessary evil because the touch-friendly Metro environment lacked things like a complete settings app, a competent file manager, and any kind of productivity software.
With Windows 10 Microsoft is going to make a desktopless version of Windows. At its Windows 10 event last week Microsoft said that there would be an 8 inch cut off point. At 8 or more inches, devices would run regular Windows 10.