When the BBC launched iPlayer, consumers couldn’t get enough of the free catch-up TV service. Its success soon put the Beeb at odds with broadband providers, though: who was going to pay for what the BBC was giving away for free on their expensive networks? Bandwidth doesn’t come cheap, after all.
Windows 8 looks the business, but will it be able to keep up with our thirst for online access?
See also: Microsoft Windows 8 review
I can see a similar scenario with Windows 8 and, more generally, with our move ‘to the cloud’, as Microsoft insists on terming it. The next version of Windows encourages us all to embrace the web. A billion users already run Windows, and Microsoft will encourage them all to use the next version.
Microsoft promises that Windows 8 will offer the tablet-like advantages of instant-on devices, but with multitasking too. For this to work you’ll need a solid web connection to access anything stored online. But cloud computing is setting itself up for a fall by its very dependence on the web. If you can’t access your apps, how will you use them?
And I’ve already got an example. Rather than take hefty literature with us on a recent break in Barcelona, we loaded up on apps that would give us the details we needed when out and about. A great little instant translation app called Word Lens ensured we understood what various restaurants’ menus offered, while our cached Lonely Planet guidebook also rocked. But we were less successful with apps that required a live web connection.
Having tracked down a half-remembered restaurant and logged its name and approximate location while in Wi-Fi range in our apartment, my planning went to pot when we came close to actually navigating there. Pressing ‘Back’ on a smartphone merely brings up a ‘no internet connection’ message. Why the iPhone browser has no built-in cache I will never know. It’s not for lack of onboard memory. Next time, I’ll have the foresight to take a screengrab of the map. Maybe.
In a standard home Wi-Fi network, web failure is likely to be less of an issue. We certainly hope – and anticipate – that automatic over-the-air synchronisation of our photos, music and emails will happen as we walk through the door after a hard day’s tweeting, instant messaging, taking photos and downloading music.
How and where this freshly updated content is physically stored, duplicates and licences managed, and remote access to it enabled, is much less clear.
There are plenty of services and dedicated apps for these sorts of task, but surely Windows 8 will have its own, whether in the guise of Windows Live Services or some other mechanism. How large files and backups are handled is also yet to be established, while payments for online and offline storage and access are conversations and controversies sure to be had.
You can sell someone a £300 laptop, and encourage them to use the web all the time and rely on the internet for storage, but how will you persuade them that the only way they can continue to access their music and photos is to pay to do so?