Windows 8 Gets Unboxed

Lance Ulanoff
Windows 8 Gets Unboxed
Microsoft Boxes Classic

First they decided to kill the . Now this: is reportedly dropping the retail, boxed, full version option from .

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This is kind of sad, but also sensible. Not being able to find a full version of Windows 8 on retail shelves shouldn’t bother many, considering how many of us buy computers with the OS pre-installed.

Still, the demise of the Windows box (there may still be a ) marks a turning point in the software industry.

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If you’ve been in computers for long enough, you'll remember the rows and rows of software or application boxes (we didn’t start calling things “apps” until the iPhone), lining retailer shelves.

Back in the 80’s, such packaging made sense. They contained the giant disks: first 5-inch floppies and then, as software and computers grew more powerful, a stack of 3.5-inch floppy disks. Stuffed in with those disks was usually an inch-thick manual, which no one in their right mind read.

In the 90’s, optical media squeezed all that data onto a couple of CD-ROMs -- and eventually a single DVD (which holds 4.7 GB). As a result, most software boxes were largely empty. They remained the exact same book-ish size, but were filled mostly with air and some structural-support cardboard.

I found the whole thing incredibly wasteful. The advent of the Internet did not change this. There were more, not fewer, boxes until the end of the century. Broadband access is what changed the retail packaging game. By the early 2000’s, many people were able to download their favorite software products.

With the advent of Windows Update (and slip-stream updates for virtually other major application on the planet), that packaged product and original disks because even less valuable (save for the Serial # or Product ID) as they represented frozen-in-time code.

These days, Microsoft updates its OS on a weekly basis. Install from original disks and you’d be starting all over again.

The other thing that hurt the retail software package business was the rise of the casual game and the app explosion. Soon all those boxed games for kids, utilities for families, single-purpose productivity apps could be found in ’s .

No one has to visit the local MicroCenter to buy a $49 packaged app. Cloud-based service users need never touch a disk or tech manual.

The last big-box holdouts? Full-blown productivity products like Microsoft Office, and platform software, like Apple’s Mac OS and Microsoft Windows.

Last year, Apple ended retail packaging for Mac OS X Lion. Now Microsoft will, it seems, do the same with Windows 8.

Microsoft has promised to make its new live in time for the Windows 8 Release to Manufacturing (RTM) in August. Like the other, increasingly successful desktop-app-level online software options out there -- and Steam, for instance -- are your retail software shelf replacements.

Microsoft is actually expanding its retail presence, even as it diminishes physical packaging’s importance. The company wants to have by mid-2013. Those stores will be devoted to Microsoft hardware, with the new (which will never know retail, boxed software) taking center stage.

Getting rid of cardboard boxes, manuals and landfill-stuffing discs is a good thing. It’s good for the environment and saves us all some valuable space. On the other hand, I can’t help but get a little misty-eyed for some of that great 80’s and 90’s product packaging. My basement is full of it. When there are no more stores selling software, I may start giving tours.

New Start Screen

The Windows 8 Release Preview has many more dynamic live tiles, with new apps like News, Sports and Travel adding images and headlines to the mix.

This story originally published on Mashable .