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June 2014

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What's Wrong with Windows 8?

If you read my last article, “The Death of XP”, then you may have noticed that I often mentioned Windows 7, but not Windows 8. So what’s the problem with Windows 8, anyway? Criticism has been vehement and profuse for Windows 8. Dell ads now say “Dell recommends Windows”, not “Dell recommends Windows 8”. Staples, which used to sell PCs with Windows 8 only, is now opting for a half/half mix of Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers. At Microsoft, there has been a major reshuffling and rethinking. Should everybody with a Windows 8 computer then throw it in the garbage? Here’s my breakdown on Windows 8:

The Good:

Windows 8 is stable and reliable. Unlike Windows ME (which would crash if I changed my background picture) and Windows Vista which were both highly noteworthy for their funny behavior and propensity to crash, Windows 8 seems to be built solid. In other words, under the hood, all seems to be in order.

Windows 8 seems to be fast and responsive. Microsoft has been working on their operating responsiveness and they seem to have succeeded. Boot times and shutdown times are noticeably quicker. Even on less expensive hardware, where I’d expect to see sluggish performance, Windows 8 still runs well.

Windows 8 still provides desktop mode, the familiar paradigm that most PC users employ to get things done. Although you get the feeling that Microsoft would rather have ditched the desktop entirely, its continued presence (as yet) has been a lifesaver to many a Windows 8 user. 

The Bad:

OK. Where to start…

Microsoft has radically altered their user interface design from the Windows desktop, which most of us are familiar with, to their new Metro aka Modern design, which more closely resembles the interface used for a smart phone. This interface centers around apps that describe discrete functionalities and gestures for conveying user directives. While this type of interface apparently works well on a smart phone, whether it’s the best interface design for a computer is highly questionable.

Whereas a smart phone or tablet screen doesn’t have the screen size to support multiple windows, most computer screens do. Wasn’t the whole idea of “Windows” to allow a user to run multiple applications at the same time on one (or more) large screens? I don’t even think that this is possible with Microsoft’s new Modern interface design.

Whereas the natural means of driving a smart phone would seem to be by gesture. The natural means of driving a computer (even one with a touch screen, I believe) remains the keyboard and mouse. Shall we get rid of our keyboards and mice because we can’t make use of them for our smartphones? In short, Microsoft has apparently scrapped decades of research and evolution in computer user interface design for the sake of “fashion”. They’re now paying the price.

Microsoft has also made it much harder for the average user to accomplish simple everyday chores. Shutting down the computer is now a four-step process. Starting Microsoft Word means doing a “Where’s Waldo?” search for Word, scrolling back and forth through all my apps. I used to be able to just click on my document. How do I close a window – where did my red X go? How do I search for a file? How do I connect to a wireless network? The answer to many of these questions starts by going to the Windows 8’s “vestigial” desktop mode.  If they remove the desktop, then how will any of this work?

Microsoft has added a lot that I don’t want – and don’t want to have to look at. I like having a nice clean desktop – both real and on my computer. It helps me think. It keeps my attention focused. Call me crazy, but I don’t want the first thing I look at when I boot my computer to be a crazy kind of pinball machine vision with lights, animations, flashing, commercials, etc. If I want that, I’ll visit Las Vegas.

The Ugly:

Making bad design choices is one thing, but it’s something else again when Microsoft removes perfectly good functionality that people have always relied upon. Although much has already been said on the subject, Microsoft’s removal of the Start button still has me confounded. The Start button has been a staple of Windows for decades. It was even featured in its commercials. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0AJM6HMYjM. Is the Start button dead? Apparently not; Microsoft has bowed to popular demand and has reinstalled it with Windows 8.1. Adding insult to injury, the Start button now brings you straight to Microsoft’s Modern app-filled display. However, I believe that Microsoft has plans to include a real start menu in a future release.

Speaking of Windows 8.1, I recently read that in some cases, software that would function perfectly fine on Windows 8, will not function on Windows 8.1. What’s going on Microsoft? In my book, patching an operating system should NOT cause software to no longer work.

In addition, Microsoft has taken a decidedly unfriendly stance toward software developers. See the following quote from ArsTechnica:
  • “No-cost desktop software development is dead on Windows 8: Microsoft wants Windows developers to write Windows 8-specific, Metro-style, touch-friendly applications, and to make sure that they crank these apps out, the company has decided that Visual Studio 11 Express, the free-to-use version of its integrated development environment, can produce nothing else.”
Windows in the past has been largely construed as a relatively open platform where developers could write applications that others could benefit from. It’s one of the things that made the Windows operating system (specifically in contrast to Mac) highly desirable for developers and users. What is Microsoft thinking?

In a surprise move, Windows 8 doesn’t include DVD playing software. Windows 7 did. If you want your Windows 8 machine to be able to play DVDs (imagine!), then you’ll need to download and install the software yourself, or purchase Windows 8 Pro, then pay an additional $10 for Microsoft’s DVD player software. While not a big deal, is Microsoft going out of its way to make life difficult for its users?

Finally, I find the Metro design - in a word - ugly. Here is somebody who agrees: See http://brianmercerbooks.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/why-windows-8-is-flat-and-ugly-and-why-ios-7-should-not-follow/

For now, Windows 7 is supported and available. I can still recommend Windows 7. As for what the future will bring, let’s see what Microsoft has in store for us with Windows 9.

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