Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Windows 8. Regrets, I've Had A Few...

I have to report, the road  to Windows 8 has not been a smooth journey. There's much to like about Microsoft's new OS but the whole experience has left me feeling rather as if I'm the only person in this place to have actually upgraded to it.

First there was the great Firefox debacle - the badly documented fact that Firefox doesn't support Windows 8 (and, by the way, Chrome doesn't support Windows RT) only came to light after I had gone on a long journey to find out why Skype had stopped working. It's stopped working again but this time around I simply can't be bothered. I'm using the iPad for that instead.

Now Explorer, by no means my browser of choice, has also stopped working and I don't know what to do. There's no obvious option to repair or reinstall it. You can almost hear Barney's whiny Midwestern sing-song, 'Heyy, li'l guy! That's under the bonnet! You don't wanna go snoopin' around under the bonnet!' The support forums for Windows 8 have each got four or five topics on them, as if there are only about a hundred people in the world using this software. Microsoft support is so hard to find (particularly with a half-broken browser), I've just given up and installed Chrome.

The great selling point for Windows 8 is that it's touch enabled. If you've found yourself habitually reaching out to swipe a laptop screen, you'll appreciate the fact that you can now do it and have something happen. All of the great versions of Windows have had a 'raison d'etre' - Windows 3.0 sealed Microsoft's outright leadership not only of the OS market but of the application market, by breaking the DOS 640k barrier and simultaneously leading competitors to develop for OS/2. Windows NT didn't break. And Windows 7 wasn't  Vista.

With that in mind, Windows 8's great USP is touch, but it hedges its bets with a desktop. So you have, effectively, two interfaces - the 'Metro' swipey interface and a desktop interface that isn't quite so touch friendly. So don't go putting that mouse on Dubizzle quite yet.

There are some parts of Windows 8 that really work. It's more intuitive and things are generally where you'd expect to find 'em. There's very little 'getting started' help - I had to Google how to close an app (a much clunkier gesture than Apple's) because there was nobody from MS telling you. Likewise, the relationship between the Metro interface and Desktop is something you're left to find out for yourself. Microsoft's Mail app is cool, but won't let you use the Search features within Gmail. It all feels a bit 'give a little, take a little' to tell you the truth.

And this is why I fear for Microsoft and Windows 8. If there were a major, mass-market interface competitor (if Google were hardcore about Chrome OS), this would be a very dangerous time indeed for Microsoft.

Windows 8 is an inflection point - and inflection points in technology are always terribly dangerous times. We're locked into technology by familiarity, and the greater our investment in an interface, the greater our 'stickiness' as users is. When you ask me to relearn that interface, you're asking me to go through the same pain barrier as deserting you and going with another provider.

The trouble with Windows 8 is it's a halfway house. The next version of Windows will have to complete the move to touch and finally junk the desktop, because Windows needs to do something huge, not something whimpery and tentative. That means applications written for touch - and there are very few of those out there right now outside games and the like. At this rate of adoption, developers won't be leaping to embrace Windows 8, either.

Having moved to Windows 8, I would probably counsel anyone thinking about it to stick with Windows 7. The pain of the move has been infinitely greater than any benefits I have gained. If that's the feedback from other users, the already reportedly slow adoption of Windows 8 is not going to speed up anytime soon.

I never thought I'd see the day, but Microsoft looks extremely vulnerable right now. 


Songwriter F Space said...

Couldn't agree with you more, especially with the last part about Microsoft looking vulnerable. They are sitting on extra cash without the vision to invest it in a decent business. The result is sloppy sales of Windows 8, acquisitions which do not seem synergistic and sadly a failed attempt at mobile OS. All of this is happening when PC sales are declining globally after booming for many years now. Very dangerous times for Microsoft, however they have adequate time to find the next area of growth (companies will not suddenly ditch Office products or Windows-based computers).

Alexander McNabb said...

I'd have to disagree on the failed OS point, agree otherwise!

I'd expected to hate Windows Phone 8, I've seen so many laughable forays into mobile OSs from MS including the awful CE.

But WinPhone8 works. It's smooth, does stuff you want and I've really taken to it on the Lumia.

I just wish the notebook had the same experiential delight factor. And it doesn't. Particularly not with Samsung S5 Ultra's insanely unturnoffable and huge trackpad. Typing has never been so painful, believe me...

Stephen Coppinger said...

Nicely put. I got a copy as the 'upgrade price' was too good not to try - presumably a ploy to allow Microsoft to announce that they are moving lots of copies. So I ended up with it on my laptop.

And it's a dog. The interface is clearly for touch screens but if you don't have one, then it's just something to negotiate on your way to the real interface. My tech guy played with it and was indignant that he had to Google how to turn the laptop off. It is as intuitive as a dead turkey.

(but I have bought a copy of Beirut, having seen your post on Trapit!!)

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