Microsoft's big bet: Windows 8's 'too many cooks' problem

Microsoft's big bet: Windows 8's 'too many cooks' problem

Summary: Windows 8 has already had too many hands in the mix and spoons in the pot. Microsoft wanted different and its staff all thought "different". Instead of reaching compromise, Microsoft put everything in to please everyone -- but will likely please very few.


Microsoft has only a few months before it releases Windows 8, probably around October in time for Christmas holiday sales.

The company knows full well how risky the new user interface is, and how controversial are the decisions it has made. In a recent blog post, Windows president Steven Sinofsky opened by explaining the "context" in which Windows 8 will fall in to.

Microsoft wanted Windows 8 to be different and its developers and staff all thought about what "different" could mean. Instead of reaching a compromise or a general consensus, Microsoft seemed to put everything in to please everyone --- but combined, the changes will likely please very few.

Microsoft took the opportunity to explain why it has approached the product in the way it did, while justifying its end decisions. Its attempt to develop an operating system around "converging computing trends" has made way for a "too many cooks" problem. Microsoft has bet most if not all of its chips on these trends:

  1. Connected all the time: the blend of mobile broadband with the high-availability of Wi-Fi.
  2. People, not files, are the center of activity: instead of writing and creating, people are more likely to read and socialise, through e-books and social networking.
  3. The rise of mobile PCs over desktop PCs: laptops are ubiquitous but tablets are increasingly on the rise. By this time next year, tablets could be just as prevalent as laptops. But the word "tablet" actually means "iPad".
  4. Content is on the PC and in the cloud: from iCloud to SkyDrive and Dropbox, some choose the cloud for all files and documents and others not so much. While major companies are using the cloud, many are unaware of the fact, or actively choose to avoid it.

As Microsoft tries to 'future-proof' Windows 8 against seemingly the world --- with those four points representing the modern shift in modern computing --- very few will find all four things will apply to them.

My argument is simple. Windows 8 has become a "Franken-system" of mish-mashed ideas, thoughts and concepts. Microsoft is desperately trying to make the forthcoming operating system a one-size-fits-all solution to everyone's troubles.

In doing so, the vast changes take too much away from the productivity side of Windows to the 'fun' side of Windows. I suspect enough people have twisted the arms of others to try and make Windows not only visually more appealing, but also more exciting and in touch with the person rather than the person's files. Windows comes close to looking unrecognisable from what it once was.

PCs are still more popular than tablets or iPads. Windows runs on more than 90 percent of all PCs today. Microsoft says we are culturally shifting away from productivity to socialisation. But we still need Windows to be productive. People still want Windows to be "Windows".

Microsoft has failed in its bid for consistency. From Windows XP to Windows Vista, the visual changes were clear and apparent. From blue windows to transparent windows: if you didn't see Aero, your computer wasn't up-to-date or capable enough. From Windows Vista to Windows 7, to Windows 8 --- from transparent windows to Metro opaque windows --- it's going to throw a lot of people off.

Microsoft may have shot itself in the foot when users eventually crack open Windows 8 only to realise there are no Aero transparent windows, and end up spending hours fumbling around trying to work out "why that driver hasn't worked."

Jensen Harris, Microsoft's director of program management for the Windows User Experience team, explained:

"In 2006, Windows Vista substantially changed the visual appearance of Windows, introducing the Aero visual style. Aero gave the appearance of highly-rendered glass, light sources, reflections, and other graphically complex textures in the title bars, taskbar, and other system surfaces [...] This style of simulating faux-realistic materials (such as glass or aluminum) on the screen looks dated and cheesy now, but at the time, it was very much en vogue."

Whose idea was it to jump back 10 years to the days of Windows XP's style themes? Microsoft wants Windows 8 to look modern, yet it feels as though we're travelling back in time and regressing to an operating system three hops ago.

As for Windows RT, the ARM-powered tablet version of Windows 8, Microsoft's bet in the tablet space is risky. It's already late to the game --- I don't need to tell you that --- and runs the risk of falling flat on its face as it tries to take on the likes of the iPad and less-popular Android tablets.

One of the troubles Microsoft will face is with the association of branding. Apple has disassociated the iPad from OS X. The two are converging but the two are separate operating systems with shared similarities. In Apple's case, it is the iPad twisting OS X.

Microsoft brings Windows 8 to both the PC and tablet in vastly the same aesthetic frame. Though the 'Windows 8' and 'Windows RT' names will differentiate the desktop from the tablet version, the two systems are arguably too similar with too few dividing factors.

Windows 8 won't be a complete disaster, but it won't be what Microsoft wanted it to be in the first place. Too many have stuck their oar in to claim what works best for users in this crazy day and age of shifting values.

Like an Obama campaign, Microsoft's word is "change". Change here, change that, change everywhere. With other operating systems, it's a slow build-up of development and evolution to shape the experience instead of drastically chopping away at huge chunks of the aesthetics with an axe or a machete.

$20 says Windows 9 looks remarkably similar to Windows 7. Any takers?

Image credit: CNET, Microsoft.


Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • One word - LOL

    $20? Seriously?
    Windows 8 works as well if not better than Windows 7. I've forced myself (even with all the hiccups) to use the OS permanently day in and day out. After the initial confusion it works. Yes I'm more in the desktop app than anything because all my applications run in the desktop. I enjoy the Metro apps and style and would love to see more stable and capable apps be released. Metro is dependent on APPS. If developers can build great interactive apps Metro will be a success. Yes most people will find it jarring, but Microsoft will most likely ship a 'tutorial' to explain everything before throwing people in. If so many can figure out Windows Phone then Windows 8 will be a given.

    There are a few things I would prefer in Windows 8, like a always visible Charms bar(Or give you the option to always show or hide the bar). Multi monitor support is incredibly improved in the Release Preview and I'm sure every laptop that is released in 2013 will have a great touchpad or touch display.

    Windows 8 will be a success in both Desktop, Laptop, and Tablet. Why? Because people want easy....Windows 8 metro is easy. In, out and done.
    • Tutorial?

      You said Windows 8 will be a success on desktop, laptops and tablet because people want easy.....yet in the above paragraph you said most people will find the OS jarring and MS would most likely need to ship a tutorial before throwing people in?

      If you have to ship a tutorial then it's not easy to use or intuitive. It's minimalist to the point of complexity (hidden charm controls, over use of gestures etc). The iPad ships without a user manual, the iPhone ships without a manual.
      • Bovine Encephalitis

        He's an MS Zombie and has chewed the wrong brains.
      • There Is No Substitute for RTFM.

        Regardless of how intuitive any interface is when you really need to know nothing is as good as the "man page".
      • Yes - Tutorial

        I'm sorry but the iPhone does ship with a manual (albeit not a physical one) - as in all the early adopters evangelizing it, as in Apple store employees showing people how to use the thing (every time I go to an Apple store I always see someone asking fundamental questions about an iDevice) - all the blogs out there, all the commercials out there - all these things SHOW how to use the device. Heck, they even show you how to hold your phone. Nothing exist in a vacuum and nothing is obvious. Apple has done a fantastic job in creating a great ecosystem. Microsoft will only fail if they fail to do the same thing.
      • Yes, no manual for the iStuff

        but how intuitive is pressing and holding an icon to close an app, or double-clicking the home button to get the list of running apps. Many people have to be shown those "advanced" gestures for iStuff as well.

        Having used both iPads and Windows 8 extensively, I would say neither is superior in this regard, and both are already very good at simplifying interfaces for non-power users.
      • Re: Bovine Encephalitis


        Will you stop your mooing already.

        To err is human. To moo is bovine.
      • Tutoial?

        Yes, a tutorial is like a manual or instruction booklet. Some of us use these and have a better understanding of the product at hand. Windows 8 will be no different than any other product. Not everyone will know or understand the OS on day one, but as you work with it you learn the functions fairly quickly. The Desktop is still there but Metro ushers in a new era of simplified computing for the masses. As Metro apps increase so will the desire to run Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. The code can be ported with minimal effort and considering 350 million PCs ship a year...that spells great potential for developers. RT and the x86 tablets will give users a choice because and there will be plenty of more options than Apple. Why would I want to run the same bland device as Tom, Dick and Harry? Not everyone drives the same model of car so why would tablets be any different?
      • manuals are necessary

        iSTUFF are designed to be usable by the hoi polloi intuitively. That is fine. But, users always want to do more and stuff always happens. If apple was still selling small numbers to apple geeks, there wouldn't be the massive community support for those w/ questions/problems. Apple, to me, was always making assumptions about my preferences and forcing me to do things the apple way. no thanks. this new windows looks like a pain. My boss has both iphone and ipad and is constantly needing help with them. He wants windows8 too. lovely.
      • But they could have used one...

        The iPad and iPhone are not the most intuitive devices on the planet. Some things come naturally, and others need to be shown to the user. The Playbook had a nice 2 minute intro tutorial when first booting the device up. I think a similar 2 minute tutorial would be useful for both Windows 8 and iDevices.
      • My friend got an iphone

        I was looking at it and I went to download an app and I couldn't figure it out. He said "press new". Ok so I have to know to press the word "new" and know that it will change to "download"? That was horrible programming, with Android and Windows Phone and even Blackberry you see the word "download" right away and you know what to press instinctively.
      • @rkegel: Of course nothing like that ever happened to you.

        You never had to press anything labelled "New" on the the Apple App Store, because there is and never has been a "New" button. You probably had to press a button labelled "Free" because that was that price for the app. That's the only word that would ever have appeared on the purchase button. This is glaringly obvious that it's the button to download the app because it's the only button on the screen. That you can't even recall your experience correctly leads me to believe that the trouble is entirely with your muddled perception.
      • And what's wrong with a tutorial?

        There's a fine line between simplicity and added usefulness. Is it possible MS has spent more time thinking about how users will interact with a tablet than Apple did? One can argue that they've had the good fortune to learn from the iPad's strengths and limitations in terms of usability. By adding a little more complexity maybe MS will be making it easier for people to do more with their W8 tablet than they can do with an iPad. And most likely the 80/20 rule will hold up here. Users will learn 80% of what they need to know by watching a three minute tutorial and then pickup on the rest within 5-10 more uses of the device. But including tutorials should not be viewed as a bad thing. In fact, you're stretching to make something that has obvious benefits seem bad and unnecessary.
      • iOS is easy to use

        Last Christmas, one family I know bought their six and seven year old children an iPad to share, because their kids understood how to use a demo iPad [i]well enough to do things[/i] with just fifteen minutes of play-learning.

        At the same time, my brother (who is almost the type to speak of "Apple kool aid" etc.) bought his seven year old daughter an iPad for the same reason.

        Apple did something very [i]intuitive[/i] if 6-7 year old kids can learn the basics of iOS in 15 minutes, starting from no knowledge base at all and with no manual.

        Perhaps WinRT tablets will be similarly intuitive. I don't know one way or the other, but iPads have passed this test whereas WinRT is an unknown quantity - at least for now.
      • There's also a soft manual you can download.

        @duluca There's also a soft manual you can download.
        Spatha Spatula
      • @duluca.....

        Funny. Walk into any cellular provider, and the Android, Windows phone and Blackberry (yes iPhone too) and the fundamental questions are tossed around all day long. I'm sure an employee at AT&T or Verizon has so many stories (and headaches) that by the end of the day they'd like to take a hammer to at least one of handset providers.
      • Windows 8 User Tutorial

        I agree with Dreyer Smit.

        Take into consideration that individuals have various uses for computers in which ever format that may be, thus they will not use 100% of all programs in their life time, it is therefore the move in the right direction seeing that it seems Microsoft would like to enhance the end-users knowledge on the whole platform!

        If that is the case I can only applaud them for their effort in starting to realise the concerns of computer users in all facets!
      • Chi-7

        I like your dog
        Robert Hahn
      • Intuitio

        There are two different factors:

        1) Easy to Learn
        2) Easy to Use

        Anything can be easy to learn but hard to use (hard to master)
        But anything can as well be made hard to learn, but easy to use (easy to master).

        I would cladly take the second (easy to use) because I can spend time to learn things, but after that when I take product in production use, I demand it is easy to use and I don't need to think it at all anymore.

        That is reason why Windows 8 sucks, it is hard to learn (just place any new computer user front of Windows 7 and Windows 8 and you can find out how Windows 7 is much easier) and even harder to use (continually swapping between Metro and Desktop and between their apps do not make good combination. Microsoft should allow user to lock session to another one and not to swap between both. Every time user needs to open Metro to launch something, task gets disturbed. Every time user needs to swap between Metro app, task gets distrubed. Every time user needs to see Metro to automatically throw user to desktop, task gets disturbed.

        Windows 8 (since Customer Preview) has been pain in a ass in daily use.
        People who have just got Windows 7 few months ago, stay away from Windows 8 computers and even wait in a line to get Windows 7 computer or they open their own laptops with Windows 7 because it is faster and easier to even check some web pages trough smart phone than using Windows 8 what just needs log in.

        If user would need to make decision to use only Desktop or Metro GUI at login, it would be much better. But the brain dead idea "Hey, user could continually swap between GUI's because we need to force new PC owners to learn and get custom of Metro so we can have a change to sell Windows Phone phones!".
      • The children test...

        @StandardPerson -- "Apple did something very intuitive if 6-7 year old kids can learn the basics of iOS in 15 minutes, starting from no knowledge base at all and with no manual."

        That will be the true test whether Win8/Metro tablets are intuitive or not, just hand it to a child and watch. One could find countless YouTube videos of such test with iPads, or elder folks, or those with disabilities.

        What Microsoft is trying to do is much more complex (as mentioned by some above) in merging two worlds, two OS's, two use cases, two different paradigm, desktop mouse-driven OS and multi-touch. It did not have to be like this, they could have kept these two worlds separated just like Apple is doing but there not. In an effort to keep Windows relevant in a "post-PC- world, Windows MUST be carried over to Tablets - said Microsoft.