Windows 8: Give Microsoft credit for betting the farm

Windows 8: Give Microsoft credit for betting the farm

Summary: Microsoft is trying to make its customers think different with its Metro UI on Windows 8. Even if customers don't come along, Microsoft has shown a willingness to bet its cash cow.

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TOPICS: Windows
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Microsoft's Windows 8 and its Metro UI has sparked extreme reactions and there appears to be little middle ground. Windows 8 will either be a hit or the next Vista. But let's give Microsoft credit for making one gutsy bet.

In short, Microsoft is looking to unify its phone, desktop and tablet interfaces. That move alone is pretty ballsy. Even more ballsy is that Microsoft is upending years of user habits and offering a UI that reshapes the software vendor's approach to computing. Microsoft is trying to make its customers think different.

Yes, Microsoft is still trying to appeal to multiple devices. But the software giant is essentially ripping up a UI that we're all used to. Some customers will like it and adapt. Others will complain---loudly. And given the relatively weak uptake of Windows Phone, consumers don't have a lot of experience with the Metro UI.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes obviously falls in the camp that tried Windows 8, but choked on the design. Zack Whittaker is another. Ed Bott finds Windows 8 relatively elegant. Tim Anderson noted that Windows 8 almost seems to be the product of dysfunction, but could turn out to be brilliant. The feedback from ZDNet readers is just as extreme.

We've heard from an 81-year-old Windows user who liked Metro. Needless to say she wasn't happy with Adrian.

Most of the stuff he complains about is small stuff that might or might not be in the final edition. Just because some things are different does not mean they are a disaster. I am 81 years old and after about 30 minutes with Windows 8 on my laptop I find that I can navigate and manage quite well.

Then there's the other side from this talkback:

So 'resistance to change' is your answer to why so many people, blogs, tech sites, and companies have the same negative opinion of Windows 8? Everyone's just an old dog except you and a handful of others?

Have you ever considered that people have tried it and don't like it for practical reasons? -reasons that may not be that important to you, but are to us? I mean, we respect that you like it. Why can't you respect that we don't?

And it goes on and on. "I think the dude can’t handle drastic changes. He'll rather be stuck in Windows ME past. Well, some of us will like to move, accelerate," said another reader pelting Adrian.

Bottom line on Windows 8 is that there is little middle ground. It's not clear how the Windows 8 saga will turn out, but let's give Microsoft some credit. It is willing to put its largest cash cow and legacy on the line with a make or break Metro UI.

Topic: Windows

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Talkback

217 comments
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  • Not really a bet

    We have seen this in Windows 95 and the Office Ribbon. Now, the Start button and the Ribbon are ubiqituous and widely adopted and accepted standards. This is merely one more iteration.
    Your Non Advocate
    • Time Will Tell

      That's true about the "Start" button in principle (though I actually prefer a right-click menu). The "ribbon" (previously known as the tabbed toolbar, something which has been around for a while) has been somewhat more popularized by its use in Office, but I wouldn't call it ubiquitous.

      Really though, you can't be sure a design decision like this will catch on just because Microsoft uses it. They've had their flops as well (like Bob).

      In a way, though, it might be less risky to try to force users to use the Start screen than leave them the option of getting their Start button back because that may be the difference between it becoming eventually accepted rather than just ignored. On the other hand it could leave an opening for growth of competing systems or (more likely) just encourage users to continue to use Windows 7 for a long time.

      Microsoft does have a way out of this if it becomes a fiasco, though. They can just continue to support Windows 7 until whatever improved interface they come up with for Windows 9.
      CFWhitman
      • As a last resort, they could re-enable the Start menu in a service pack

        I think Microsoft are taking the right approach. They've traditionally been very cautious with Windows, supporting old UIs as an alternative when they introduce new ones. Windows 95, for example, apparently offered the Windows 3.x Program Manager as an alternative to the Start menu, and Windows 7 still offers the ancient Windows 95 theme. This conservatism has always suited business users, but right now Microsoft need to make headway in the consumer space.

        With Office 2007, Microsoft took the opposite approach to their usual one, and introduced a new UI without any option to use the old one (except for the old keyboard shortcuts). Pundits hated it and were outraged that they couldn't use the old UI, but users seem to have embraced it: Office is now their most profitable business, ahead of Windows. As an Office 2010 user myself, I much prefer its UI to the Office 2003 or OpenOffice UIs. For me, it's actually a major selling point, and one MS Office wouldn't have if Microsoft had listened to the IT pundits.

        The real target for Windows 8 is tablets. If it succeeds there, but desktop/notebook users end up hating it the way these IT pundits do, Microsoft could quietly re-enable the Start menu for desktops/notebooks in a service pack. I don't think it'll come to that, but technically it would be very easy to do. For that reason, taking a risk with the Start screen is well worth it.
        WilErz
      • Have you considered...

        Not just you, but everyone....

        That Windows 8 really is a play for the tablet market and little more. Microsoft must see that the market for all devices is slowing, with only the iPad having really good sales. There is a huge market window, because Android tablets really haven't taken off.

        Windows 8 is quite usable, and it is being released at a time when PC sales are sagging. Not getting Windows 8 onto those PCs may not be the biggest problem for MS. If they take have a big success with Windows RT and Windows 8 on tablets, it might tide them over until it is time to put out Windows 9.

        Businesses aren't going to update to Windows 8, they are barely moving up to Windows 7 now. They won't be updating to Windows 8, because, like where I work (we still use XP), Windows 7 will be enough of a change for our old users to deal with. By the time we have them pushed over to Windows 7, we will only have to wait a year or two for Windows 9.

        Windows 9 will use Metro, count on it, and you won't be able to disable it, but between now and 2015-16, when Windows 9 rolls around, most of the users will already be using Windows 8 at home, just like most of our users are on Windows 7 at home now. It won't be as big a problem, because a lot of users will already be on Metro at home when their jobs finally force them to use Metro at work, and by then, we'll have figured out exactly how to do everything we want with Metro, and people like Adrian Kingsley-Hughes will look like idiots...well, more like idiots.

        Microsoft does not need an OS update right now. Well, at least is does not need one for desktops and portables, they work just fine with Windows 7. What they need is an OS for tablets, and with Windows RT, and tablets based on the Ultrabook specification (thin, light, SSD, etc.), they may have some very attractive tablets. You buy a Windows RT tablet this holiday season, and then in a year or two when you upgrade your computer, Metro is the interface you are already used to.
        AudeKhatru
      • Even the Idea didn't work for me

        I just don't see it. Windows 8 should be a simple update to Win 7 simply because the market has yet to move to Win 7 yet. We're talking about business users here as the greatest market MS has, and you don't place their upgrade viability in question because of an effort to move the UI into a product market they aren't working with.

        There's no question that people will use their phones with whatever UI it comes with, but MS seems to believe it has a market power in telecom that it simply has not shown.

        I own a recording studio and I don't work with Windows, I work with applications that work on Windows. I could use phone applications that would allow me to tie into my desktop, but unlike most of the market gurus, I don't believe one can depend on phones/tablets to actually do the brunt of their work These are ancillary devices and they work well enough to do work if you need to, but most people are at their desks for hours at a time. They couldn't care less about what the UI looks like, but they don't really want a new one.

        The jump may be an act of brilliance, but how many millions of people are up on the latest? Certainly not business since they haven't even accepted Win 7 yet. And MS shouldn't be presenting a dead end to users as a reason to upgrade to the older OS.

        Roger W. Norman
        RWNorman
      • You want your Start Menu back?

        Check out http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/window-on-windows/easily-revive-the-classic-start-menu-hidden-within-windows-8/5945.
        M Wagner
    • Lets see!

      Changes in Windows 8 can not be compared with introduction of Start Menu or Office Ribbon. There is a change in the ecosystem that does not support a desktop user. http://sharadka.wordpress.com/category/windows-8/
      sharadka
    • Ubiqtuous?

      Not happy with ribbons... still use much older software quite effectively. In fact the DEMAND of a ribbon interface pushed me to UBUNTU & Libre Offce (Open office prior)

      I don't need a touch interface.

      This from a forty year user... all the way back to an Altair...

      MS needs to hit a home run, but they have lost me.
      fcchristian1
  • Adapt or die

    The worst thing that Microsoft could ever do is to make Windows 8, 9, 10, and 11 just like Windows 7, then see the world pass by them as desktops become less relevant compared to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Sure, making Windows 8 just like Windows 7 would make businesses happy, but anyone advocating that Microsoft should continue down the same path needs to look at RIM and BlackBerry OS 5, 6, and 7 and tell me what they didn't do right to get into the position they are in now. And the answer would clearly be "not respond to the iPhone fast enough".
    Jeff Kibuule
    • my thoughts exactly...

      Microsoft has shown the guts to innovate an adapt to changing times. Even if Metro ultimately fails, I will still respect Microsoft for refusing to stand back and relax and depend on a business model that is becoming less and less relevant in a increasing mobile world. The same people criticizing Microsoft now are the same people gloating over RIM because they refuse to innovate. It's OK for Apple and Google to innovate but not Microsoft!!!
      ideleosaretin
      • Gut's or intransigent stupidity.

        Have MS shown Gut's or intransigent stupidity.

        Surely a focus group must have fed back this was b0ll0ck5, or is it the same one that waved Vista on it's merry way - LOL.

        --
        Esp. as Windows 7 is a run-away success...............
        neil.postlethwaite
    • My thoughts exactly...

      ... Microsoft [i]could[/i] stick with the Windows 7 desktop... But at what cost? They would be forced to pass up new innovations and technologies just to make a few vocal users happy, which would force them out of the market more. Bad business decision. There are problems - iOS, Android, new touch hardware, Kinect for PC, AiOs, tablets, etc. that using Windows 7 doesn't solve.

      If I recall correctly, AKH (as well as many people here) was a huge detractor of Windows 7 on everything but the desktop, well, unfortunately, the desktop isn't the main focus of the computing market anymore, not to mention they are not without their own evolutionary changes, that make Windows 7, fairly cumbersome to use. I know many people would rather just Microsoft close up shop and go back to supporting XP or whatever, but sufficed to say, it takes guts to bet the farm, and it's one that personally tells me Microsoft isn't ready to play dead yet.

      Windows 8 is just the beginning of new and exciting computing changes, changes that will greatly enhance the way we think about computers.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • re: My thoughts exactly...

        [i]it takes guts to bet the farm[/i]

        If you're a successful business with a profitable product line then betting the farm is an irrational act. The only way betting the farm is rational is if you see yourself losing the farm anyway. I wonder what MS knows that it's not telling us.




        :)
        none none
      • Disagree.

        [i]"Windows 8 is just the beginning of new and exciting computing changes, changes that will greatly enhance the way we think about computers."[/i]

        Win8 is reusing modular components and rather than design something special and unique, it is re-hashing it's smartphone front end to get some face time with the media.

        Windows 8 will prove itself to be in the same security class as older versions, having zero-day and out of sequence emergency updates. That's just something you will see down the road (and they know it) and after all the checks have cleared.

        Where do they mention they re-designed their source code to make it secure enough that AV would not be required. Will it still get infected with botnets and rootkits?
        Joe.Smetona
      • My 2 penny's worth

        All these figures about the decline of the desktop are based on sales - which is a really flawed position to take. Sure I know to Microsoft these are significant as this is a large portion of where the money comes from, but it only tells part of the story. From what I can see the tablet is another device for people and it does have it's place, but not to the exclusion of the computer as we know it now. There is likely to be a reduction in sales of laptops due to tablets. There is however a counterpoint. Sales are no longer an indicator of install base, if they ever were. Window's life span is not the 4 years MS would like - only the increase in the standard amount of memory installed is killing XP as it is a 32bit. There is no reason at all to get new machine otherwise and many people are making do at home. A machine from 2002-ish is quite happy to run Windows 7 so new machines sales are not being driven in the corporate market either. Even games are not really pushing hardware as they are pegged back by being compatible with consoles, unless you have a 1920x monitor a 3 year old games machine will do nicely. The tablet is not the end of the PC, the PC is just being more stable and resilient to change as are those using it.

        Microsoft can bet the farm on Windows 8 but it is largely better on a tablet and a bit jarring on a pc. I am happy enough to use 8 but it is not as good on a pc as 7 - the ui experience is unfocused and Metro is a distraction from my workflow. 8 is a gutsy play to keep MS relevant but will fail - I thought the MS had learnt to listen to the user base and I am sure with 9 they will again. Mind you on my Win 8 tablet (a 6 year old TC1100) it was quite good, but not good enough I did not return to Peppermint Linux mind. I also know a reasonable minority who went Mac or Linux rather than use Vista or 7 so there is a cost to change!

        Lets not get too carried away with the hype. Win Xp and 7 are where it's at and will be for a while and many people also have a tablet (not instead). Best news yet, there is little reason to change your PC for quite a while unless you really like Windows 8 and it's probably best to get that on a tablet! Sorry for the length. Edited for readability and grammar.
        n.gurr
    • Adapt to what?

      The focus has to be on users needs if you want them to be loyal to you.
      John L. Ries
      • Adapt to what they think users will want tomorrow

        IT pundits aren't representative of the user base. They tend to be cantankerous, old-fashioned and set in their ways. As a general rule, they dislike any change, and some of them (e.g. John C. Dvorak) are even old enough to be on record as having hated almost every innovation in the history of personal computing.

        Some users resemble IT pundits in their views. This especially includes 'gurus' who have been using specific tools for long periods of time, and have amassed a lot of expertise, who tend to be very vocal opponents of changes. The Unix/Linux world is full of such people, and they do their best to block any sort of innovation, as Rob Pike (a member of the Unix and Plan 9 teams at Bell Labs) noted in the 1990s, when he remarked that almost all innovation was happening in the Windows world rather than the Unix world.

        Most users aren't like IT pundits or 'gurus'. They might grumble about having to learn new things, but they're willing to learn, and once they have done, they often prefer the new to the old (e.g. the iPhone compared with Symbian-based mobiles). Moreover, appealing to new users is more important for long-run success than appealing to the existing user base, and especially to cantankerous pundits and gurus.

        Steve Jobs famously repeated a remark attributed to Henry Ford, who supposedly said that if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they'd have said 'a faster horse'. I don't know if the Ford quotation is genuine (Karl Benz invented the motor car about 20 years before Ford started his company), but it sums up Jobs's approach to product design. He didn't ask users what they wanted/needed, he came up with products that anticipated their needs, and was often (but not always) right.

        Microsoft have tended to be much more reactive than Apple, basing a lot of their UI designs on focus groups, customer feedback, etc. That's one reason they often appear to be playing catch-up, or copying Apple. Before the iPhone, I doubt a single focus group or market study showed any user interest in multi-touch mobile phone UIs, so Microsoft didn't make one, and scoffed at the iPhone when it was released. Needless to say, Jobs was right and the users were wrong.

        With Metro, Microsoft are trying to anticipate what users will want a few years down the road, as notebooks and tablets converge. They may have got it wrong, but listening to pundits, or even users who haven't used the final product, isn't the way to find out.
        WilErz
        • adapt

          Couldn't a modern OS adapt to its hardware? Couldn't it detect what input devices are available and tailor the UI accordingly?

          <b>IF</b> a desktop system had a touch screen, Metro might be useful. Without touch, it's problematic. Also problematic is the wisdom of one UI across all types of devices when that UI is better suited to small, mobile devices with touch screens rather than to more common larger computers with physical keyboards and mice but without touch screens.

          You raise the key question: who figured it out better, MSFT or Apple? MSFT has decided one UI for all devices is the way to go. Apple has decided on different UIs for different types of devices. Considering recent tech history, Apple has been right a lot more often than MSFT has. The last spectacular Apple failure was the Newton. The last spectacular MSFT failure was the Kin. The open question is whether Apple is going down a better track with Siri than MSFT is with Metro. I think Apple is a lot closer to the future than MSFT.
          hrlngrv 
      • Apple

        @ hrlngrv@...

        Before the iPhone was released at the beginning of 2007, Apple was still primarily a niche producer of PCs. It's enjoyed five and a half years of phenomenal success, which will probably continue for some time, but this success has come almost entirely from the innovation in the iPhone. The iPad, after all, is essentially just a big iPhone, without any major innovation that wasn't already in the iPhone.

        Does one huge hit and some very successful derivative products mean Apple is always right? Of course not. It still isn't clear how much the loss of Steve Jobs has hurt Apple's ability to develop innovative products either. Apple may well be right to converge its devices gradually (but make no mistake, they are converging), but Microsoft may be right to do it in one leap. Over the next few years, we'll find out.

        I personally prefer the Microsoft approach, and the hardware being developed by Asus and others is very impressive. Asus recently demonstrated an Arm-based Windows RT tablet that's thinner and lighter than the iPad. Much more surprisingly, it also showed a full Intel-based Windows 8 tablet, including a digitiser, that's thinner than the iPad and only slightly heavier -- and it docks with a base to form a thin and light notebook. If Intel's SoCs are really as impressive as they look, Intel may finally do to Arm what it did to the Motorola 68k and PowerPC in the 90s. With Apple's entire iOS line based on Arm, the spectre of Intel coming from behind again to take the crown must be very worrying. It may not happen, but Apple would be mad to underestimate Intel -- which is also doing its best to erode Apple's MacBook margins by pushing Ultrabooks etc.

        As for Metro, I don't see what would be gained by changing the UI depending on the hardware, and it would probably cause confusion. It's simply a myth that Metro it requires a touch screen. I'm using it on a notebook with a multi-touch touchpad, and already prefer the Start screen to the Start menu. The keyboard navigation in the Metro UI is superb (the main reason I prefer Windows to Mac), and touchpad gestures are very intuitive. A mouse is probably the worst way to use Metro, but it still works. Clicking tiles on the Start screen is almost exactly like clicking icons on the desktop, which is how a huge number of Windows users have started applications for years.
        WilErz
        • more than 5 years

          Apple's first big success was the iPod and iTunes, which came out in 2001. Created a market MSFT clearly didn't see. MSFT's response: the innovative Zune. Big success, that.

          Re iPads, they accept wireless keyboards and mice, an they can dock to Macs and effectively become second monitors. Thus convertibles already exists, and Apple beat MSFT and Intel to it.

          More confusion is likely to arise from users going from Metro-less Windows 7 and prior to Windows 8 than would be caused by using Windows 7 on PCs and Windows 8 on tablets. I have nothing against Windows 8/Metro on tablets. Just on PCs where it serves no clear purpose other than to get PC users used to its look in hopes that'll make them more willing to buy Windows phones and tablets with the same UI.

          Again re confusion: how many people do you suppose use Windows 7 or prior on their PCs but have iPhones or Android phones and iPads or e-readers? I kinda suspect people with the disposable income to be able to buy smart phones and tablets won't have much confusion using Windows PCs and non-Windows phones and tablets since hundreds of millions of people already do. Or is your concern focused on the grannies and grampas out there still using Windows 95 and rotary phones?
          hrlngrv