Here's what's wrong with Windows 8

Here's what's wrong with Windows 8

Summary: Windows 8 is a massive gamble for Microsoft, and right now I can see the potential for it to fail harder than Windows Vista did.

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I've been using the Windows 8 Consumer Preview since its release back at the end of February, and having used it extensively on a number of several physical and virtual systems, I can now put my finger on what I think is wrong with Microsoft's latest incarnation of Windows.

It might not say the word 'beta' anywhere on this release, but this Consumer Preview is still pre-release software, and as such there will be bugs and features that are not yet fixed in stone.

Let's take a tour of where I think Microsoft has gone wrong with Windows 8, starting with the obvious.

Too much emphasis on touch

I know I've ranted about this before, but that's not going to stop me from ranting about it again.

I still can't fathom out why Microsoft is pushing a touch-based operating user interface onto systems that people are going to be driving with a keyboard and mouse, which I estimate will make up at least 90 percent if not more of Windows 8 users over the lifespan of the operating system. It feels like change for the sake of change and nothing else.

It feels clumsy and awkward and, as far as I can tell, offers no benefit the traditional PC user. By now, I've used Windows 8 enough to be confident enough to say that the new interface is far less efficient to use with a mouse than the Classic interface.

But it gets worse. The more you use the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the more you get the feel that the concessions that Microsoft have made to those using a keyboard and mouse are poor afterthoughts that feel awkward and clumsy to use. There's a tremendous lack of consistency in the operating system that really bothers me.

Clashing user interfaces

Another problem I have with Windows 8 is how readily Microsoft flips users between the Classic and Metro user interfaces whenever the developers haven't managed to create a consistent user interface. I find it utterly crazy that I can go from clicking on a tile on the Metro Start Screen and then be unceremoniously dumped into things like a Classic Control Panel applet or Windows Explorer.

Bolting on a new user interface is one thing, but when that user interface is incomplete, it makes you question the value of having it in the first place.

It gets worse. While Microsoft has ribbonized much of the Classic user interface, these Ribbon menus are still packed with small user elements and fiddly to use with a mouse, and I'm sure that they will be even fiddlier, if not impossible to use, when driven with a finger. The ribbon menus weren't developed with touch in mind, but it seems that Microsoft has decided to adopt it as a cheap alternative to spreading the Metro user interface across the whole of Windows 8, and it seems like a really bad idea.

Too much mystery meat

There are too many hidden and invisible user interface elements in Windows 8. Take your mouse to the bottom-left of the screen and you get poor replacement to the Start Menu. Take the cursor to the top-left and you get tiles showing apps that are open. Take the cursor to the right of the screen and a charms ribbon pops out.

The biggest problem isn't that Microsoft has moved where stuff is and added a whole raft of new user interface elements, it's that there's nothing that gives the user any clue that these features exists, and unless they are somehow shown, the only way they are going to figure it out is through trial and error.

Two operating systems in one

I can't shake the feeling that Windows 8 would be better off as two separate operating systems. A 'Classic' Windows 8 for regular desktop and notebook systems --- which feels more like a service pack than a full release --- and a separate 'Metro' version for touch-enabled hardware.

As it currently stands Windows 8 feels like two operating systems unceremoniously bolted together. It's as though you asked a child to draw a futuristic car. They'd give you the general car shape and then bolt on something like wings or rockets. Rather than ending up with something new, you end up with a Frankenstein's monster of cobbled together parts.

I would have expected the Developer Preview released back in September of last year to be rough round the edges, but I was hoping that this Consumer Preview would have been significantly smoother. It isn't. While Microsoft has made some concessions to keyboard and mouse jockeys, but they don't feel integrated with the operating system as a whole.

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No method to make the Classic desktop the default

This one annoys me. I can understand why Microsoft doesn't want to include a way for people to switch to the Classic desktop because given what I'm hearing people would flip the switch and then Metro would probably die on the vine. But nonetheless, the fact that an option to do this doesn't seem to exist feels like a slap in the face to those who have put in a lot of time and effort into getting the most out of Windows.

Metro doesn't work for everything

The more I use Metro, the more I realize that it's a mechanism that's not going to work for most applications that I use regularly. In fact, few of the apps that I regularly use feel like they would work any better when Metrofied. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the experience would be worse.

No apparent Kinect support

Why is there no support for Kinect in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview? Seems like a no-brainer to me, but it's oddly missing. It seems to me that gestures might actually be better suited to desktop and notebook systems than touch since they don't involve reaching out to interact with the system.

Inefficiencies everywhere

It takes two clicks to shut down Windows 7 with a mouse. On the Windows 8 Consumer Preview this simple process has been turned into mouse yoga. Unfortunately, Windows 8 is littered with countless similar examples of such inefficiencies.

Live tiles may not be that live

Microsoft has made a big deal of the live tiles that are present on the Windows 8 Start Screen, and I can see some benefit to these, but they still feel less convenient than what we've already got with Windows Desktop gadgets.

What's more, in order to get the best out of these active live tiles, I get the feeling I'm going to have to go on an application spending spree. For example, there's a Mail tile on the desktop that doesn't seem to work with my current Outlook applications. Will Microsoft retrofit a connector, or will I end up having to buy more software or will there be third-party connectors? What about non-Microsoft mail clients? Will Microsoft ever support them, or are we again going to have to rely on third-party connectors?

Final thoughts

I'm going to be honest here and say that I'm torn about Windows 8. As far as a tablet operating system goes, I think it's got potential. There are a lot of rough edges and inconsistencies that Microsoft may or may not iron out between now and the final release, but it's by far the best tablet operating system to come from Redmond.

But...

The first 'but' is that I don't see touch being that important of a driver to either sell new PCs or a new operating system. Outside of Microsoft and a small number of power users, I don't really see a demand for touch for PCs from either enterprise of consumer markets. Instead, what we have is Microsoft trying --- once again --- to stir up interest in touch devices.

The second 'but' is that I feel Windows 8 is trying to be all things to all people and failing on all fronts. Microsoft has attempted to bolt the Metro user interface from the Windows Phone operating into what is essentially Windows 7 and come up with a Frankenstein's monster of a hybrid that's disjointed and awkward to use.

I think I'd feel happier with Windows 8 either if there was more of the Metro influences throughout the platform, or less. Right now, I'm never sure if clicking on something in the metro interface is going to throw me into the Classic environment. This lack of consistency is a killer when it comes to workflow.

Finally, I'm just not that convinced that Metro works that well on larger-screen systems. The larger the screen, the greater amount of wasted screen real estate there is. On top of that, I never see a day when the sorts of tasks that I do on a desktop or notebook system will be any more efficient when I'm using Metrofied applications. In fact, I'm not even sure that we're ever going to see Metrofied versions of applications for tasks such as image and video processing, web development and so on.

About the only task that I think might be better through a Metro app might be word processing, and that the simpler interface would make you focus more on the words.

Bottom line: I see Windows 8 as a massive gamble for Microsoft, and right now I can see the potential for it to fail harder than Windows Vista did.

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Topics: Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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514 comments
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  • ??

    I am two articles away from dropping ZDNet
    genurich
    • so?

      Don't let the door hit you in the butt on your way out!
      wally_333
    • Please Leave

      ID10T
      bruce.collins@...
    • Farewell to you

      You can leave now. If you can't face the truth, then get out.
      thequestion9@...
    • History lesson

      This might help...
      Nov 12, 2001 9:00 am: "Gates Unveils Portable Tablet PC"
      Subtext...
      "LAS VEGAS -- If the heap of new products that Microsoft showed here Sunday is any indication of the future of computing, the desktop PC is old news.

      In a keynote opening the Comdex fall trade show, Microsoft Chair and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates unveiled prototypes of the portable Tablet PC, which will run on a specialized version of the company's new operating system, Windows XP Tablet PC Edition."

      Update, 11 years later...
      Microsoft is determined to repeat their earlier blunder. Their earlier offering was a fantastic idea, but poorly executed. The curse word was 'Windows' and in 2012 it still is, no matter if it has the number 8 next to it or the word tablet.

      Don't get mad... I'm not knocking Windows. The error comes by trying to incorporate Windows into the new offering. Windows should remain a separate entity and not become a part of the touch OS. And when you consider the very earliest roots of Windows, the dang thing was built on top of DOS!!! (how many exclamations do I need to show the full absurdity of the beast) It makes you feel like the old DOS beast is still lurking inside the latest offering. Surely not! DOS served it's purpose in the 80s but should have come to rest by the 1990s when OSs had left it behind.

      I really have my doubts that Microsoft will be so lucky this time around. The first versions of Windows didn't kill them off when it just might have; the Windows tablet didn't kill them off because they didn't depend on it; Vista didn't kill them, but sure damaged their reputation; but now, with other OSs being quickly embraced and loved, Windows 8 might just be too little, too late.
      camcost@...
      • Bill Gates left the ship..

        It is probably not surprising that Bill Gates left Microsoft and did not look back, despite the attempts to bring him around last year. He surely does not have any confidence that Windows has future.

        Yes, Windows has always been an GUI on top of DOS. No matter how many exclamation points one adds however, many will fail to understand that -- simply because they were not around to see it, when it was extremely obvious.

        Microsoft should have left Windows to what it is, slowly going in the history of computing and announce a new OS, say "Metro" that will move them forward in the future. Who knows.. they may eventually do that, after the Windows 8 fiasco.
        danbi
      • Windows NT

        Ever heard of Windows 2000? XP? Vista? 7? All of the Windows NTs? None of them are based on DOS.
        Patrick Aupperle
      • My DOS app works on Windows 8 CP

        Some LOB programs are still DOS-Based. MS has tried to remove DOS from Windows for years, but enterprise has loudly said no, leave it in.

        Not surprisingly the touch keyboard doesn't work with my DOS app. I have to use an external keyboard or the keyboard that came with my Iconia Tab W500.
        mark.cooper@...
      • Vista was Great

        WHY do people continue to bash "Vista"?? I NEVER had a problem with it...I guess the complainers don't know what they are doing!
        jimbritttn
      • Based on DOS

        "Ever heard of Windows 2000? XP? Vista? 7? All of the Windows NTs? None of them are based on DOS."

        [Edit. I should have read the comment more closely, I missed the negation. Nonetheless I will leave my response here if only for the humor value.]

        Err, no they aren't. Not even close. They're actually derived from Mica, which was a portable version of VMS, and the story about how that happened is entertaining in its sleazy-ness to say the least. While that derivation left some really astoundingly irritating warts on Windows NT et al, it was never as bad as DOS.
        jimfrost
      • History

        The first Windows wasn't killed off because MS sabotaged the development of OS2. IBM wound up suing them and there was a large out of court settlement, but OS2, along with computer users, were the casualties.
        I remember hearing Gates speak at a conference in Boston where he said that the desktop would remain king and not be replaced by the internet.
        john_gillespie@...
      • VMS is. The basis for Windows NT

        DEC VAX/VMS is the basis for Windows NT, but you could still run DOS in a window and do all the damage you could do with DOS itself, which is where the confusion started...
        Tony Burzio
      • Probably a Blessing...

        ... that the MS Windows XP tablet did not take off because of the many vulnerbilities. Remember it was not until mid-2004 that Windows XP Service Pack 2 was released; it included a firewall, a popup blocker and much more protection. And of course, we now have Win XP SP3 and over 100 well earned patches.

        The market may have failed MSFT, but so did Win XP at that time.
        ...............
        PS: I went to a local tablet preview. Tablets seemed like a good idea, but I am glad I did not buy one.
        Zonny
      • Cogent,

        compact, and pointedly illustrative... They should stick to what they are best at, and keep the diminished market that presents to them (instead of trying to become or outdo Apple)
        louishelps
      • RE: History Lesson

        @danbi

        I agree for the most part, MS seems to be rushing things all too fast. Introducing Metro UI via WP7/WP8, maybe developing its app ecosystem, porting it as a separate OS for x86-64 and maybe merging desktop Windows with Metro as some point when things flourished more would have proved for a much better user experience. Who knows at this point? I do love Windows though, I've been using it since Windows 95, so I'm hoping things somehow "compromise" in ways uncompromising to the user... if that makes any sense.
        G'Dammit!
      • "On top of DOS" - are you on drugs?

        @danbi - "Windows has always been an GUI on top of DOS"

        You're not serious, are you? Windows hasn't had DOS underpinnings since before Windows 2000. The last Windows to have any DOS anywhere was ME, and the last widely used version was Windows 98.

        If anything Windows is a GUI on top of a VMS/Unix-ish hybrid. No DOS, anywhere. In fact there is no more DOS underpinning Windows today than there is DOS underpinning Linux and OSX.
        terjeb@...
      • No DOS anywhere, get your facts straight. Please!

        @mark.cooper - "Some LOB programs are still DOS-Based. MS has tried to remove DOS from Windows for years, but enterprise has loudly said no, leave it in"

        Sorry, you are so badly wrong it's sad. There is no DOS to be found anywhere in current incarnations of Windows. The command line window in Windows is NOT DOS, and in the Windows NT based versions (all Windows since Win2000 except 98/ME) there never was any DOS anywhere.

        DOS software is run under EMULATION in Windows NT variations, in the same way that DOS software is run under emulation on Linux.
        terjeb@...
    • Do you seriously think this is true info?

      @genurich

      +1

      Don't you know Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is just a paid shill prostituting for Apple?

      I find his [s]articles[/s] propaganda quite hilarious.

      [i]~~~~~~~~~~
      This world is comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.
      ~ Horace Walpole[/i]
      WinTard
    • dropping ZDNet

      Cheerio, then . . .
      JJJoseph
    • Yes

      There is too many apples on this site for a true opinion! lol
      Rocketboiy