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.
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?
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.
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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