Five core criticisms of Windows 8

Five core criticisms of Windows 8

Summary: Windows Developer Preview: It's good, but not perfect, and some PC users and novice users may end up feeling alienated.


Naturally, as a technology columnist, a brand new operating system to play with causes involuntary symptoms not limited to: excitement, anticipation, a sudden urge to write, combined with sweaty palms and jittery extremities.

But with every high, one must come back down again. And the 'down' hit me hard.

In short, what we have is a benchmark for what we will see in the final version of the next-generation Windows operating system.

"But they could take bits out!". No, I'm afraid Microsoft can't. If they did, they would be breaking a promise they haven't already given. Logically speaking, Windows 8 cannot contain any less than what it has in the public developer preview.

Gallery To see the screenshot gallery documenting how to install and get started with the Windows Developer Preview, along with some of the best features so far, head this way.

Jump ahead to find the new Blue Screen of Death, also roaming cloud profiles and the new 'Start menu'. You can search, see new notifications and see your new Control Panel. See what happens when you switch from Start to desktop, and see where Microsoft is pinching ideas from Apple.

Though I am fully aware the publicly available Windows Developer Preview is exactly that -- a preview merely for developers to test the basic elements of the platform and user interface -- there is already a great deal set in stone where by a vast number of users will hold back from upgrading.

1. Death of the Start menu

The Start menu is gone. I can't put it any simpler than that; it simply is not there any more.

For over fifteen years, the little pop-up menu in the bottom-left of the screen has been transformed into a screen filled with tiles, replacing the home of services and applications in favour of Microsoft's new Metro user interface.

As discussed only last week, users do not like change. Windows Developer Preview already takes time to get used to, even in light of a simpler, step-by-step installation to get users off the ground. But those users may be shocked to discover a new home for their applications, even if they are a swipe to the left instead of clicking on a solid point where the Start menu used to be

Office 2010 performs a similar function to the Start screen in the Windows Developer Preview. Just as you see the Start screen to take up your entire desktop estate, the 'Backstage' menu in all Office 2010 applications takes over what you were working on in favour of primary focus menu options.

Getting back to your work is only a click away, just as is the case in the Windows Developer Preview. But it does not feel natural, nor will it be obvious to Windows 8 newbies.

Whether or not this was an indication of what was next, it remains to be seen.

We were slightly misled when Windows 8 was first demonstrated in June at the D9 conference in Taipei, in that we expected an ordinary desktop, but a new layout for tablets. It would be two-in-one -- a tablet operating system fit for the desktop, and vice-versa.

2. Netbooks still struggle under 'new' hardware requirements

Installed on a fully-fledged desktop PC with 8GB RAM, along with a touch-screen laptop with 2GB RAM, the one device that stutters under the weight of the new operating system is the 1GB RAM netbook.

Netbooks are limited in what they can do, sure. But there has not been an operating system, bar that of Ubuntu, developed specifically for the netbook. It is a new device in the soon-to-be post-PC world, and Windows development has missed a beat between Windows 7 two years ago, and Windows 8 in a year's time.

There is no doubt that the Windows Developer Preview runs better on a netbook than a non-Starter edition of Windows 7. But Windows 8 still boasts the clunk and the heavy weight that Windows 7 does, with some bits stripped out and a new interface plonked on top.

Windows 8 will arrive at a time when netbooks are dead. Netbook development has been slow, along with smartphone innovation in the past few months. But netbooks for now are still widely used and need to be fully accommodated as part of Microsoft's ethos in creating a next-generation operating system for every device -- not just PCs, laptops and tablets.

Next page: Three more major criticisms to go »

« Previous page: The first two major criticisms

3. Too much, too soon: A massive learning curve for new users

One could argue that the changes between leaving Windows XP and starting with Windows Vista was enough progression to make the operating system work. Had Vista acted and behaved like Windows 7, perhaps Microsoft would have taken a different path with the upcoming Windows 8 version.

But for users, I'm worried that too much has changed for the mere neophyte, who has a massive challenge ahead to get to grips with an entirely new operating system; visually out-of-this-world compared to past versions.

Users will want to see a familiar desktop, rather than tiles on a Start screen. Stuck between emulating a similar feel to Windows Media Center and that of Windows Phone 7, it is as though Microsoft presumes we have all used the mobile operating system first.

I knew that I would be facing a Start screen at some point -- but only on a tablet. Whether this boils down to my naivety or poor communication on Microsoft's part, I cannot say.

For tablets, however, users will reap the benefits from the new Start screen. But as the very vast majority of Windows 8 users will still be PC and laptop users -- never mind the netbooks for now -- one has to question whether Microsoft has its head screwed on the right way.

4. Cloud-based profiles: What data, and where will it be stored?

This is something that could restrict sales of the operating system in Europe if Microsoft is not forthcoming about its data protection and sharing practices.

For those who log in to Windows using a Windows Live ID, or 'native' cloud support without the aid of Windows Live additional software, it carries certain data like settings, desktop wallpaper and bookmarks into the cloud.

This is not limited to Windows 8, per se. Google Chrome also supports the synchronisation of settings and applications across browsers.

Content such as Windows settings, Metro style applications and sign-in credentials will be ported to the cloud, but there is still a giant question mark over "what data", for which Microsoft still has answers to give.

It is not clear yet exactly how much data is ported to the cloud, whether natively or otherwise. Though users are given the option to use a Windows Live ID to connect with the Windows 8, Microsoft is still not entirely forthcoming yet with full details of where data is stored, and whether personally identifiable data will be uploaded to the cloud with or without the user's permission.

But for now, questions loom over Windows 8's innate ability to connect to the cloud without third-party Windows Live Essentials support.

5. Windows 7 'pocketed' away: Windows 8 just adds tablet support

I am by far not the first person to notice this.

The keyboard and mouse combination is key and crucial to the traditional desktop experience. But because the Start screen is 'designed for' as opposed to simply 'optimised' for the tablet space, it seems that the keyboard and mouse have been left out to pasture.

In short, it is surprisingly tricky to navigate the Start screen without a series of keyboard shortcuts -- which, for the record, are not easy to find -- and the mouse is practically useless beyond pointing and clicking.

But the Windows Developer Preview is in effect Windows 7 on the face of it, with a few user interface changes. Users may not use the Start screen that often, only to open applications and to check updating tiled content. But for now, thankfully the desktop experience remains.


Topics: Operating Systems, Apps, Microsoft, Software, Software Development, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

    While the GUI will take a bit getting use to, all of our client's users have been trained to utilize the one key feature that trumps GUI/KB Shortcuts:
    Start --> [Start typing what is needed]

    This ability to start the Windows Search feature by clicking start and typing what one is looking for was not readily apparent in Win8. However, once users are shown that it is there, invisible if you will, waiting for them to type the whole GUI thing becomes moot.

    Philip Elder SBS MVP
    • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

      @MPECSInc Exactly. If you ever click the All Programs button on Windows Vista/7, then you're living in the past and there's no way to make you happy anyways. Search is so much more efficient it's silly.
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

        Totally agreed! Super effecient - if you ever set up a race between two users - search or dive down, it'd be the equivalent of a ferrari racing a sloth. :/ takes some getting used to though.
      • That depends on what's installed

        The search feature is indeed a fantastic method for bringing up program options ... provided that you can recall or intuit the program's name. A few months ago, after setting up filezilla as a FTP program, I needed to bring it up, but since I had set it up several weeks earlier the name had slipped my mind so I tried serching for FTP. Which didn't bring it up because it wasn't part of the name.
        Hmm, while search mostly works well, it could probably work better if MS set up a method of adding reference tags to programs for searching.
      • Bingo!

        [i]The search feature is indeed a fantastic method for bringing up program options ... provided that you can recall or intuit the program's name.[/i]

        There are programs and files that I use maybe two or three times a year that I still have to do a visual search for. This new feature is useless for that. Utterly USELESS.

        MS is now confused over what a tablet and a desktop should be. That need to do a serious re-think about this.
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8


        And you can't even remember what folder you have them in? Or am I the only person who actually organizes their computer so that I know where things are?
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

        @Aerowind I would be happy if microsoft wouldn't monopolize all pcs and freely allow dual booting. Rumour says this may not be so. Windows are not the only operating system on the planet but they are the most monopolized, the most expensive, most virus, maleware, and trojan orientated OS on the planet.
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

        @Aerowind - Search requires me to take my hand off the mouse and type on the keyboard. That is not always more efficient than the All Programs button. I can click and scroll quite a bit for the time it takes shift to the keyboard.
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

        <i>maleware</i> seriously. ;-)
        Ram U
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

        I disagree. i use the classic version on windows vista and xp and on my windows 7 machines I use a killer to to stop the wndows 7 llok since a true classic option was removed and then use an xp theme over it. It makes finding and navigating so much quicker and easy. The drop down menues make it a more productive way of use. Ribbons and the new look of windows 7 programs takes for ever to poke around and find things. In classic you quickly hit all All Programs opens the folders you glide across folder opens you pick the option you want nice and easy all mouse work no annoying keyboard short cuts or commands. Windows 8 is even worse as 2 things windows has to keep are full normal start button options and the classic desktop. Without those microsoft killed its own os.I have had the developers version about 2 weeks now and its just horrible.They need to let you install a desktop version no metro crap and have previous ui skins in the install ie you can pick xp, vista, or 7 or even metro so they can give the loyal long time users options they want and will make them migrate to this new version. If its force metro UI which is why the wp7 sold so slowly then why upgrade ? Stay with xp or windows 7 until cannot be used anymore then over to ubuntu or linux with a classic windows theme so its usable.It will be preference and familiarity that makes or breaks microsoft os and this is breaking it as is.
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

        [i]And you can't even remember what folder you have them in? Or am I the only person who actually organizes their computer so that I know where things are?[/i]

        The file folders are right there on the Start Menu. If there not there then where are they? On the big, stupid Metro GUI that's going to replace it?
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

        Once upon a time, in a land far far away....there was a major argument between the porponents of the command line and the GUI. The command line was far more efficient ... for those who could remember the commands. The GUI however had the magic of discoverability..... if you didn't know what you were looking for you could discover it by drilling downs through the menu's.

        The solution was choice......that appears to be what Windows 8 wants to take away.

        Personally I find everytrhing far quicker and far more efficiently using menu's than search. Spend hours searching the net for stuff I know is there. Spend hours searching Help for stuff that might not be there.

        The internet is a machine for turning information in to data ....looks like windows is going that way too.

        The past is a far better and more productive place to live than in a universe where a ribbon is easier to use than menu's and tools bars (where 80% of a users requiements are less than three clicks away). Or where people think that dragging a window to the top left hand corner is easier than double clicking the window top bar or simply clicking the maximise icon.

        Tablets, touch screens and the cloud ... the emporer is naked you know.

        80% of the things you do with a computer are easier and more efficient to do with traditional input forms yet it becomes harder and harder to by a phone without a touch screen.

        Peole are rapidly wearing out their thumb joints.
      • More efficient than decades of old habits?

        @Aerowind There is something to be said for repetition of a task. There has been a start button since 3.11 for workgroups. I grew up learning to use old DOS machines then I graduated to windows 3.11 in 92. Almost twenty years I've used a start button and the standard desktop GUI. Twenty years I've developed the habits of mind and muscle memory to complete tasks with just a few clicks of the mouse with ease. To have to try to learn something new like this would be more inefficient in the long run because of the learning curve. I will not be upgrading to Windows 8. I'll stick to XP until they finally kill all support for it then I'll switch to Linux where I at least have control over the functionality and look of my GUI. At least Linux will use formats I'm familiar with in GNOME.
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8


        So I am supposed to use search for all the things I used to use the start menu for, but when I want to search for files in windows 7, I have to use Agent Ransack, because the search in Windows 7 is so bad! Yeah, it's crystal clear! Why didn't I see that myself? I am so totally a noob living in the past. Thanks a lot!
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

        @Aerowind That totally depends on what the user installs and if they have file indexing turned on. In my case, I use the all programs menu for the following, despite ther being alternatives:

        - mainly a quick glance of what I have installed
        - for access to shortcuts created by programs during installation; not all shortcuts in the "All Programs Menu" show up in the search.
        - a quick way of creating start up programs/files; simply drag and drop it (like a text file being used for instructions), or a shortcut of it (like a startup programd) into the "Startup" folder
      • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

        @Michael Alan Goff
        No, you aint the only one that organizes their files, I do too, but most of my non-tech Savvy friends don't even know how/care to organize them ;P
    • I do not use Search this way

      I find since i am such a bad typest and do not always know that exact name of the program i am looking for the GUI point and find is my only way to get to where i am going and i just hate all those BIG icons i have a large monitor so i can see more not less.
    • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

      @MPECSInc Hey guys, maybe you are interested in the best club for seeking the rich cougars, sexy young men. ...what's the most important is that you can find a sugarmomma who can pay all your needs ==:: :/.COUGARA.//COM ::==Where you can find tens of thousands of matches and friends right here, especially those in your city.
    • Wasn't this why we all didn't go mac?

      @MPECSInc wasn't the flexibilty and ability to use OUR computers the way we wanted to what we like about pcs. Ms have to be careful that in attempting to combating Apple that they do not hasten their demise by alienating there userbase? Mind you we are due a gash version after the success of Windows 7!
    • RE: Five core criticisms of Windows 8

      The new start menu SUCKS!!!
      There is nothing wrong and it is better secuirty for there not to be the one os for all platforms