Can Windows 8.1 re-start Windows 8?

Moderated by Lawrence Dignan | June 3, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: Ed Bott calls Microsoft's impending OS release an impressive update. Adrian Kingsley-Hughes thinks it's too little, too late.

Ed Bott

Ed Bott

Yes

or

No

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Best Argument: Yes

58%
42%

Audience Favored: Yes (58%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Windows 8.1 is one impressive update

Ed Bott: We are at the very beginning of a revolution in computing. It involves a profound transformation of the PC, which now include mobile devices and services that can be accessed from anywhere. In a few years, the idea that you’ll own just one PC will seem odd, and you’ll judge devices by how well they work together.

Windows 8 was the first step on that road, enabling a new app platform and a touch-based UI that extend the capabilities of the traditional PC to new form factors. With Windows 8.1, Microsoft will expand the capabilities of Windows dramatically, allowing it to work with a new class of smaller, cheaper devices that are powerful and portable but are still PCs. Windows 8.1 also dramatically improves the usability of the Windows 8 interface. It probably won’t satisfy the diehard haters, but anyone who’s actually used Windows 8 will want Windows 8.1.

The Windows 8.1 release is part of the new, faster update cadence Microsoft promised when it shipped Windows 8. The platform is intended to be around for at least a decade. If it continues to improve at this pace, it has every right to succeed.

 

Changes are too little, too late

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes: Microsoft tried to achieve something ambitious with Windows 8. It endeavored to create a platform that would work on both traditional desktop and notebook PCs, while at the same time kitting it out with features that would make it suited to touch-driven devices such as tablets and hybrids.

To do this, Microsoft gutted the operating system of some of the key elements that the average user had come to think of as being cornerstones of Windows -- specifically the Start button, the Start menu. It also relegated the Windows desktop into the background, instead choosing to land new users, blinking and confused, into what is essentially a full-screen Start menu called the Start Screen.

These changes, combined with the lack of proper user education about the changes from Microsoft, meant that the bulk of users were left scratching their heads, baffled as to what to do in this new thing called Windows 8.

The changes were quite sweeping, and it seems that Microsoft realized that the pendulum of change had swung too far, and as a result the developers squirreled away at Redmond HQ have been hard at work reversing some of these changes in an update called Windows 8.1. Specifically, the changes include adding back the Start button – but not the Start menu – and making tweaks to how the Modern UI apps work.

I firmly believe that all these changes are too little, too late. Microsoft chose to steer Windows in a particular course, and shoehorning tweaks and changes into an already cluttered and confused user interface doesn't seem like the way forward.

While Windows 8.1 might make people love Windows 8 a little more, it is highly unlikely that it will make people fall in love with the PC again.

Talkback

259 comments
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  • It's too late, for Windows 8

    The problem here is far deeper than Windows 8 itself, for Microsoft proves it won't listen to its developers and customers. This deafness began with Vista, but since the Start MENU (not merely the button!) and other basics were kept in place, users complained, didn't update, but stayed with MS. Windows 7 exacerbated the situation, much.

    Windows 8 took away what was good in Windows 7, imposed yet again a stupid and hitlerian interface on people, then wonders why adoption is slow? That spells VERY BAD MANAGEMENT.

    And Windows 8.1, doesn't alter the spelling verdict. So we know now, 10 years into the making, that Microsoft has a huge mental problem that won't go away. So we have to go away, to stay in business.

    Right now, Linux isn't mature enough to take up the slack, but maybe now it will become so. We are waiting. MS IS NOT TO BE TRUSTED, that's the message Microsoft sends.
    brainout
    Reply 25 Votes I'm for No
    • People complained about *adding* the Start menu in Windows 95.

      "This deafness began with Vista"

      People complained about *adding* the Start menu in Windows 95. They've been "deaf" about as long as I can remember.

      The one thing I think Microsoft should really do is to add visual cues to the sides when the bars are hidden. Something to say "yeah, there's something here." My biggest complaint about Windows 8 is really hiding everything.
      CobraA1
      Reply 16 Votes I'm Undecided
      • You need to provide evidance for that claim.

        "People complained about *adding* the Start menu in Windows 95"

        Please cite some statistically supported evidence for this claim. I started using Windows at version 3.0, and I remember the introduction of 95 very well. While there was concern for DOS application support/compatibility, I don't recall a single criticism of the new UI, much to the contrary, I recall it being widely welcomed, as it brought Windows (arguably) on par with the MacOS.

        But to further discredit your point, even with Windows 95's new UI, Microsoft still provided the familiar Program Manager UI, and went so far as allowing it to be set as the default shell. The Program Manager was included in 98, 98SE, Me, Windows NT 4, Windows 2000 and even early versions of XP (until, I believe, Service Pack 2).

        So even if there was criticism of the UI, which I dispute, Microsoft still saw it valuable to retain access to a prior UI to ease the transition. With Windows 8, they've made just as drastic of a change and purposefully gutted the old UI in an attempt to force people into using Modern. Had it truly been an improvement, perhaps people would have accepted it, but being designed to the limitations of a phone and tablet form factor, the Modern UI is woefully ill-suited to a traditional desktop system.

        No, it's not *difficult* to use, but it is clumsy, awkward, schizophrenic, inefficient and horrifically wasteful of system resources, namely screen real estate. From what we know of 8.1, little to none of this is about to change, so my vote is on Windows 8 remaining a lemon. And before you lob accusations, I'm writing this on a Windows 8 system, and after having disabled Metro as much as possible, I actually really like the OS.
        PC987
        Reply 24 Votes I'm Undecided
        • I don't think there's "statistically supported evidence" for the contra

          "Please cite some statistically supported evidence for this claim."

          I don't think there's "statistically supported evidence" either way. However, I do seem to recall complaints about how big it got with a lot of stuff installed. It's a bit more behaved now, but it's still not the best experience for power users.

          Actually finding opinions for Windows 95 may be difficult, as the Internet was new and a lot of it was static pages, so you didn't have the extensive online forums we have today. Web based forums themselves had just been invented :/.

          I wouldn't be surprised that, due to how fragmented things were back then, we may have gotten different opinions based on the people we knew and sites we followed at the time.

          "But to further discredit your point, even with Windows 95's new UI, Microsoft still provided the familiar Program Manager UI, and went so far as allowing it to be set as the default shell."

          That doesn't discredit it - quite the opposite! Microsoft was providing people a way back - you know, for those who didn't like the change ;). Although since it required editing configuration files (later, the registry), nobody really did it.

          "So even if there was criticism of the UI, which I dispute"

          I criticized it :P.

          Although I think most of my complaints were likely at its stability, or lack thereof. My first memories of BSODs come from Windows 95.

          "No, it's not *difficult* to use, but it is clumsy, awkward, schizophrenic, inefficient and horrifically wasteful of system resources,"

          I think that "clumsy, awkward, schizophrenic, inefficient and horrifically wasteful of system resources" is basically the definition of "difficult to use."

          "And before you lob accusations, I'm writing this on a Windows 8 system"

          No problem, so am I =). And I've used pretty much every version of Windows since 3.11.

          . . . say, didn't Windows 3 use grids of icons? Hummm . . .

          . . . although mouse distances were much shorter back then, due to lower screen resolutions and 4:3 aspect ratio X(. Maybe the proper way to use the Start Screen is to increase the sensitivity of my mouse.

          "and after having disabled Metro as much as possible, I actually really like the OS."

          Indeed - with some Start8 and ModernMix, it works well.

          Although I still think that hiding bars at the edges of the screen with no visual cues is still bad UI design.
          CobraA1
          Reply 6 Votes I'm Undecided
          • It seems we probably agree more than disagree...

            "I don't think there's "statistically supported evidence" either way. However, I do seem to recall complaints about how big it got with a lot of stuff installed"

            I do hear this criticism a lot, and as the major justification for getting rid of the start menu, but I really don't think it's a valid point. Sure, the start menu will get cluttered if you do nothing but install a boat load of programs and never uninstall anything you may not use. 'Ya know what? Your house will get cluttered if you continually bring home loads of garbage and never throw anything out. With some organization, the Start Menu was/is a very clean and efficient way to hold/launch programs. Every time I install a program, I quickly go into the start menu and clean things up.

            But what really gets me about this whole debate is that the Start Screen does nothing to solve this main problem - installed programs put their same icons all over the Start Screen. With no manual organization, you'll have the exact same clutter and sprawl. 8.1's supposed "new" group in the Start Screen isn't a solution because it just moves the clutter out of site until you need to access anything from it, and then your digging through clutter. And even if it DOES prove to be a solution, it's not one that couldn't have just as easily been applied to the Start Menu.
            PC987
            Reply 8 Votes I'm Undecided
          • Organization can break things, especially post-install.

            Organization can break things in the old Start menu. Uninstallers won't recognize where the shortcuts are if you move them around post-install. Thankfully, the Modern UI won't do that anymore - that's the one thing Microsoft finally fixed.

            . . . and if Linux can organize things into sensible categories upon install, why can't Windows? Why did we end up in a situation where things are named based on the business name rather than a category name?

            "But what really gets me about this whole debate is that the Start Screen does nothing to solve this main problem - installed programs put their same icons all over the Start Screen."

            Unpinning an icon from the Start Screen is pretty trivial. Just right click, select "unpin." And if you *do* decide to organize your Start Screen with custom groupings and such, it won't break uninstallers, and you won't have to pull up the folder that contains the Start menu - the organization tools are all an integral part of the Modern UI.
            CobraA1
            Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
          • I've *never* experienced that.

            I have literally -never- experienced any breakage from rearranging the start menu, and I rearrange it rather extensively. Uninstalling programs might not remove shortcuts that have been moved, but that's not unexpected - how would an uninstaller be expected to know where a shortcut was moved to, and it's trivial to right-click on the shortcut of a program I just installed and select delete. I certainly wouldn't consider that breakage. But I've never had an uninstaller fail to actually uninstall a program because of a moved shortcut.

            As for organizing programs into categories vs. company/product names, that's 6 to 1, 1/2 dozen the other. Does the Start Screen change this? If not, than it's not an argument for the Start Screen over the Start Menu.

            As far as unpinning icons from the start screen, the problem is then accessing that icon if you later need to. You have to go into the all programs second and wade through every single program on your system to find the one your looking for. It's just as cluttered a process as the Start Menu, and therein lies the problem - the Start Screen doesn't offer a decidedly better experience than the Start Menu. It might have some advantages in one area, but for every advantage, it has it's own disadvantage. It's not a clearly better way, and so it's a difficult argument to make for Microsoft that everyone should happily learn and adapt to this new way.
            PC987
            Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided
          • You mean that "not unexpected" thing? Yeah, that's it.

            "Uninstalling programs might not remove shortcuts that have been moved, but that's not unexpected"

            That's actually what I'm talking about.

            "how would an uninstaller be expected to know where a shortcut was moved to"

            Did I mention that this works in the Start Screen?

            Go ahead, install some software in Windows 8, move the newly created icon on the Start Screen into a new group, then uninstall it. The icon will remove itself no matter where you put it. I actually did it just now just to test it - it works.

            I think in Windows 8, Windows keeps track of that information for the installer. With the new Start Screen, it's now ultimately Windows' responsibility for that information, and Windows keeps track of it.

            The desktop is still using an outdated installer/uninstaller system. We're increasingly moving towards installing/uninstalling being the responsibility of the OS itself - which is actually a great thing, because it will mean I won't have to worry about the various oddball installer that does things in a weird way, or an installer that's a hobbled together buggy mess, or the installer making my registry screwy.

            It also means that automatic updates are always supported, so I don't have to worry about whatever update mechanism that the software may or may not come with.

            So yeah - the OS taking care of installing/uninstalling? About time.

            "As for organizing programs into categories vs. company/product names, that's 6 to 1, 1/2 dozen the other. "

            I disagree. This whole organize by company/product name seems to be something that businesses want, not something the consumers wanted. It's more for marketing/branding than being helpful to the customer.

            Seriously, I've got a lot of software made by some small business with a very awkward name and only one product (or only one product I'm interested in). It really doesn't help.

            "As far as unpinning icons from the start screen, the problem is then accessing that icon if you later need to."

            Then don't unpin it. Put it into another group or something. And don't forget that all versions of Windows since Vista has search. I don't think search is a cure-all, but it's an option.

            And at least you've got the entire screen for browsing, rather than an increasingly cramped menu.
            CobraA1
            Reply Vote I'm Undecided
          • Organization?

            Which linux(es) organizes things into sensible categories upon install? I've used Ubuntu off & on over the past 5 or so years, and found that while it would recognize obvious programs like browsers and put them into the 'internet' category, it absolutely sucked at figuring out where any kind of obscure / rare programs belonged ... the handful of oddjobs I installed just got dumped into some catchall category or were misplaced into obviously wrong categories. To my way of thinking that's far worse than having everything in a single menu.

            Windows (pre-8) never bothered to "categorize" programs and for that I was and am thankful. Why would you want to put your programs into categories in the first place? I honestly don't see the utility of that ... on my primary PC (Win7) I have maybe 75 or 80 programs installed (that includes a couple dozen games), and ALL of them are accessible from the 'start menu', and the menu is not cluttered in any way that I perceive the concept of 'cluttered' ... the menu is simply a list in alphabetical order so I can easily find any program I'm looking for.

            As far as "why did we end up" with things named after the company ... that's because installers are created by the software publisher, not by Microsoft. Windows isn't naming those folders ... the software you are installing named those folders. But why would you want them named anything else? I've got a folder (I assume it was implemented by the PC vendor) called "Productivity and Tools" ... wtf does that mean? That gives me absolutely NO clue as to what actual programs are represented there as I did not create that folder, and I did not put any programs into that folder ... why would I want the system to choose what applications to file under which categories (folders)? That makes no sense to me.
            Gravyboat McGee
            Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
          • Apparently

            you never work with data bases or file organizations. Indexes are one way of "grouping" a set of data/files. Categories are a similar way of grouping like applications. Just because you have some obscure application/program that Linux (nor Windows) recognizes doesn't mean it fails at categorizing what it knows. Granted, it might be nice if you were prompted for a category in that case. Using your line of reasoning, it wouldn't make sense to have a directory structure either, just write every file on the root disk (C:)!
            bobc4012
            Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided