How Microsoft can salvage Windows 8 before it's too late

How Microsoft can salvage Windows 8 before it's too late

Summary: Here's what Microsoft should do if it wants to prevent Windows 8 from going down in history as a Vista-like flop.


A regular Hardware 2.0 commentator challenges me to do something that may well be impossible -- fix Windows 8.

You've spilled a lot of pixels telling us what's wrong with Windows 8.  Your mission, should you decide to accept it, it to come up with a concise way that Microsoft could salvage the operating system before it's released.

This is a tough challenge, given that Windows 8 is only a few months away from release. There's not a lot that Microsoft can do in this time. However, given that the Redmond giant has already gone on the record to say that the UI that we see in the Windows 8 Release Preview is not what will be in the final release, it's safe to say that things are in a certain state of flux.

As I've said on numerous occasions, the biggest problem with Windows 8 is the way that the dumbed-down Metro UI has been unceremoniously bolted onto the mature and well-refined "Classic" user interface. While there's no doubt that the existing UI is flawed, bolting on a UI designed for touch devices is not the answer.

OK, you asked me to keep this concise, so here it is. Here's how I think Microsoft should tweak Windows 8 before it's released:

  • Reinstate the Start Menu.
    Scrolling through the Metro UI Start Screen is no better than scrolling through the Start menu, so why add change for the sake of change? While I'm sure some people will take to the Start Screen, for those that don't want it -- perhaps because they don't have a touch system, or just want to keep their old workflow -- then bring back the Start Menu.
  • Desktop-centric Windows.
    Make it so it's possible to make the desktop the central focus of the operating system. Booting into the Windows Desktop is infinitely more useful for those on a traditional PC than booting to the Metro UI Start Screen. Unless you're driving Windows 8 via a touchscreened device, that Metro UI Start Screen is about as useful as a fire alarm that plays a lullaby.
  • Bring back the Start orb.
    There's enough mystery meat navigation elements in Windows 8 already without adding more. I can understand why Microsoft pulled the Start orb -- because none of the other on-screen cursor hotspots that Microsoft has added have a visual element attached -- but the Start orb is so iconic that removing it is likely to cause no end of confusion.
  • Rename Windows RT
    Windows RT is a wishy-washy name for a platform that doesn't give the consumer a clue as to what to expect. Even adding the word 'Tablet" somewhere would help. Come on Microsoft, give people a clue here somewhere.
  • Integration between the two versions of Internet Explorer
    Windows 8 has two different versions of Internet Explorer. A "Classic" version and a "Metro" version. This introduced all the problems associated with running two browsers. While both versions share a common history file, that's about it.
    Let me give you an example of what's wrong. If I'm working with both a "Classic" application and a "Metro" app, and I need the browser open in both screens -- sounds complicated, but this comes in handy when you're researching something -- there's no way to have both Internet Explorers synced so they show the same content.  
  • Use Windows 8 SP1 as an opportunity to refine both UIs
    We know that it will take about a year from when Windows 8 is released before we see Service Pack 1. That gives Microsoft a chance to listen to user feedback -- and by users here I mean regular users, not people who've bothered to download and install the previews -- and configure the two UIs into what users want rather than what Microsoft thinks they want.

There's a palpable fear that Windows 8 will stumble out of the door. I'm hearing this from people within Microsoft, from the OEMs and vendors, and from others in and around the industry. The OEMs and vendors feel especially vulnerable, and if Windows 8 does become 'another Vista' then there will be an industry-wide bloodbath. Analysts are already cutting price targets on Dell and HP, and Windows 8 is still months away.

My predictions are that after the initial fanfare following the release, things will play out as follows:

  • Enterprise will continue to demand Windows 7, because to roll out Windows 8 'properly' the costs will rocket due to mass purchase of touch-enabled hardware and additional user interface training;
  • OEMs will sell Windows 7 PCs alongside Windows 8 systems because they will find it almost impossible to present the benefits of Windows 8 on desktop systems;
  • Microsoft will once again find itself in a position where it has to offer longer-term support for the older operating system;
  • Windows 9 will look significantly different to Windows 8, and likely switch back to the 'traditional' Windows interface;
  • Depending on how Windows RT tablets sell, Metro could well be on life-support come Windows 9.

Image source: Leap Frog.

See also:


Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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
  • Another click bait?

    It's getting old.
    • Absolutely...

      No mention of the powerful improvements, functions, and not to mention, an outstanding resource improvement over any of the former Windows to include Windows 7 x64.

      Nothing but belly-aching and crying buckets...
      Douglas Taylor
      • All that is needed...

        ...Is to provide a "Windows 7 Mode" which could just be a skin providing the start menu and other UI elements that really work better in a desktop/non touch system. Perhaps someone could just design an application to run on Windows 8 to provide this. Doesn't seem like it should be that hard...
        • Windows 8

          Already works better on desktop/non touch systems. That's my opinion but I've been convinced by lots of use on a multi-display desktop for 3d animation work and video gaming.
      • Seriously?

        Behind the scenes the technical improvements are good, however touch centric interface and Metro are real concerns. Some of us have been highlighting the more months, prepared to see how they pan out.

        I can't see anything written that's even remotely controversial, most IT experience is saying exactly the same thing.
        Richard Flude
        • Seriously....

          There is nothing touch-centric about it. I am using a touchpad on a crappy old laptop with no difficulty whatsoever. The Desktop tile is the largest tile on the left. You just click it for goodness sakes! Then you are on the VERY clean desktop. Move your mouse to the bottom left (which is what we have ALWAYS done) and the start tile presents itself. Its so easy and fast, it makes you want to cry with joy......
          • Re: Seriously

            Please enlighten me to the mystical, magical improvements. Metro isn't one of them!
          • Re my re

            Test, having trouble posting with ALL FF add-ons enabled. Funny it is only THIS site. CNet works fine!!!
            What is on the ZDNet pages that both DoNotTrackPlus and Ghostery find offensive????
          • Re; Test, having trouble posting.

            You are not alone.
            Try voting on more than 2 posts. More problems.

            This site has become rather hopeless.
          • But you're assuming the folk slating it have seen it!!!

            Be serious most haven't touched it yet and even less on a touch based system. Theres still a load of folk out there willingly using ipads, android pads etc BUT denying 'touch' is a benefit anywhere (anywhere thats not Apple that is; then it'll be oh show super cool and I'm so cool with a progressive touchscreen). How can it be good on one but not the other? No doubt the feedback will be different once folk open their minds and move on. I remember life without mice, without Internet, with bulletin Boards. This is all progress... rock on.

            ps The Apple rep told me I dont need touchscreen on a mac, and why would they do that. Am I the only guy that touches my screen in a day, then gets a reality check that it's not gonna do anything?
          • Yes you are

            "Am I the only guy that touches my screen in a day, then gets a reality check that it's not gonna do anything?"

            The rest of us realize it's not going to do anything at this point and don't touch our screens ;-)
        • Richard

          You are always anti Microsoft. Why should anyone listen to your rants.
          • That it?

            Decades of IT experience (many through the dark days of the MS abuses) dismissed because my posts aren't supportive of MS; many criticisms supported by history and overseen MS fall.

            I'm convinced; no problems with Win8, dissenting opinion shouldn't be published. No problem with the development strategies of MS ( we don't need direction for planning anymore), the OEMs have no basis for any concerns, Vista / WP7 / Tablets / Zune were all massive successes;-)
            Richard Flude
          • Honestly...

            If you ever reviewed a Microsoft product without explaining why it was terrible, and not why it's a cut above maybe you're defense would hold water.

            I have been using a WP7 for almost 3 years now and it is one of the easiest and most intuitive phones I've ever used. I can connect to my office and home in 1 device smaller than my hand and am constantly connect. With the exception of 1 awkardly placed button (a Samsung design flaw not MS) it is mindblowing, to me, the things it is capable of.

            The Anti-MS crowd, such as yourself, judged WP7 based on previous windows phones, which were horrendous. You carpet bagged the idea AND the project before you ever laid a finger on it.
          • Only an issue for Anti MS posters?

            Let me guess, you will willingly listen to the rants of the individuals on this thread that always post anti Apple rants and have blind faith in anything MS though right?
      • Users interact with all that cool tech

        via the interface. If the interface is suckage, everything else is irrelevant.
      • Is it the "powerful improvements"

        or the functions or the outstanding resource improvement that keeps flashing "Not Responding" messages when I try to work the Internet at the same speed I have with Windows 7? I suppose it's belly-aching when I complain of the various apps I had to uninstall and reinstall after a Windows 8 update.
        There will be a much needed Service Pack 1. Let's hope it is not a year away.
        • Oh no, my internetz are slow

          Seriously? "when I try to work the Internet at the same speed I have with Windows 7?"

          This is the first I've ever heard of either of these problems and judging by your post, I'm inclined to belive it is user error.
          • Maybe he's running...

            ...Windows 8 in an underpowered VM?

            Just a thought.
      • I'm with those from Missouri on this one...

        I'll believe it when I see it. No proof of ANY good things yet, even after downloading and using the preview. Just new, and unflattering, lipstick on the pig.

        Microsoft stopped trying to improve computing with Windows XP [which they did - XP was worlds better than Win 9x, and more than incrementally better than Windows 2000]. Since Vista it's all about the [first] looks, and what can be eliminated from the previous Windows code to make it appear to have the same functionality [which it does not have] and be slightly faster. Perhaps the REAL high-bandwidth [ a Gates' term, in case you didn't know] developers have all since moved on at Microsoft.