MIT professor: Windows 8 is a Christmas gift for 'someone you hate'

MIT professor: Windows 8 is a Christmas gift for 'someone you hate'

Summary: MIT Prof. Philip Greenspun pours condemnation on Microsoft's latest operating system, but some of his criticisms are misplaced.

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft

Internet entrepreneur and MIT professor Philip Greenspun has cast his critical eye over Microsoft's latest operating system and concluded that it is the "Christmas gift for someone you hate."

But after more than a month of using the operating system, it's becoming increasingly clear that not all of Greenspun's critiques are valid. In fact, in some cases, he's just screaming into the wind.

The first criticism Greenspun levels at Windows 8 is the lack of features that are present on other operating systems. He points to the "permanently on-screen Back button" and "permanently on-screen Home button" present in Android, the "permanent hardware Home button" on iOS devices, and the "context-dependent menu of useful functions" found in earlier versions of Windows.

"Microsoft has had since October 2008 to study Android. It has had since June 2007 to study iPhone. It seems as though they did not figure out what is good about the standard tablet operating systems," Greenspun wrote.

The separation between the old-style 'desktop'-mode and the new "Modern" user interface also draws condemnation because it makes it too difficult for users to get help when they run into problems.

"Confused about how the tablet apps work and want to Google for the answer? You go to a Web browser in the desktop interface and can't see the tablet interface that you're getting advice on how to use."

See alsoWindows 8 vs. Windows 7: Benchmarked

Greenspun offers an inelegant yet workable solution to this problem.

"Keep your old Windows 7 machine adjacent so that you can Google for 'How to use Windows 8' on the old computer and have the pages continuously visible," he suggests.

Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system is certainly fast, and data suggests that it crashes far less than its predecessors, but the new user interface seems to be attracting a lot of negative press. Since its release, usability experts have called Microsoft's attempt at changing the way we work "confusing" and a "cognitive burden" and "a monster that terrorizes poor office workers and strangles their productivity."

All Windows 8 systems -- desktops and tablets -- have a 'Home button" which comes in the form on the Windows key, either on the keyboard or a separate button on the tablet. Pressing this is the equivalent of pressing the "Home" button on an iPad.

He also mentions that functions such as "restart the computer" is only available from the tablet interface, which isn't correct. This is function is available from the Charms bar and can be accessed from both the desktop and tablet interface.

Back in June, I called Windows 8 a "design disaster." While I like the speed and performance gains that the new operating system brings, as a platform to do real-world work, Windows 8 felt unusable. There's too much mystery meat navigation, too much switching interfaces, and therefore unnecessary disruption to workflow.

While I, and many others, are not scared of change, the 'scare' factor is when those changes have a huge detrimental effect on productivity. For now, it remains unclear if such a perceived detriment can be proven.

Image source: Microsoft.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft

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
  • "While I, and many others, are not scared of change . . ."

    Change is a word that connotes something arbitrary. What we want, what we desire is "improvement". I've not used W8 and so I make no criticism of it; however, after reading many articles and speaking to a few users, it seems that, for many people, unfortunately, W8 is change, rather than improvement.
    • I'm a happy Windows 8 user who thinks it's an improvement

      But, don't worry about my opinion! Apparently I'm only in the majority.....
      • Windows 8 - This is what went wrong with it:

        In the old days, Microsoft tried to shoehorn a desktop PC operating system into a phone. It was called Windows Mobile, and was so terrible, and its icons so small, that people would be forced to use a stylus pen to get it going. It failed.

        Now Microsoft is at it again. But this time Microsoft is shoehorning a phone interface onto a PC. It has turned into a disaster. The worst OS Microsoft has ever made.

        Windows 8 annoys people so intensely it will cause people to avoid all Microsoft products and run into the arms of Google.
        • Run to where there's no December?

          Have to wait til January or a patch.
          • Patch was released quite fast

            I've got a Nexus 7 and I got the "missing December" update, but the 4.2.1 patch came in quite fast.

            Most non-Nexus device will not even know about the problem as they get the update later and will jump directly to Android 4.2.1 (or later).
        • Oxymoron

          They will run to google because Windows made the desktop experience in a phone interface.

          Think about what you said and if you're intelligent enough you know that's an oxymoron.

          On another note, the start button is a pain when you search for an application as it would cause a momentary freeze when searching for the application. I haven't use Windows 8 extensively but from what I've experienced using it that it seems to respond very well when I just type in the start screen.
          • Search speed was not a Start Menu issue

            But a general Windows issue. With the new speed in search in Windows 8, finding an application would have been just as fast through the Start Menu than it is in the Start Screen.
          • Probably right

            That's why they're implementing a new API with WinRT instead of Win32 which is used in Windows 7. Maybe it has something to do with this implementation that makes Windows 8 a lot snappier and faster.
          • WinRT Is Not A Technological Improvement - It's A Basis For Lock-In

            I am an engineer who has been programming on Microsoft OS's for 28 years.

            Trust me. WinRT is not a speed improvement. WinRT has multiple objective, so of them meritorious, but one of them is clearly to create developer "stickiness". With Win32, a C++ programmer can write an application, purely in C++, with a very, very small amount that is OS-specific. Some code *has* to be OS specific, like multi-threading. WinRT, by contrast, present the same features as Win32, but forces the programmer to allow Microsoft-specific idioms to creep into their code, whether they want it or not.

            Why would Microsoft do this? Simple. It destroys one of the most beautiful things about C++: portability. Once you get that WinRT cruft into your formerly-pure C++ code, you can forget about an easy port to Linux.
            Le Chaud Lapin
        • How much have you used Win8?

          • Enough to say NO, I don't want it.

            And will NOT use it. There is the matter of drivers and headaches associated with it. You try and use RDP and you find that you have screen limitations not found in previous versions. I could go on for hours on why from my experience, though it's not worth more time. zThose foolish enough to like it and or use it will need to muddle through its drawbacks.

            Overall its a step backwards for MS.
          • Not very much then

            What driver issues does Win8 have that Win7 doesn't? None I'd say - sounds like manufactured outrage to me.

            I'll agree in RDP Win8 can be a bit fiddly, but it's an odd occasion when someone has to "remote to a desktop client".
          • The main driver issues

            will be more with 32 bit versus 64 bit then Win 7 versus Win 8. Our managers use RDP alot to access our network while traveling for such things as approving payroll. Me being in IT have to work on servers and I love the Windows store RDP app.
          • I use RDP

            to connect to my work PC from home. I launch Juno Pulse to allow me to connect to our network then I run the Metro RDP app and I love it. When I launch RDP a screen pops up with the RDP sessions and I click on the the tile that named by my asset # at work (just like it's name on our network). It saves my username and and I have to add my password. My desktop at work appears and i didn't have to adjust settings to see even my wallpaper. (the Win7 in had to adjust bandwidth is settings to see wallpaper).
          • The new RDP client

            Is the best one Microsoft has ever released and is by far the most used application for me, not sure which limitations you are on about, as far as I can tell from almost one year of usage, there are no limitations. Of course the old mstsc is also still there if you wish to use it, I prefer the metro based one.
          • Did you know there are two "RDP" clients in Windows 8?

            Although "RDP" refers to the protocol and not the client, I will assume that you are referring to the client.
            There are two Remote Desktop Clients in Windows 8. Windows RT has one.
            You can access both clients from the Windows 8 Start Menu by typing "Remote".

            1. Remote Desktop is a lightweight client "app" available on the Start Menu of Windows 8 and Windows RT. It does have limited functionality but I have found it to be very fast and responsive when connecting to Windows XP, Vista, 7 and Home Server. Since it is a lightweight app, I would expect it to have less functionality than RDC (below).

            2.Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) is the full featured client available on the Windows 8 desktop. It is not available in Windows RT.

            RDC for Windows 7 (using RDP version 7.1) and Windows 8 (using RDP version 8.0) look and function almost exactly alike.

            I don't know what specific screen limitations you are referring to but the display options available on the RDC Display Tabs of both versions are exactly alike.

            What screen limitations have you experienced using RDC?

            Interestingly, you can install RDP 8.0 as an add-on for Windows 7 SP1.
          • I have used mstsc on my Surface with no problems

            What limitations are you talking about? As its a desktop app, the only metro version is the downloaded app

            I am still in the habit of using the desktop version because multitasking is necessary when working in IT
          • What experience?

            You have none, your obviously not very IT savvy

            If anyone is a fool, its you

            You probably said the same thing about xp when it first came out
          • Maybe try a little longer...

            I found I was getting pretty comfortable in about 4 hours. About the time it took to install sw and build profiles. That's not too bad. It would take that long or longer to learn to use OS X or Android. Seems a small price for faster boot-ups, greater speed and stability.

            How fickle we are...we cry for OS change...and hate it when it causes us to change with it. Tell me that changing your mobile OS doesn't cost you something in frustration to get to the benefit.

            I am not saying Win8 is perfect. But it is a step forward on many fronts.
        • Zchro -This is what went wrong with you -

          You start everything with an anti-MS bias. so that doesn't allow you to post honestly about Window 8.

          So automaticlly you'll believe that people will pass it up for what, a Chromebook? Sales of those show that its really never been a consideration at all.
          William Farrel