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

MIT Prof. Philip Greenspun pours condemnation on Microsoft's latest operating system, but some of his criticisms are misplaced.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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