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Quick Note: More Windows 8 Woes

March 18, 2012

By now, we have all heard horror stories about how awful Microsoft Windows 8 promises to be. An effort to fuse tablet and desktop OS’s into one seamless product line, Windows 8 introduces design features and approaches that most desktop users are sure not to be excited about. Today’s Note hasn’t addressed this topic before, but the article discussed by this note seems an appropriate place to begin. Matthew Murray, author of “Removing Windows 8 is better than…” on ExtremeTech.com, writes of bottling up so much frustration over the beta version of the new OS that he finally uninstalled it. As Murray puts it, “I tried, folks, really I did. After unleashing my rant last week about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I decided I would brave it for as long as I was mentally and physically capable.” [italics are mine, and added to quotes that come directly from the source article]

Murray’s writing in this article is poignant, direct, amusing, illustrative and generally enjoyable. I was particularly fond of the following passage:

So I endured the Technicolor-eyesore Metro Start Screen, with all those oversize buttons that take seconds to launch programs that always started instantaneously in Windows 7. I pushed aside the psychological torture of opening program after program and never closing one, despite knowing I would never come back to it. I gritted my teeth through countless single-window screens, constant system slowdowns, and navigational awkwardness, always hoping that sticking with the pain would somehow make me a better person.

But after several additional days of seeing upgrades from Windows 7 fail on three separate computers, after several additional days of seeing even touchscreen all-in-ones and tablets actually become less usable as a result of being Windows 8ified, and after several additional days of being treated like a preschooler suffering from ADHD for wanting to perform the simplest tasks, I reached my snapping point.

More importantly, Murray’s experience is emblematic of many who have tried the Windows 8 beta code. With few exceptions, they seem to feel that the OS disposes of features that were popular, effective and efficient in favor of new User Interface models that are unintuitive and difficult to use. Few, if any, articulate a desire to use the OS in preference to other alternatives, like Windows 7.

So why the new OS? The theory is that Microsoft wants to grab a share of the tablet computer OS market. This space is currently dominated by Apple, with Android and WebOS cleaning up the scraps. A solid Microsoft tablet OS would quickly penetrate the tablet market, and perhaps lead to gains in the cellular market, as well. Windows 8 is intended to be a single OS that can effectively operate a desktop, tablet, or whatever. Hence, the user interface incorporates many features that would be attractive to mobile and tablet users. From a product engineering standpoint, this makes some sense. But it doesn’t seem to offer an attractive product to desktop users, certainly not compared to what Windows 7 users are used to. Driving these points home is Murray’s article, with a particularly pointed passage:

As I said last time, I’m an adult and I want my computer to treat me like one. I have neither the time nor the inclination to trudge through multiple circles of interface hell just to do basic things that then fail to work as they always have before. And though I’m more than willing to pursue the workarounds people are discovering for bypassing Metro, I fail to see why I — or anyone — should have to. Microsoft, if you want to take over the tablet market, terrific. But can’t you find a way to do so that respects the hundreds of millions of customers who helped put you where you are?

Right here and now I’ll make this pledge: As new major editions of Windows 8 are released along the road to the final RTM version, I will keep trying them. I’m going to give Microsoft every opportunity to turn around this fiasco, to convince me that this is the operating system I both need and want to use. And if (when?) my mind changes about, I will let you all know. Microsoft has released a lot of good products over the last few decades, many of which have had significant positive impacts on my life, so the company has at least earned that.

For the time being, however, I have too much self-respect and too many demands on my time to devote to what is currently, at its best, nonsense. So a repartition, a format, and 20 minutes or so of disc accessing later, I had wiped out Windows 8 and replaced it with a sparkling copy of Windows 7. Let me tell you, that whole process was far and away the most invigorating and intensely satisfying experience I had all week.

To some extent, Microsoft’s intransigence on this point is perplexing. Windows 7 rescued Microsoft’s reputation after the disastrous Windows Vista. Vista was, after all, a new operating system that didn’t work well, that wasn’t really called for by the marketplace (Windows XP was, after all, an outstanding OS that was still in the prime of its product life in many ways, and incredibly popular with users). Microsoft stuck with Vista, largely failing to address its major shortcomings, and suffered immensely in the market for it. Now, here we are again. Microsoft has created a bad OS that nobody wants, and that it can’t afford to change or re-position.

If you’re listening, Microsoft, pay attention to what people are saying. Murray’s article is worth the few minutes it will take to read it.

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