Windows 8–Disaster For Or Saviour Of Microsoft?

I did a piece a while ago on the Developer Preview and said I would use Windows 8 Consumer preview in anger on my main PC and then report back on my findings.  Well this is it.

Improvements

Very fast start up. The core bits of the Windows UI are polished and improved such as the new version of task manager:
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The simple view is really simple and for techies like me the advanced view gives better details about what is hot and clobbering my system, the nearer to red the more CPU the application is using:

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Explorer: Some may not like the fact that the Explorer has now got the ribbon style menus which I am not a huge fan of in Office but I do think in Explorer it does work well and exposes a lot of stuff that a lot of users probably never knew was in the Explorer.

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If you don’t like the ribbon you can collapse it like you can in MS office:

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There are some new disk management things that allow you to handle the oodles of storage we need nowadays in a new feature called “Storage Spaces”:

Virtualizing storage for scale, resiliency, and efficiency

The main improvement that I and many developer preview users had asked for was the ability to close applications.  The blogs for the Windows 8 Team (Building Windows 8) went to lengths about the fact that we shouldn’t worry about closing applications as the operating system knows best. This is a bit analogous to automatic versus manual gearboxes in cars. We all know that the human can handle that activity better than the auto box in most cars, it’s better to leave the human to decide when they want the gear changing, yes it may be more efficient than the way a human does it, but if you want to drive fast, the human is better than the machine.

I feel the same about memory usage, it may make absolute sense to the computer brain to keep some application running as it knows if I want to re-open it in a few minutes it will snap up faster from suspended than starting up from disk, but I know as the master of the machine that I want to make room for a big hefty application I am just about to load and don’t want the PC second guessing me.

This sort of stuff is put well in I-Robot when Will Smith’s character is explaining how he was yanked out of his slowly sinking car in preference to a young child.  The robot did the survivability calculation and his was 40 odd percent to her 11 percent and saved him, but as he put it a human would not have made that decision.

So giving us the ability to override the machine is great, I just hope they have really implemented it not just made it look like they did by hiding the closed application from task manager??

Generally the system seems a bit more robust and on my Zoostorm tablet the scrolling seems a bit smoother than on the developer preview. My main PC is such a beast that it worked well on the developer preview as well.

General Perception – Desktop User Perspective.

I was hoping that after using it in anger after a few weeks I would stop feeling lost and I would start to adopt the Windows 8 way of doing things and it would just seem like any other new version of Windows but this never happened!

This is unusual, as usually I find that new versions annoy me because MS have just changed things for change’s sake.  Things like the change from “Add Remove Programs” to “Programs And Features”??? but within a short while I just get used to the stupid changes and all is well in the World again.  This time however I just find Metro apps annoying.  They claim that they are typographically rich and minimalist and removing the chrome (buttons sliders gadgets toolbars etc.)  allows a user to get on with the job in hand? Hmmm.

Sorry no! All that removing stuff like that does is to make desktop productivity users less productive.  Also from a business perspective, it means, yet again, all the costs you have spent on training staff to use their PCs is thrown down the toilet. In a similar fashion to Office dropping the tried and tested menus and replacing them with a ribbon. 

Yes we all get it that the ribbon may help new Office users, but for old hands like me and the many people in business who just need to get on with their work with minimum disruption, putting in a ribbon with no way of switching back to the traditional menus just wasted our time!!

This is one area where I think Microsoft appears to have lost one of its key selling points “backwards compatibility”. You could rely on Microsoft to be doing new things but always with one eye on maintaining backwards compatibility.  Most people think of this as relating to software and hardware but it also related to the way their key applications like Word and Excel worked.  Even if they introduced swathes of new stuff into the applications they always maintained the old keyboard shortcuts and menu entries so that you could still use the new version and continue to be productive.

Things seemed to change around the Vista era and suddenly Microsoft started doing stupid things like UAC (User Account Control) which I believe the developers of that admitted was to “annoy” their users as a method of stopping them allowing viruses onto their machine.  Well we know where that sort of thinking went, Vista was probably the biggest MS flop ever, and I am including Windows ME in that statement.

They also took their eye off driver development and most people could not get their printers, graphics cards and audio to work with it and net result MS took a beating. Admittedly it was probably the hardware vendors who always see a new O/S as a great way to sell new hardware and so were in no hurry to write new drivers for the new Vista Operating System, but I think MS should have done what they did in Windows 7 which was to write or include swathes of drivers on the Windows 7 DVD so that most devices just worked out of the box.

As soon as an operating system vendor believes that the end user comes second to their style gurus they are on the slippery slope. This is how I feel about Windows 8 for a desktop productivity user.  Because the main focus of Microsoft has shifted to chasing the success of Apple and its iPad everything has gone touch centric.  This is why the Metro interface and applications are designed the way they are. What I can’t understand is why MS insist on treating desktop users who will never want to poke around on their dual or triple monitors in the same way as tablet users who clearly are a different demographic?

Using Windows 8 and Metro “apps” on my machine which has two 24” Dell monitors attached to it, seemed jarring, particularly the way that with Metro applications you can only have a maximum of two applications running side by side and only in the one quarter three quarters layout:

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Which given the horsepower you have available seems a bit weird? Now on a low powered ARM tablet this makes absolute sense, you don’t want too much going on at once as they just do not have the capacity or battery power to run multiple applications like this. So why constrain a desktop user to this.

The answer I think is the overall strategy that Microsoft is following with Windows 8, that is to have one operating system across all their platforms. Which from Microsoft’s perspective makes sense as they only have one codebase to maintain across Mobile, Xbox, and Windows.

My usage in the period since I wrote my piece initially on Windows 8 Developer Preview has pretty much told me that I don’t use Metro applications a lot.  Without thinking about it I have just switched on and immediately gone to the desktop and haven’t felt the need to use Metro for anything other than some casual game playing.  This in itself does not mean that Metro “apps” should be banned if you are a desktop user, for non-productivity work such as reading stuff, viewing stuff and generally consuming stuff Metro works fine on both the desktop and the tablet. 

General Perception – Tablet User

As well as my desktop PC I decided to buy a Zoostorm SL8 tablet as I felt it was unfair to criticise Windows 8 and Metro applications without seeing them on the form factor they are designed for.

When you use Windows 8 on a tablet, the whole point of Metro applications makes sense. When all you have to interact with the tablet is your finger then having everything big and simple makes a lot of sense.  I had used the SL8 with Windows 7 on it and it is sort of touch aware, but because the Windows Aero interface is designed around desktop and mouse thinking it is a struggle to use it on a tablet as all the buttons and chrome items particularly are way too small to dab at with your finger. 

So if you are using a mobile device then yes Metro is the way to go. Because also tablets do tend to be the kind of thing you would use in a casual environment such as in bed or on the sofa in the front room then the Metro applications for reading news or watching videos are more appropriate.

I use Windows 8 on my tablet a lot when I want to do some reading before going to sleep and it was great when I was off with the flu for a few days a while back and some of the games were very addictive and made the boredom of being ill less of a pain.

Microsoft recently released Office 2013 and I have put that on my tablet and the changes they have made to the interface definitely work better when using your finger, even though Office is a productivity application and suited better to mouse and keyboard than finger.

So my considered opinion is that as far as non-productivity on mobile devices is concerned Windows 8 and Metro “apps” are a success and will go down well with casual consumer type users.

My Concern

My only concern with the way Microsoft are going is if they intend to turn off the desktop so that you are forced permanently into the Metro world (or whatever the new name they are having to use to avoid a copyright issue in Europe). That would be the end of the road as far as me and Microsoft would be concerned.

In the scenario where they eventually turn off the desktop as a desktop user I am being forced to fit in with the Metro way of doing things when touch is wholly irrelevant to me. I will never want to do productive work using my finger,  because a) I don’t want my screen covered in greasy finger prints and b) it’s not a comfortable way to use a desktop PC. 

As far as productivity is concerned a mouse is still king and all the chrome you get in productivity applications is needed. I cannot imagine using something like Excel in a touch way on a desktop PC.  It can be done, I recently tried the Office 2013 beta on my tablet and you can do useful work on a tablet in Excel but it’s very clunky and not what I’d want to do day in and day out, possibly just making minor changes before using a tablet to do a presentation would be fine, but prolonged use would drive me insane.

I have seen a rotary wheel idea that was mentioned on Paul Thurrot’s Windows Supersite in a “Windows Weekly” show: Windows Weekly 270- We’ll Look Back and Laugh (go to 48 minutes and 20 seconds to see the one that is in the new Metro version of OneNote), which may be a way some of the finesse of using a mouse can be brought to touch applications but it’s still going to be too many steps for productivity users who want the direct capability of the mouse with application Chrome and right-click menus.

Conclusion

If you want to run Windows on a tablet, Windows 8 is great news, finally you have a Windows system that really does work on tablets and you can also have all your desktop applications as well and it all works.

If you want a new version of Windows for your desktop that looks totally different and allows you to run a new Metro style application it’s great too. If you only use your desktop for productivity then you probably won’t use Metro apps a lot and like me will load the desktop and ignore the Metro style applications.  At least with Windows 8 you can use both types of application.

I would like it if there was an option in Control Panel to say “load desktop on start up” that once turned on made the desktop auto load when you logged in.  I don’t want to lose the Start Screen as I will occasionally use Metro applications, like most Windows 7 users I have all my applications pinned to the task bar and rarely go to the old start menu.  Just for 90% of my work I am in the desktop and it saves me wasting time in the start screen.

I think if you are a business user you should wait and see how Windows 8 pans out.  At the moment unless you are using or wanting to use a tablet, Windows 8 makes little sense in business. Also the ARM processor version of Windows 8 designed for low power tablets cannot be managed via group policy, which means administrators cannot mange them like they can with Windows 7 PCs and laptops. Until that changes I suspect a lot of businesses will skip Windows 8 completely.

I think Windows 8 might be slow to gain traction as a lot of people will find it just too different to what they are used to.  Microsoft should be congratulated for not being afraid to embrace a completely new computing interface and not being too constrained by backwards compatibility.  Just don’t completely do away with the desktop or forget your desktop users in the pursuit of the iPad market.

Siv

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Published by

gsivill

An IT Consultant, worked for TSB Bank for 18 years, latterley in IT related areas delivering PC based applications to the Branch network. Left the Bank to concentrate on IT and joined DLP Consulting based in Cheltenham and worked as a senior manager there for 6 years. Finally became self employed when DLP went into voluntary liquidation maintaining the customer relationships I had developed whilst in DLP and now helping 20 to 30 regular small business customers and 50 or so private clients with their Windows based PCs, networks and databases.

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