Windows Blue–A Chink Of Light

Following on from my previous post about my fears that Windows Blue was actually not going to undo some of the terrible things Microsoft had done to its loyal desktop users, it now transpires that they have actually listened to their customers and senior management have finally sent down an edict to the Windows developers that the user SHOULD be able to bypass the start screen and boot straight into the desktop like Windows 7 if they want. 

I know as a developer myself that this will have annoyed those developers that have put hundreds maybe thousands of hours of their lives into creating the new Start Screen and the Live Tiles technology.  Allowing the customer to bypass that and ignore it completely would bug me if I had spent chunks of my life inventing that, but the bigger picture is that the customer IS actually right and they DON’T want the METRO User Interface shoved down their throats, particularly if they are using a PC that uses a mouse and a keyboard for productive work. To me once you start using your Metro full screen applications, you can’t see the live tiles anyway, so it was a bit pointless at best unless you take the view that you were just going to turn on your tablet and just stare at the live tiles all day???

image

As you can see above I very rarely look at my Live Tiles as I don’t have any apps in view that present Live Tiles because I am a desktop user and just never want to see it, to me it’s just a mess (I don’t know why PHP is in amongst my games??? like I really care anyway!!).

Given that Microsoft appear to have seen sense (I say “appear” because this is all based on a confirmation from an MS insider that Mary Jo Foley deals with and isn’t yet official public Microsoft policy):

http://www.zdnet.com/microsofts-windows-8-plan-blue-bring-back-the-start-button-boot-to-desktop-7000014075/

But if it is true and I am pretty sure it is ….

HURRAH!

The move to allow users to put back the Start button (we’re still not sure if they are actually going to put the Start Menu back yet), but I think they should, as that is what makes existing users feel so bad about Windows 8, it’s that jarring experience going between the desktop and the new start screen, it’s just horrible I hate it and no matter how fond of live tiles you are, this constant switching of modes between desktop and Metro is just plain nasty

What MS seemed to be ignoring and a lot of the commenters who are in favour of the new UI miss, is that the new UI is great if you’re using Windows 8 on a tablet or mobile device where you are not doing anything productive because your using the very blunt (in all senses of the word) tool of your finger.

Yes on a device that the finger is your main input device and because it has no keyboard and mouse is the ONLY possible device that makes sense, then yes Metro works and is a sensible and logical way to interact with a computer.

Where MS are completely wrong is trying to apply that interface to people like me who want to be using desktop computers for years to come and who will NEVER EVER want to poke about with our fingers. Poking about with my finger, writing with a pen or even talking to my PC are just not as efficient as using a keyboard and a mouse.

I can type much faster than I can write with a pen and when I am thinking what to say, the keyboard is more efficient. That’s because when trying to talk to my computer and apply my constant corrections as I rethink what I am about to type, takes too long using verbal commands.

(Believe me I have used “Dragon Naturally Speaking” and although when I think a sentence and get it perfectly right [and I have spent hours training it], the speaking is faster than typing.  However when you take out the time correcting my work it’s not, as the commands to re-edit my text are much slower than using the keyboard).  So again it’s a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Sure you can use all sorts of clever people to come up with neat ways of achieving what you do with a keyboard and a mouse with your finger, but at best it’s forcing a cack handed technique one me that is just longer winded and less efficient and just annoys the hell out of me because it’s slowing me down. 

Which is why most of us non trendy people who don’t use tablets to do real work on their computers, can see Microsoft forcing a wholly inappropriate interface on us and damaging our future productivity when they finally phase out the desktop chasing Apple for iPad customers who are a completely different demographic to their core Windows user.

That’s why I keep suggesting here in my blog and on the various blogs and forums like Paul Thurrot’s Supersite For Windows and Mary Jo Foley’s blog at ZDNet and others, that what Microsoft need to do is realise that trying to force these two mutually exclusive interfaces into one O/S is wrong.

On tablets and phones and other mobile touch centric devices Metro is great. I have a Windows 8 tablet and when I just want to read on the sofa or in bed, Metro works like a charm and I think it’s as good if not better than the alternatives from Apple or Google, same on my HTC 8X I love it there, it makes sense it works with my stubby pointing device.

IMG_4714

(you can see why I don’t want to use touch on my twin 24” monitors as I have greasy fingers)!

So have Metro on Windows RT devices running on ARM chips and get great battery life and accept that Metro Apps are the way to go in that environment.  On my tablet I never go anywhere near the desktop EVER. It just doesn’t work with my finger because it was designed to work with very accurate mice pointers and so it should stay.

Don’t try and make the desktop work with a finger, you are undoing 30 years of evolution of the desktop environment that is pretty damn efficient and is in no need of change in that direction.  I am sure there are other innovations that the desktop could embrace but using your finger isn’t one of them.

I think if Intel can produce devices that have ARM like performance and very low power consumption and that can lead to the creation of tablet type devices that cost £150 to £200 in price, the reason to buy iPads or Android tablets would become less of an issue. 

Most Windows users would probably buy them as a companion device to their desktop PC (I know I would) and the OEMs and Microsoft should distinguish them from Windows PCs and sell them as the Windows flavoured tablet from Microsoft that CAN’T run Windows desktop applications, but embraces this key new tablet interface that runs Modern UI applications. 

The thing that would also sell this to a lot of users is the ability to print to your printer like a PC, which is an issue for Android tablets where printing is not baked in and you have to buy third party apps that are patchy at best.

If they do that I can see both sides of Windows flourish again and they would keep their existing productivity users (mainly in businesses) happy and the new market of tablet users would have an alternative to Apple or Android that brings them a more familiar Windows style experience that is tuned for a touch device.

So if they have seen sense and taken the pragmatic decision to allow us desktop users to turn Metro Off officially and resurrect the start menu and booting to the desktop and thus avoiding the irrelevant (to us at least) Start Screen, I for one applaud them for taking that decision and listening at last to their loyal users.  It may just save Microsoft in the long run as I can’t imagine where they were headed if they absolutely stuck to the course they were on.

Siv

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Windows 8, Windows Blue and the future of Windows

In the last couple of weeks it has emerged that the following things are true:

  1. Windows 8 sales are disappointing.
    Link to Computerworld post
  2. Windows Surface tablets have not sold well, particularly the Surface RT version.
    Link to gadgets.ndtv.com post
  3. Windows 8’s Bundled Applications are in need of some work.
    Link to ZDNet post

To me, if I was in charge of Microsoft, I would be hearing Windows Vista and Windows ME warning bells right about now. It is clear to anyone that Windows 8 is a step too far.  The existing user base just do not get Windows 8 and particularly the business clients who do get it, but don’t want any of it on their mainstream work PCs, as the immense costs of retraining folk to use Windows 8 and Office 2013 if they are still in the Windows XP, Office 2003 era (like one of my large Bank clients) would be horrendous.

Windows 8 is designed to move Microsoft forward, hell they even called the Metro interface the “Modern UI” when they discovered that they would face a copyright issue in Europe using that name. So they see it as the future. Unlike the Bill Gates era Microsoft, whenever they created a new paradigm, they did it in a way that businesses and seasoned users could migrate slowly to the new way of doing things by giving them the option to enable the old way of doing things and eventually turn that off as the new concept gained traction.  It seems now that Microsoft don’t care, all they can see is chasing Apple for a chunk of the iPad market share and it seems to be at the expense of their dedicated desktop PC users.  If I was on the MS board I would be asking Steve Ballmer for his keys to the executive suite and putting someone in who has a better handle on the needs of the traditional user base and in particular their business users. I cannot see that anyone who works on spreadsheets, accounts packages or edits photos or Videos would ever want to be using their finger for that?

Microsoft are working on Metro versions of MS Office and I am really keen to see how the hell you can do that using your finger as a replacement for a mouse. I am sure they will do it (I have seen the rotary dial device used in OneNote for Metro), but if you have used that you will know that OK you can get things done, but at what cost in time? It takes about 5 steps to do what you could do in 1 step in the Desktop/Mouse version.  This is not progress, it just smacks of using smart people to figure out how to make a thing work in a completely wrong environment. Most desktop users will just think this is just “art for art’s sake”.

If someone can demonstrate to me how using Metro can make me more productive when working on a spreadsheet, a database, an accounts package, a development environment or a photo editing application then I will switch wholeheartedly to using Metro, until then I remain sceptical!!!

Windows Blue

A lot of people like me were hoping that Windows Blue (A software update for Windows 8 to fix a number of issues in the current incarnation) might see Microsoft seeing sense and doing some of the obvious things that need doing to make Windows 8 usable for the majority of existing users. However it now seems from a leaked early version, that the emphasis is not on getting some sanity back into Windows 8 but is heading more in the direction of Metro and further away from the desktop:

http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/what-blue-leak-tells-us-about-microsoft-s-strategy

http://www.zdnet.com/no-windows-desktop-mode-no-7000013099/

I am in the camp that wants to believe that MS are not stupid, they know that the majority of their revenue comes from Business customers and they are your traditional desktop user not an iPad user, admittedly a lot of business users are additionally using iPad like devices, but they are the Sales Execs or senior management who use them as devices for consuming daily reports or reading news etc.  but the serious work gets done on desktop PCs with a mouse and a keyboard.

I think they (Microsoft) are after what they currently see as the bigger market i.e. non-business home users, ultimately they seem to want to move away from the desktop, but hopefully they will realise that this market for tablets is actually a fad that will subside like the “netbook” fad did.  Tablets are a new form factor and they make sense for consumers who want to do just that “consume”, they are not for people who want to be “productive” and that’s where I part company with the current Microsoft vision of the future. I cannot see how if you limit your operating system to be only targeted at the consumer that it can possibly work for the productivity user. These things are mutually exclusive.  That is why (ironically) Apple still maintain a separate operating system for desktop PCs (OSX) and a different one for their tablets and mobile devices (IOS). Why can’t Microsoft get this?

Here’s what should happen

  1. Make Windows RT the version of Windows for tablets and mobile devices, let’s call it “Windows for Mobile” (W4M). The reasons for using the RT version is that it runs only on low power ARM chips (also include whatever Intel comes up with in the future to match the ARM chips in W4M). In this version the desktop is banished as this version is designed specifically for users poking about with their fingers as the only input device. I use a Windows 8 tablet and I would be happy with this, I never want to see the desktop when I am on my tablet, if I do then I’ll switch back to my laptop or desktop PC to do that. Basically the W4M version is all about tablets and touch usage and banishes the old desktop paradigm.
  2. Make Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro the versions of Windows for desktop users (W4D & W4D Pro). In these versions the desktop is the default, but a user can turn on the Metro environment through the control panel if they wish. Instead of grabbing the whole screen, Metro apps run in Windows like Stardock’s ModernMix application (http://forums.stardock.com/440939), this means a desktop user can run Metro applications but in a way that fits in with the desktop environment (not the other way round). The W4D versions can “have their cake and eat it” because they are powerful enough and are not trying to eke out 10 hours battery life like tablets and other mobile devices usually are.

Whether Microsoft will see sense before it’s too late I don’t know, but if they persist with this “touch first” nonsense for desktop PCs I can see them being consigned to history as the company that threw away its loyal user base trying to chase a market that was already owned by Apple.

Siv