Print 151 comment(s) - last by snhoj.. on Apr 1 at 5:28 PM

Windows 8 has the potential to be the best OS on the market, but is held back by learning curve, legacy UIs

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has earned some fans with the ambitious operating system overhaul that is Windows 8.  But the touch-centric operating system has also earned condemnation from some critics -- even some of Microsoft's own fans.

The more I use Windows 8 the more I feel that my opinion lies somewhere in the middle.  It's full of good ideas, but I don't love it.  It has its shortcomings, but I don't hate it for them.  Ultimately, I feel that Windows 8 is a release similar to Windows Vista  (albeit for different reasons) -- an overstretch on Microsoft's part that's partially successful, but that will be forever loathed by some for its flaws.

With that in mind I wanted to offer up some insight into what Microsoft needs to fix (and how to fix it), while countering what I feel is some of the false criticism about Windows 8.  Here we go.

What to change:

1. Eliminate the Desktop Mode

The Desktop and Windows 8 GUIs feel like oil and vinegar -- they don't want to mix.  With Windows Blue we see Microsoft moving to fully port the control panel to a Windows 8 GUI style format.  It's my opinion that Microsoft should continue this process for all other desktop vestiges (administrative panels, file browsers).

With snap you can have an easy file browser than sits beside your running app(s).   A cloneable file browser Windows 8-style app with up to 4 "panes" each representing a different navigator, should be more than sufficient to replace the legacy file browser.  Few users are going to have more than 8 separate folders actively operated on at once.

Desktop Mode
[Image Source: TechNet]

A robust terminal app for Windows 8 should do the trick for power users, who are unlikely to rely on the noisy traditional file browser GUI, anyhow.

2. Tutorials

Windows 8 has some basic tutorial features, but what struck me was that when I installed the OS during my test of iBuyPower's Revolt system, that the new OS went live with nary a peep on how to use it.

Let's face it -- Windows 8 is a big box of unknown.  Gestures implement new and old functionality.  Items have been relocated into new metro menus.  There's new concepts like Live Tiles.

Revolt -- Windows 8
Windows 8 comes up for the first time with nary a tutorial.
Consumers know Windows, but most consumers don't know Windows 8.  Windows 8 is pretty intuitive once learned, but I think a major problem is that there's no built-in guidance forcing users to seek out on their own how to use the operating system or try to figure out is functionality via experimentation.  Either way a certain number of users will quit out of frustration.

Video game makers have long figured out that the key to getting a novice to learn a new GUI is a good tutorial.  Microsoft should borrow a page from the gaming world and teach users how to use its radically reinvented operating system, so that they can appreciate it better.

3. Multi-touch Pads

Touch is critical to Windows 8.  Thus every Windows 8-compatible keyboard or laptop should have to ship with a multi-touch pad.  

For desktops, that means a keyboard plus multi-touch pad combo device, such as this one from Logitech Int'l SA (LOGI).  For laptops, it means a multi-touch compatible trackpad.  
Logitech K400
Logitech K400 Multi-touch external keyboard

The Logitech K400 keyboard costs about $11 USD more than the similar model without touch (the K360).  If $11 USD represents, to some extent, the difference between Windows 8 being crippled versus fully usable, that's a pretty small price to pay.

System builder discs should be shipped bundled with a compatible external keyboard, such as the K400.

What to keep:

1. Touch

Touch is crucial in Android and iOS -- the world's two most used mobile operating systems.  Anyone who says touch has no place in a desktop is wrong and clearly has never used a multi-touch trackpad.  While it's true touch can be overdone on the desktop or put in the wrong place (e.g. a large screen that taxes arms during long periods of use), a small multi-touch pad is absolutely a very useful tool for the desktop user.
Windows gestures
[Image Source: Microsoft]

As Microsoft's OS evolves it will surely find ways -- just as Google Inc. (GOOG) and Apple, Inc. (AAPL) have -- to add new touch-based functions.

2. Metro UI

If you ever watch Chopped on the Food Network you'll recall that there's a presentation scoring criteria, where chefs are rated based on how their food looks. Sometimes a dish will look good, but one particular judge (or multiple judges) will cite a personal distaste for its style.  But at the end of the day it's clear the chef put effort into the presentation.

That's how I view Windows 8.  The criticism surrounding Metro/Windows 8 UI is mostly, I would argue, due to the usability issues (lack of touch in some systems, legacy desktop functions, etc.).  I think the graphical style itself is clean and good-looking.

Metro UI Windows 8
Metro UI is not the main problem with Windows 8. [Image Source: Microsoft]

It could certainly improve -- by the inclusion of smaller Live Tiles, for example (which is coming with Windows Blue -- but the problem is less with the general look and more with the aforementioned fixable usability issues.  If you hate the style, that's your own problem.  Microsoft can't please everyone -- maybe it can't please you.

Apple demonstrated that customers prepare a well marketed, clean/minimalist design.  I think Windows 8 meets that criteria (except maybe the well-marketed part).  Microsoft can't please everyone, but if it just made Windows 8 more usable, I think it would please most users.

3. Performance

Ironically Windows 8 excels in the area where the analogous Windows Vista release goes most awry -- performance.

Windows 8 keeps the process list, memory footprint, and CPU usage lean.  It's better than Windows 7, generally, in fact.  Critics can cherry-pick a handful of cases where it backslides, but in general Microsoft has delivered progress on the performance front.
Windows 7 memory usage Windows 8 memory usage
Windows 7 SP1 (left), Windows 8 test build (right). [Source: Microsoft]
Again, some critics get carried away and extend their usability criticism into a more general (and fallacious) attack on the operating system's general performance.  Windows 8 is not slow -- it is fast. 

What do YOU Think?

I think if Microsoft adopts those three former changes, while sticking with the latter three strengths, it will have the best desktop operating system on the market.  Don't agree?  Tell me what you think I missed -- what do you think Windows 8's strengths and weakness are, and how do you suggest fixing them?

I'll update this later to discuss the problems/strengths of Window RT, but for now let's keep the discussion to Windows 8 x86 (Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro).

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: Can I say that the suggestions are reversed?
By Dorkyman on 3/27/2013 11:19:26 AM , Rating: 2
I agree, but want to add that many companies will still be running XP ten years from now. XP is STILL the dominant OS in large organizations, by an overwhelming margin*.

You don't have to spend money to fix what ain't broken.


By quiksilvr on 3/27/2013 12:27:04 PM , Rating: 4
Except the problem IS that it is broken in this day and age. It's power inefficient, insecure and forces software developers to waste time supporting it.

By Guspaz on 3/27/2013 12:52:53 PM , Rating: 4
Based on the trend shown in that graph, XP usage should be far lower by the time it EOL's in 2014; it dropped by about 10% overall in the one year shown in that chart, the rate of decrease is linear (not slowing), and by the time it EOLs in April 2014, we should expect it to be at roughly 12%.

In fact, I think it will be even lower, because the migration away from XP will accelerate as it gets closer and closer to EOL. By the time it does EOL, the usage statistic will be low enough to be justified.

RE: Can I say that the suggestions are reversed?
By Jammrock on 3/27/2013 1:21:53 PM , Rating: 5
No business will be running XP 10 years from now. Not in any significant numbers, at least. XP won't support the hardware, hardware makers won't be making drivers, and in ten years XP will have gone 9-years without a security update. It would be security suicide to be running XP three years from now, let alone ten.

By Tal Greywolf on 3/28/2013 8:40:24 AM , Rating: 2
Let me state an observation here:

Businesses will be running XP 10 years from now. I know personally of businesses still running Windows 98 today, as the applications that they rely on cannot be migrated to another OS. Even the computers on the International Space Station runs WindowsXP, and there are no plans to upgrade them to Windows 7 that I know of (we had a request from one of our groups for a specific version of the laptops that are used up there that hasn't been sold in the last 5 years, with XP for development and debugging requirements.)

There are companies still running Windows NT, mostly on automated manufacturing systems, but it's still NT.

By dgingerich on 3/27/2013 2:36:01 PM , Rating: 2
This just goes to show the immense stupidity and incompetence of corporate executives these days.

I had a friend who went to a company on a project for them to migrate from Windows 2000 (they had never gone to Windows XP) to Windows Vista, shortly after Windows 7 came out. Also, back just before Windows XP came out, I was contracted to fix some desktop systems at a marketing company, where the 12 people had nine 486DX2-66 machines, two Pentium 60 machines, and a Pentium 90 machine, all running Windows 95. They hadn't invested in computer upgrades in over 5 years. They wanted me to fix the fans on several of the DX2-66 machines and the power supply on one Pentium 60. I told them they were better off buying new systems. The owner was so offended that I offered such advice, she sent me back to my office and told them never to have me return again, and even advised they fire me for such "impudence and lack of respect for a business owner."

Corporate executives need to recognize that the workplace includes the computers the workers use and the software they run, and that the condition of the workplace directly influences the productivity. Just like you can't give people state of the art computers and software, with a single 2'X4' workspace and expect them to do well, they can't work their best at a state of the art campus with tons of perks with ancient, outdated systems and software. There are too many executives that are just too hardheaded and incompetent to understand this, and they need to be removed from those positions.

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki