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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).

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The problem with Windows 8....
By sluze on 3/27/2013 12:07:54 PM , Rating: 0
First I think we need to look at a definition: 'intuition' is defined to some varying degree as 'direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.' if you hand anyone a mouse and keyboard without instructing them on how to use those devices, quite quickly and 'intuitively' they will figure out the basics. if you hand them a track pad, no dice, why b/c track pads and gestures aren't intuitive. 'Windows 8 is pretty intuitive once learned' this statement makes no sense given 'intuitive' requires that you don't need someone to teach it to you, that's the point its 'intuitive'.
having got past that part, on to Win8. the biggest problem with win8 is the elimination of windows. we all know what made windows great in the past was the users ability to multitask easily, whether you are a key stroke fan or a mouse fan, you could easily switch through programs (and the ui was legitimately intuitive, you minimize a program and see it at the bottom of the screen clicking on it maximizes it, that is logical). in win8's case you lose that ability right out of the shoot; the tiles are the last moment you will have an 'intuitive' or multitasking friendly experience. click/touch a tile and you get a program; makes sense and is intuitive, however try closing that program, or try opening another program, or try switching programs. the original brilliance of the start button and the desktop (that being, ease of multitasking and intuitive user response) are all entirely lost. win8 hides menus off the screen in some nether world that requires you to some how know via osmosis they are there; its the same with the search function, how do you know to just start typing? you don't. these are all instances of how this new ui is so completely opposite to intuition and logical response you can't just pick it up and run with it.
to instituted this new 'clean' ui micrsoft was forced to bury simple things like 'shutdown', its 4 clicks away - this is a small example of how win8 frustrates the user with the most simple task. the new ui is also designed to give you a 'fullscreen' experience with every app (side note; when did 'programs' become 'apps' - i see 'apps' as those little tools your cellphone can run but if i need to do real work i want a 'program' that can handle it - just a vernacular barrier i think microsoft is having as well) i have a 24inch screen for regular use, that small inch at the bottom isn't going to kill me, especially if it allows me to work faster and more intuitively (the hover and view feature in win7 was brilliant in helping with that). win8 seems more concerned with looking cool (which in my opinion it doesn't, it looks cheap - a tablet/smartphone is a consumption device not a creation device and thus gives the look and feel of something you can't do real work on; win8's ui looks like a tablet not a workstation, my opinion of course) then allowing you to work.
the win8 ui itself is obtrusive and has a 'look at me, look at me' quality to it. i want my os to stay out of my way, to facilitate my ability to run useful programs and to give me the options i need when i need them. i don't want my os to constantly try to tell me how pretty it is or ask me to login to my micrsoft account to gain access to a feature or an ability - win7 lets you work efficiently and effectively. so why the 'upgrade'?
for some reason microsoft has this idea in its head that it wants to be as hip and cool as apple - it closed off its development, built a funky new ui and pored money into advertising that showed just how pretty it is. but microsoft is none of those things, its functional (which is a swear word these days) its a sedan that wants to be a ferrari. but guess what, there are far more sedans sold every year then ferraris and why you might ask - functionality. when you look at ios and android you see the age old battle that apple has been waging (and losing) since its inception - open platform vs closed. how has android been soo successful in this endeavor - i can only assume they stole microsoft's playbook from the 80's and 90's given that microsoft has somehow forgotten. somewhere along the way microsoft has become more like a disorganized poor man's apple while android has excelled with an open, updates are for a good reason, programmer friendly os. microsoft has always been able to strike a nice balance between function, usability and ui appeal - win8 drastically moves away from the function and usability aspect in favor of a flashy look. win8 is a reactionary response to a 'consumer' market (i put consumer in quotes b/c its the base user, when they are at home who check email and look at facebook) that is shifting towards a different upgrade cycle. that cycle now includes a tablet or smart phone - which means instead of a new laptop someone may only need a new tablet, next year they will buy a new laptop.
microsoft is late to the mobile os party and they are desperate to remain relevant - so desperate in fact, that they will turn their back on everything that made them the go to os, just to be 'part of the group'.
win8 is an epic failure, in my opinion, not b/c its different - different can be a good thing - but because it is different for different sake, it doesn't add any functionality anyone was looking for that couldn't have been dropped into win7 with a service pack. no one was saying 'god my laptop sucks because i can't touch the screen' or 'man i wish i didn't have to deal with all these windows all the time, i just want things that are full screen', no one was saying 'this start menu makes my life difficult'. sometimes you must admit 'we got it right' for that platform. the windows desktop doesn't work on a tablet/smartphone platform - so put the work in, come up with something as great, as intuitive and as functional (for that platform) as the desktop was (and still is) for the pc - then you will have something. the two don't need to be one and the same - this irrational fear that 'people don't want to/or can't learn 2 os's' is completely bunk given android's success. what you shouldn't do is pee in the well of your largest market with a ui that hasn't even been successful in the market it was designed for - tablets.

RE: The problem with Windows 8....
By max_payne on 3/27/2013 12:38:29 PM , Rating: 5
So for those who can't read very very long post, to summarize his; Windows 8 sucks.

RE: The problem with Windows 8....
By sluze on 3/27/2013 1:30:49 PM , Rating: 3

By theapparition on 3/27/2013 3:04:01 PM , Rating: 2
You know paragraphs are free.

RE: The problem with Windows 8....
By Belard on 3/27/2013 6:57:33 PM , Rating: 1
Sluze... save your post, fix it up a bit... make paragraphs. I agree with most of what you have to say... you touch on many of the problems, but not all... that would require a book.

open platform vs closed. how has android been soo successful in this endeavor - i can only assume they stole microsoft's playbook from the 80's and 90's given that microsoft has somehow forgotten.
You are incorrect on this. MS-Windows is a CLOSED system. Its Microsoft. Hence, Win95 was a hybrid DOS/GUI OS. For MS-DOS compatibility. Windows 3.x was never an OS, its a GUI shell. Again, POS MS-DOS compatibility... when Mac and Amigas were running GUI OS since the mid 80s.

If going by your open/closed logic - Linux is what an OPEN system look like. Its $0. Its far more full-featured than Win8. And Win8 is a SPAM OS... it shows you crap to buy before your own media files. WTF?!

And yes.. again... who the HELL needs a FULL 20~24" screen for a calculator app? Typically on my 24" desktop with Win7 - I run with about 15 tasks (4~5 of them are explorers) - my PC rarely is shut down... it does go to sleep.

My LinuxMint core2 1.8Ghz notebook w/5400RPM HD boots up almost as fast as my i5-3570K SSD Win7 setup... Linux is cleaner and less bull than Windows.

Thank you Microsoft for making me try Linux once and for all.

“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads

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