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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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RE: Can I say that the suggestions are reversed?
By Motoman on 3/27/2013 12:40:01 PM , Rating: 2
The author is a nut.

The only thing I've seen that I like better in Windows 8 is the Task Manager.

Otherwise, the rest of it is, at best, a waste of time.

Utterly unusable without Start8 or something else. The Metrosexual UI has to die.

By Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer on 3/27/2013 12:52:13 PM , Rating: 5
By all means, eliminate the part of the OS that allows you to install whatever you want, and keep the part that only allows you to install software that Microsoft approves.


By maugrimtr on 3/28/2013 6:10:20 AM , Rating: 3
I'm just surprised that the author recommends a touch enabled keyboard. He did notice that the Logitech is a 66% length keyboard which replaces the number pad, arrow keys and other parts with a single touch pad? :( So we now need a butchered keyboard to enable 2.5 input devices instead of the usual two that have been efficient for most of us?

Personally, the Metro start is messed up. If you install a new PC youself, with minimal software, the damn thing shows every installer, uninstaller, setup, configuration and other executable instead of just the main executable per application. It's noisy and requires manual cleanup.

The other problem with Metro is that it become invisible. Once you get to your desktop, you want to stay there. You rarely go into Metro, so you rarely use a Windows 8 app unless it's absolutely required. When using a Metro app, you need to switch to the desktop to monitor ongoing tasks (which defeats the purpose of desktop status icons, progress bars, and multitasking).

By tamalero on 3/27/2013 11:50:32 PM , Rating: 2
I hate that you have to click 3 times more do to the same Windows 8 than on 7.

all because of that "preschool" metro interface.

RE: Can I say that the suggestions are reversed?
By Belard on 3/28/2013 11:08:23 AM , Rating: 2
There are other good aspects of win that I like.... but the negs invalidate the improvements. file copy is much better. the UP arrow in explorer being put back is good. the rarely needed hybrid boot. In the preview version, aero was tweaked and looked slick... but then they metro ugly raped aero into an 80s basic ugly mess.

We need to hurt MS.... go Linux... buy ps3/4. not an Xbox. MS is killing PC gaming anyway, why reward them?

I've started going Linux because of win8. I use 3 computers, one has full time Linux on it... as I learn it, migrate my software, data and usage... I think in a few years, I will be free of Microsoft.

(typed from my Android phone.... see no MS required.

By FastEddieLB on 3/31/2013 1:53:50 AM , Rating: 2
I only use Windows 7 for 3 things

the games that don't run on Linux even with Wine
Microsoft OneNote (which currently has no good Linux alternatives)
ComicRack (because Wine doesn't support .net 4.0 currently)

I'm studying programming (python, and later C++ and Java) to solve the latter two problems. The game problem is being slowly resolved in large part thanks to Steam gaining Linux support. Yeah there will still be a few games that will never have Linux support, but nobody says I can't keep my dual boot setup with good old Win7.

"I want people to see my movies in the best formats possible. For [Paramount] to deny people who have Blu-ray sucks!" -- Movie Director Michael Bay

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