Paul Allen, one of Microsoft’s co-founders who left the company long ago, has posted on his blog about his experiences with Windows 8. He (surprise) likes it, but he does note a number of shortcomings and oddities – all of which are spot-on. However, he fails to address the core issue with Windows 8: it’s forcing users to drill a small hole in the wall with a belt sander.
I’m not one to shy away from a challenge. I’m not one to shy away from trying something new and different, even when I’m initially sceptical. I love trying out different ideas in graphical user interfaces and operating systems – otherwise I wouldn’t ever have been able to do what I do here on OSNews.
I fell in love with both PalmOS and PocketPC, and also made sure I got my hands on a Zaurus. I was giddy with excitement when the iPhone came out, and rushed to the Apple retailer the moment it became available – the same for the iPad. Even though I was happy with my iPhone, I made the plunge and imported a Windows Phone 7 phone (an HD7) from the US, even though large parts of its functionality were unavailable in The Netherlands. And, twelve months later, I made yet another plunge and bought a Galaxy SII, followed later by a Nexus 7.
The pattern is similar on the PC side of things. The first thing I did when I got my first own new (as opposed to slow hand-me-downs) computer? Linux (KDE, GNOME, Xfce, E16 and E17, and all the others). BeOS. QNX. SkyOS. Aros. AtheOS. Syllable. After reading about CDE, I bought a Sun Ultra V to experience it properly. And, after years of failed attempts, I finally managed to get my hands on AmigaOS 4 and MorphOS. And to this day, I’m pining for NEXT and SGI machines (sadly, too little room in my house at the moment).
The point I’m trying to make is simple. A number of people take the easy way out and just call people who criticise Windows 8 “resistant to change”, “set in his ways”, “whiner”, and so on. None of that stuff can apply to me. I criticise Windows 8 not because I’m resistant to change – in fact, I used Windows 8 for months and months as my prime and only operating system – but because it’s simply not very good.
We can make long lists of nitpicks in Windows 8 and Metro, but none of those address the core issue that makes Windows 8 such an unpleasant piece of software to use: it’s simply not the right tool for the job. It’s out of place. It’s not in its proper habitat. As I said at the onset of this article, using Windows 8 is like trying to drill a small hole in a wall with a belt sander. I’m pretty sure there’s a McGuyverian way to get it done, but I’d much rather use a damn drill.
From my experience with Windows Phone 7 – my favourite smartphone platform – I can deduce that Metro will work just fine on a tablet. The problem, however, is this: even on ARM tablets, you will encounter the desktop. There’s no way to turn it off. There’s no way to avoid it. Several settings and programs are desktop-exclusives, and the desktop is simply a pain to use with touch input.
On a desktop PC or laptop, the situation is reversed. There’s no way to avoid Metro (other than third-party hacks), and that’s going to be damn annoying. Metro is full-screen only (the split 80:20 view is completely useless). There’s only My First Multitasking (you can’t, for instance, play media on websites, like videos or podcasts, in the background). And with everything full-screen and large, most applications waste 80-90% of your display. Worse yet, despite all the talk of being mouse-friendly, it really isn’t – everything takes more clicks (which add up), and discoverability is incredibly low.
And no, don’t peddle this nonsense about the desktop still being here – if you truly believe the desktop has a future at Microsoft, I have an Afsluitdijk to sell you. It’s legacy. Deprecated. It’s going away. Investing in Microsoft’s desktop should not be your long-term plan.
After months and months, I simply wondered why I even bothered – especially since all these issues could’ve been – and still are – so easily avoided. Windows is smart enough to know what it’s running on, so why doesn’t Windows 8 simply, you know, adapt? Aren’t computers supposed to work for me instead of against me? Aren’t they supposed to make my life easier instead of harder? Why on earth am I supposed to use a user interface designed for touch on a desktop computer – in 2012?
That was a rhetorical question, because I know the answer just fine. The only reason Microsoft is peddling Metro on desktops and laptops is to get people to buy Windows (Phone) 8 tablets and smartphones, much like how people originally wanted Windows at home because that’s what they used at work.
While that’s a fine from a business perspective – and it may even be bold enough to work – but as someone with so much experience with all there is to see in the world of user interfaces, I don’t care about Microsoft’s business reasons. I only care about GUI design. Haven’t we learned by now that cramming a desktop interface onto a mobile device – and vice versa – is simply very bad GUI design?
As Paul Allen notes, there are tons of small issues in Windows 8, but none of them are even remotely interesting when you look the big issue: you can’t drill a small hole in the wall with a belt sander.