Since the release of Windows 8 in October, there has been a heated discussion between professional and amateur users alike over whether or not it makes sense to upgrade from Windows 7
to its descendant. Many have raved about the look and feel of Windows 8, especially on new hardware like the Microsoft Surface tablet. Other trusted voices in the PC community were not as thrilled with the new release. Valve’s Gabe Newell, the darling of PC gamers the world over, called Windows 8 a “giant sadness,”
as well as a “catastrophe for everyone in the PC space.”
Without going too far into the business ramifications of Windows 8, there could be a large incentive for users to stick with Windows 7 instead of upgrading to Windows 8.
There are plenty of reasons why it might not be the right time to upgrade to Windows 8. That’s because Windows 8 is…
1) …Struggling With Compatibility Issues
Live tiles are neat, but only insofar as the programs you use are compatible with live tiles. As of now, not many support full live tile functionality. Sure, you can get plenty on the Windows Store, but many of those apps’ tiles don’t go far beyond being an attractive, square shortcut icon.
This could be a problem for people who wish to rely on these desktop tiles for most of their vital information, but aren’t fully immersed in the Windows ecosystem. If your email isn’t in Outlook, you might be out of luck. If you don’t use Windows Live Messenger for chat, you might be out of luck. It’s possible that some of the apps you need don’t even have app logos in the tiles, in favor of plain white text.
Of course, that is a problem with the app developers, and not necessarily Microsoft. It will go away with time, as more developers keep putting out apps that have increased Windows 8 compatibility.
However, this isn’t just a problem revolving around live tiles. A lot of apps either need to be completely re-designed or massively tweaked to work effectively within the Modern UI. A lot of third-party apps just feel fragmented – discordant, if you will – within the Windows 8 environment. If you want to use the Refresh function in Windows 8, which saves your apps, data, and preferences while reinstalling the OS, only your Modern apps will be preserved – traditional Windows apps will be lost in the process.
This is all indicative of the main, overarching issue with Windows 8 as an OS—it’s just not fully functional out of the box.
Oh, and if that wasn’t bad enough, a lot of those default Microsoft apps for Windows 8 have ads in them. That’s right – Microsoft put advertisements in apps that came pre-loaded in an operating system that you paid for.
2) …For Play, Not Work
All things considered, Windows 8 is actually pretty fun for the casual user to work with. It’s pretty, it’s interesting to play with on a touch screen, and it makes consuming media feel natural. However, power users and enterprise users won’t have such a good time working with the new Windows.
A lot of this has to do with the issues I brought up above, but with so few programs built to specifically work with Windows 8, it shouldn’t be surprising that very few enterprise-specific applications work natively with Windows 8. Frankly, I would be surprised if any of these apps end up working with Windows 8 the way enterprise users would like them to.
The Modern UI offers lots of cool inroads to increase productivity for enterprise users, especially in terms of customization for specific positions and departments, but for now, those users are at the mercy of app developers who may not be eager to re-develop their software so soon. Windows 8 offers a lot of interesting new tools to power users, but Microsoft might have put the cart before the horse when it comes to real PC pros.
3) …Not Designed to Be a Desktop OS
Almost every – and I mean every – aspect of Windows 8 is designed to work with touch screens. The new tiled desktop, navigating and scrolling, and the fancy new touch-to-unlock feature are all meant to be used with a touch screen. Great for tablets, great for convertible laptops, but not for a traditional laptop or desktop.
At best, a computer has to adapt to use the full set of features included in Windows 8. It has to add a touch screen, or a gesture-based touch pad, or some third-party peripheral. In other words, Windows 8 is an operating system that might need additional hardware to use the key functions that differentiate it from its predecessor.
Maybe that additional hardware will become more accessible in the near future, but as of now, there is only a small number of peripherals that are compatible with Windows 8’s gesture functions. This can easily get in your way as you work with Windows 8. For example, in Modern UI apps, there is no longer a big red X button to close the window with. Instead, you’ll have to use a shortcut to close a window.
Microsoft can pretend that Windows 8 is a leap into the future of operating systems, and that’s wonderful and interesting, but it isn’t an excuse to leave keyboard and mouse users in the dust. I don’t know what world Microsoft thinks it exists in, but in my world, it doesn’t ever make sense to upgrade to an operating system that your hardware can’t use to its full advantage.
4) …Not Even That Much Different from Windows 7
This was one of the biggest surprises for people who upgraded to Windows 8 early. Once you peel back the Modern UI interface, the new shortcuts and other fancy stuff, left naked and exposed in front of you is just an (arguably) prettier version of Windows 7
without much added functionality. It’s hardly faster than Windows 7 (on comparable hardware), and tweaks like the ribbon, file transfer, Charms and such do not seem like compelling reasons for ol’ John Q. Public to go and upgrade his OS.
What does this mean for the average user?
It takes a leap, not a hop, to get people to upgrade to a new operating system in the mass numbers that Microsoft was expecting. Windows 7 re-defined Windows because it was a massive leap from Vista and XP, thanks to massive speed increases, a beautiful re-design, and a more intuitive interface. The plain truth is that, unless you have a touch screen or other necessary peripheral to use the new functionality in Windows 8, you don’t need to upgrade. If limited to a keyboard and mouse, like most computer users, it’s highly likely you’re just going to end up using an essential version of Windows 7 within Windows 8 anyway.
5) …A Bore to Explore
The new Windows Explorer has permanently integrated the ribbon interface – introduced in Office 2007 and improved in Office 2010 – into every Explorer window. The ribbon includes shortcuts for copy, paste, move, rename, delete, etc. , all the stuff that used to be in the right-click menu…where it’s supposed to be.
Maybe this is just my preference or personal resistance to change, but all of those functions seem more natural and intuitive when housed in a context menu. In Office, the ribbon makes a lot of sense – it has shortcuts for things like formatting tools, spell check, and all the other functions that are nice to have easy access to in a word processor, where the position of your mouse pointer doesn’t bear on your interaction with the program.
In an Explorer window, on the other hand, you are almost exclusively interacting by pointing and clicking. It seems less than convenient to point at, click on, and select one or more files, then have to move up to the top of the window to do whatever it is you are trying to do with the file(s) you picked.
Just as well, the Explorer window seems much more cluttered now that the ribbon dominates the top inch or so of the window. File explorers are designed to display one thing – FILES. Any file explorer that doesn’t put files front-and-center is not doing its job effectively.
6) …A “Non-Starter”
Let’s be honest – Windows 8’s widget tiles are a really cool idea, and they look great. On a Windows Phone device or a tablet, tiles make perfect sense, because they’re easy to tap and they put useful information at your fingertips. However, making this tiled interface the default desktop in Windows 8 might have been a mistake on the part of Microsoft.
If you’re used to the traditional Windows desktop, you will not find Windows 8’s tiled desktop to be at all intuitive. This might be one of those issues where Microsoft wanted a little bit too much integration. Most of us are used to having our notification center separate from our app launcher, and this has some logic behind it.
It would be nice if this were more like an Android home screen, or even the Mac OS X Dashboard, with individual widgets that are interactive beyond a point and a click. Take email for example – on Android, you can set up an inbox widget that shows you a certain number of the messages in your inbox, as well as an unread count. You can scroll, delete and archive from the widget. However, on Windows 8, the email widget only shows you an unread count upfront.
This tiled interface often spills over into different issues that make Windows 8 very difficult to use at times. The first computer I ever used was a Windows 95 machine. It had a Start button. Then Windows 2000, with a Start button. XP, with a Start button. Vista and 7, Start buttons! Every Windows OS that I’ve ever used in my whole life has had a Start button. I don’t know about you, but Microsoft has yet to give me a good enough reason to justify why I have to learn a new desktop interface from scratch, when there was very little wrong with the existing, tried-and-true interface in Windows 7.
7) …Going to Be Replaced Sooner Than Later
My friends and I often refer to Windows 7 as “Windows Vista Service Pack 2.” I know, great joke, we’re so hilarious, but it’s a point based on the perception that Windows 7 was released because of massive public backlash to the quality of Windows Vista. The two operating systems were not much different visually or in terms of interface, but Windows 7 added lots of new functionality and features that set it apart from Vista in terms of quality.
That being said, we could see the same scenario play out with Windows 8. Vista was a visual leap from XP that didn’t add a lot of unique capability, so a large number of people just stuck with XP. Windows 8 looks very different, and dare I say better, than Windows 7, but it just doesn’t add the significant amount of functionality that will drive people to upgrade in droves.
If Windows 8 doesn’t result in an increase in the Windows user base (the release of Windows 8 correlates almost directly with a 20%+ drop in PC sales already, according to Valve head honcho Gabe Newell), it is not out of the question that Microsoft will want a fast turnaround on the yet un-named Windows 9, with a large amount of new capability that will hopefully set it apart from Windows 8.
Mark Twain once said, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Microsoft’s OS releases don’t just rhyme, they echo. This smells just like what happened with the release of Windows Vista. It’s the intellectual and technological equivalent of a singer/songwriter performing their own song at karaoke.
Each new Android or iOS release represents a large shift in the ability of the software. Apple enjoys listing the 100 or more new features, regardless of how big or small, added to each new release of Mac OS X. Microsoft hasn’t shown us that Windows 8 has enough moxie compared to Windows 7 to compel enough people to upgrade their systems.
Microsoft scored hits with XP and 7, and a dud with Vista. If Windows 8 turns out to be a dud as well, it might be too difficult to come back as strong as before in its wake. I don’t know if I want to be around to see the fallout.
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