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George Schizas Blog

Days in the life of a clone

Some thoughts on Windows 8/8.1/8.1.1

I originally wrote this as a response to some discussion at reddit on a leaked build of Windows 8.1.1, regarding some common criticisms about Windows 8

Q: Why don’t they give us a choice?

A: User choices aren’t inherently bad. User choices for *things they don’t care about* are. The users don’t care about what UI they want to use. They don’t care about optimizing the help file index. They don’t use the computer to use the computer. They use the computer to perform a task. Giving the user a choice of whether to use the touch or the classic desktop is at best a cop-out. I could expand more on that, but read Joel, he says it way better than me. Just as an aside: I’m really happy that Windows 7 got finally rid of the Windows 2000-era "classic" start menu and kept only with the Windows XP "standard" start menu. This is another example of an unnecessary choice, which people stubbornly stuck to.

Q: Why didn’t Microsoft make a separate version of Windows and call it Windows Touch?

A: Have you heard about iPads and Android tablets? If Microsoft continued to view tablet computing as a niche, it was just playing into Apple’s and Google’s hand. Quite a lot of people are perfectly content to use a browser to browse some sites. A tablet is generally cheaper than a full-blown computer, it works out of the box, it can browse the Internet, play video and play games. If MS made a "Windows Touch" OS, given the fact that it came late into the scene, the only thing that would happen is:

  1. No-one would make applications for it (it’s a very niche OS, after all). It’s what we’re seeing with Windows Phone. It’s not that WP is a bad OS (it isn’t). It’s just that Microsoft came late to the game (actually, they let the ball drop, same as they did with Internet Explorer). If it wasn’t for Nokia, Windows Phone would probably already be dead.
  2. People would keep moving off Windows onto Android and iOS. They don’t need a full-blown PC to browse the internet, why should they get a $700 PC instead of a $100 tablet?
  3. Next thing you know, everyone is making tablet applications, and Microsoft suffers the fate of IBM, being reduced to making server products (and how long can they keep that up when Linux is a cheaper and sometimes better alternative)?

In fact, what Microsoft would be doing with Windows Touch, would be playing to Apple’s/Google’s strengths (established tablet market) instead of playing to Microsoft’s strengths (established desktop market) and to Apple’s/Google’s weaknesses (but Android doesn’t have Office! Hmm, wait a minute…)

Q: But tablets can’t be used in the enterprise

A: First of all, the enterprise has been moving toward browser-based applications. Browser-based applications have many advantages over native applications: 

  1. They work regardless of the client – you can have Windows or a tablet (or even a phone) to use them.
  2. They don’t need installation – you just open a URL and you’re set. They also update centrally.
  3. They don’t rely on the end client security: They treat everyone as untrusted anyway.

When you bring your own device (a new model that has been emerging recently), in order to access company information (such as email), you usually connect to your workplace’s Exchange and you download a policy (this is hidden, usually it’s just a "I agree" button) that specifies some minimum requirements (e.g. screen lock) for your device.

Group policy is nice and handy, but it’s not really needed all that much when your device is pre-locked and virus-free(-ish) anyway, and you don’t have all that much to lose if it gets hijacked (because the data are on the server).

Q: But I hate Windows 8! It killed my dog and fondled my cat!

A: First of all, condolences. Second, some people always resist change, it’s the way of the things. Is it perfect? No, obviously not. Is it better for Windows 7? Well, that’s subjective obviously, but I think it is:

  1. It can run a new class of applications, which in general are easier on the eyes.
  2. The start screen is faster than the start menu. It also scales better (have you used a start menu on a PC with hundreds of installed programs? I have. It’s nasty)
  3. Desktop enhancements (e.g. task manager, file explorer) are things I really miss when I go back to Windows 7.

How could it be better? Windows 8.1.1 (sigh – it really should be Windows 8.2 – if not for anything else, just to finally have a .2 version of Windows) seems to be a step in the right direction. In the way I see it, Microsoft tried a bit too hard to push the touch interface, ignoring the mouse-and-keyboard alternative. It tried to delegate the desktop metaphor as new console/terminal metaphor. BTW, there was quite a lot of pushback back in the days Windows and mice came about, from users that thought that DOS applications with text mode interface were good enough. Same here is happening now with mouse-and-keyboard vs. touch. Anyway, the point is that the metro UI could use a bit more mouse love, and it’s getting it with Windows 8.1.1.

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