Opinion, Software, Technology

Opinion: Windows 8 Divides – Part One

Windows 8.1 start screenMicrosoft has turned its face away from the enterprise and the stalwart ‘home’ user in an all-out bid for the hearts and minds of a new generation. And it’s not working. Did someone say ‘convergence?’

The battle lines are firmly drawn over Windows 8. On one side is the (dying) breed of PC professional who manages and maintains PCs. For them, the operating system is only a tool for getting the job done and the Not-Metro-Modern-UI interface gets in their way.

On the other side, casual user who uses their commodity PC to surf the Internet, send email, self-obsess on social media and play a few games. These folks don’t give a hoot about operating systems as long as the interface serves up some colourful, fat icons to click to get to an app. Everything these days is an ‘app.’

These folks don’t know the difference between Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer; to them Internet Explorer IS the Internet. Microsoft Office IS Microsoft Windows and file management is a pain.

In no-man’s land right now, sits an exasperated tribe of ‘power’ users supporting and supported by a vast array of spreadsheets, databases, word-processed documents, slide decks and vertical applications for accounting, order management, stock control, bill of materials, cash registers and industrial equipment from assembly lines to precision cutters.

They may be part-time developers in VB, java, macros, or something more specialist. They run offices and keep complex paper trails of carefully versioned briefs, contracts and financial models.

They know the difference between a file manager and a browser, between IE and Firefox and Chromium; they can use a search engine and don’t dumb everything down to an ‘app.’

And at home, there’s a vast underbelly of the self-employed, the silver-surfers, the volunteers and the home workers.

XP has been an enduring standard, a lowest-common denominator, a platform so embedded in everyday computing that the embarrassing Windows Vista failed to shift it and Windows 7 has only just eclipsed it. And there is a direct line through those three operating systems that a mere visual facelift cannot disguise; the layout and the principles of use have remained the same over 13 years (longer if you extend that line back through Windows NT and Windows 3.1).

But habit makes a poor master and Microsoft has tried to confront the burgeoning touch-screen, tablet and smart-phone market with the touch-enabled Windows 8; to be ‘where it’s at;’ to ‘get down with the kids.’

Unfortunately this is like the fifty-something head of the accounts department putting a cap on backwards and riding down the corridors on a skateboard. At some point, someone asks him to get off, stop arsing about and product the corporation’s annual financial statement. At which point he has to sit down at a desk and crunch some numbers.

And you can’t do that in the Not-Metro-Modern-UI interface

Windows 8-slash-8.1 is perfectly usable, with or without a touch-screen. It looks good on a tablet. The Live Tiles on the Start Screen present really useful previews and summaries – at the right resolution.

But two years into Windows 8/8.1, two things continue to hold it back.

  • the amount of effort users are willing to put into learning the Not-Metro-Modern-UI interface; tablet and smart-phone users, ok; for everyone else, like anchovies with maple syrup, its an acquired taste.

Apps remain slow to load and still aren’t as fully featured as the desktop equivalents; even web-apps such as Facebook and Outlook.com. This shouldn’t be.

You get the feeling that this is still a work in progress; I can see a fully realised software design concept, and it is sound; but I don’t see the majority of Windows developers getting to grips with it. Two decades of Windows frameworks, Dot-net, (cough) Silverlight and (mumble) Flash don’t just morph into tiled apps overnight.

  • the fact that to get any ‘proper’ work done, you have to drop through the Not-Metro-Modern-UI interface and into the still-present Windows desktop; because there isn’t anywhere else to go.

Problematically, though, thanks to that Start Screen in place of the old Start Menu, you have to keep bobbing up and down through the layers of the Not-Metro-Modern-UI interface and old Windows desktop. And folks keep asking WHY?

This, and the fact that UI updates are now more frequent in the age of smart-phones and tablets, means increased regression testing whenever that interface changes – roughly six to nine months by the look of it. The cost to the enterprise sector is huge, the time and inconvenience the stuff of water-cooler grumbling; compatibility checking with the long tail of legacy applications the stuff of nightmares and the cost of training… well, you see why the Enterprise doesn’t take the bait.

So will 8.1 overcome where 8.0 failed? Or has Microsoft bet the farm on a niche market where it’s not the biggest player at the table (Android and iOS can barely contain the smiles through their poker faces)?

Resistance to change is part of the human condition, but the right argument, seasoned with clear incentives, can break that down. Self-preservation, on the other hand, is hard-coded. Even Microsoft should appreciate that. AJS

Related: How-to: Fix Windows 8.1 Upgrades

About Allan J. Smithie

Allan J. Smithie is a journalist and commentator based in Dubai.


One thought on “Opinion: Windows 8 Divides – Part One

  1. Tablet? Desktop? Tablet? Desktop? Neither. Back to the drawing board.

    Posted by D L B sky | May 13, 2014, 3:02 pm

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