Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?

Aaron Weiss, Tech Journalist / Humorist | 8/22/2012 | 42 comments

Aaron Weiss
Technology journalists have lobbed darts at Microsoft for a long time. Given the company's sheer size and range of products, it is inevitable that the criticism is sometimes fair and sometimes unfair. One of the common critiques over the years has been that Microsoft lacks innovation. We don't look to it to innovate markets or for radical change even in its own products. Microsoft and legacy support go hand in hand. Its essential conservatism has served it well in the enterprise, where change is looked upon with more caution -- and where an eye is always kept on the bottom line.

But Microsoft has a surprise up its sleeve: Windows 8. After all these years, the old dog has proved it can do new tricks. Windows 8 is the sort of forward-looking gamble Microsoft is not known for making. With a radical change to the default interface and interaction model, Microsoft is betting that touchscreen devices are the predominant future, and that it can deliver an operating system that bridges the spectrum between the old (desktop/laptop) and the new (phone/tablet). Windows 8 is slated to be released this October, but the release-ready download is already available to qualified developers.

I have been spending quality time with Windows 8. The OS is fast and streamlined. It is colorful and employs elegant fonts. Its mobile-inspired DNA obviously draws heavily from both Microsoft's Metro interface for mobile phones and the Windows 7 we all know and, uh, love? On paper, the architecture behind Windows 8 makes logical sense. In practice, I hate it.

At a personal level, I find Windows 8 incredibly frustrating to use -- on a desktop computer. The platform feels like an unholy commingling of desktop and tablet computer, where in normal use I am jarringly tossed between these two very different metaphors. The default user experience in Windows 8 is biased toward the tablet context, so it is all large uniform tiles and live widgets. Yes, there is a legacy desktop buried beneath the shiny new interface, which combines the successful aspects of Windows 7 with the irritating Microsoft Ribbon menu system. In practice, it is unlikely that the desktop user will be able to live exclusively within the legacy desktop, so you wind up bouncing between desktop and tablet interfaces frequently.

But what really bothers me about the new UX in Windows 8 is that it represents a continued dumbing down of the computing experience. To put it bluntly, the Windows 8 Start Menu and its newly dubbed "Modern" UI could be called Fisher Price's My First Computer. Interface elements are simple to a fault -- giant fonts, uniform icons, and minimal visible elements. This trend of increasingly hiding messy complexity is just that -- a trend -- and Microsoft's embrace of it reeks of chasing Apple for the fashion-conscious consumer market. Apple turned its back on the enterprise long ago, and with Microsoft now nipping at its heels, I have to wonder if this company is starting down the same path.

All this matters because the success of IT in the enterprise is based on the premise that users are smart, not dumb. I know IT insiders will enjoy a laugh about this, but let's look at the reality. End users are more experienced than ever. This is not 1985. Every year, more people who grew up with computers from an early age enter the workforce. Soon most of the workforce will be made of digital natives. We joke about how the average 12-year-olds are more expert online than their parents. Computer users are, on the whole, becoming more sophisticated, so why are the platforms we use becoming dumber?

In Windows 8, many apps run (by default, at least) in full screen mode. By building Windows 8 so biased toward the limitations of touchscreen devices, it seems like Microsoft believes there is no future in full-grown computers -- machines with complex interaction models like keyboards, mice, and touchpads. In other words, Microsoft has designed Windows 8 for toys -- the needs of real business users be damned.

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The_Phil   Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?   10/31/2012 10:22:04 PM
Re: Forget SP1
That's why 7 was released earlier than anticipated. Much like XP after the release of Me.
kicheko   Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?   10/31/2012 10:48:34 AM
Re: Forget SP1
I suggest you format that computer, it should be able to take any other windows and you'll be happier with it.
nasimson   Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?   10/8/2012 5:47:00 PM
Re: Forget SP1
I still do not understand the sole purpose of launching Vista. It was a failure. Complete failure. I still have a laptop with Vista in it and using it is pathetic. 
kicheko   Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?   9/29/2012 4:21:55 PM
Re: Forget SP1
Just like the way vista was completely pathetic ...i bought a vista machine and had to struggle so much with applications on it. Eventually i had to upgrade. More like downgrade because i had to move back to xp at the time. Then again if i hadn't tried it myself i would have thought people were over-hyping its weaknesses.
nasimson   Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?   9/28/2012 12:13:44 PM
Not an insult, but future-proofing
> Soon most of the workforce will be made of digital natives. We joke
> about how the average 12-year-olds are more expert online than
> their parents. Computer users are, on the whole, becoming more
> sophisticated, so why are the platforms we use becoming dumber?

While for digital natives, keyboard, mouse and ALT+ shortcuts have become second nature; the whole new generation of kids is now growing in touch based interface of smart phones & tablets. Windows 8 is set to conquer that segment of market.
nasimson   Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?   9/28/2012 12:09:05 PM
Re: Forget SP1
@ CMTucker:

I also follow this as an IT migration habit: Never get the latest version. Wait for early adapters to switch, report bugs & confirm that it is now both stable & productive. Only then migrate.

It usually works for me.
nasimson   Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?   9/28/2012 11:30:57 AM
Microsoft is the new IBM
> We don't look to it to innovate markets or for radical change even in its
> own products. Microsoft and legacy support go hand in hand.

Very interesting piece Aaron. Ironically, if you change the company name to IBM and the date to thirty years back, IBM fits the description as the proverbial hand fits the glove.
SaneIT   Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?   9/4/2012 8:11:47 AM
Re: Forget SP1
@Syerita Turner.  I've let a few people play with my latest installation of Win 8.  Their biggest problem after trying to figure out where the rest of the applications went is how to switch between apps and the really big one how to run multiple windows.  They are shocked and horrified to know that you can only do a single split in the Modern UI.  I don't know how many times I've had 4 or 5 windows open moving data between them.  I can just see the fun the big spreadsheet crowd is going to have with this limitation.
Syerita Turner   Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?   8/31/2012 8:03:36 PM
Re: Forget SP1
All I can say to this new interface is WOW! Really are we really making it "easier" to use the most easiest application known to man? It seems like with every upgrade to Windows I am being sent back in time to when I was in elementary school and we were attempting to learn about apples and oranges. I think that this needs some rethinking. If we want users to become more technology savvy we need to stop attempting to "dummy" down already easy to use applications. 
SaneIT   Is Microsoft Windows 8 an Insult to IT?   8/27/2012 7:45:20 AM
Re: Forget SP1
I agree that Win 7 is doing the job now and that there aren't many compelling reasons to leave Win 7 but I think it's going to be hard to ignore Win 8 forever.  I didn't run across any show stopping issues aside from the Modern UI which I think would drive me crazy to use on a desktop.  Luckily there are registry hacks and third party shell utilities that let you work with the more desktop friendly UI.  I am curious to see where Win 8 goes in the tablet market and if it makes it to the smartphone market.
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