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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Windows 8 - Behind the "8" Ball?

Today I got the chance to play with a Samsung tablet with Windows 8 on it, and though the tablet itself was nice, Windows 8 failed to impress me at all.

My first impression with Windows 8 aligns it more with Vista or Windows ME, than XP or 7, as it is a flaky, wonky beast at best.

It reminds me of Vista, since it appears to be a half-baked, cobbled-together O/S that shouldn’t have made it past beta.  Or, to be more accurate, it appears that Windows 8 IS the beta.  They just decided to release it before it was finished, the same way they released Windows ME and Vista earlier than they should have.

It seems that Windows 8 doesn’t know if it wants to be a Windows box or an iPad, and as a result it doesn’t do that good a job as either one.

It’s almost like Microsoft decided to create a touch enabled tablet O/S by cobbling up a tablet/touch-screen type interface, then they went and slapped it on whatever they had laying around.  The result is an operating system that doesn't really know which way it wants to go, and does a poor job of guiding you to whatever tool you may need to accomplish a particular task.

One thing you notice right away is that you cannot force the system to boot to the desktop.  You always get a home screen which is filled with more useless applet icons than you can possibly believe.  This is particularly unfortunate since if you want to do anything useful or important, (like setting up a wireless connection, changing your display preferences, or finding something in your home folder), you are forced to go to the desktop as there is no “tablet” way to do it.

When you finally get to the desktop you're in deep sneakers, unless you have a keyboard and mouse installed, because the underlying desktop applications have not been updated to meet the requirements of a touch-screen environment.  So, trying to use the desktop on an un-docked tablet is a challenge to say the least.

Microsoft also had the bright idea of actually and physically removing from Windows 8 a lot of what made Windows 7 useful.

For example the start menu, and it's associated button, has been completely ripped out of the O/S to prevent any “back-rev” wannabes from using it like 7.  (Though there are some 3rd party payware apps that restore it.)

Removing the "Start" button functionality is an absolute disaster because there are a number of applications that have separate configuration or installation update features that are only found in that application's start menu folder.  You need to update or configure something?  Hey! It just stinks being you.

Following that lead, Microsoft decided to modify the Windows 8 "First Boot" experience in ways that all but force you to do things "The Microsoft Way", or not at all.  A classic example is the initial setup for Windows Update.

In previous Windows installations you were given the choice of automagic installation of updates, or electing to set these options later.

The Windows 8 startup experience gives you two choices:  Do it the Microsoft way, or don't do it at all.  Period.  Oh, you can set Windows Update to notify you prior to downloading and installing, but you have to dig into the control panel to use the Windows Update tool located there to set it that way.  And even getting to the Control Panel is not made all that obvious.

To make a bad situation even worse, Windows 8 does not ship with sensible choices enabled by default.  An example I ran into really early on is that the out-of-the-box default media player is not Windows Media Player; instead it is some wonky "media center/player" type app.

To make the poor choice of defaults even MORE obvious, when you start a media file a little tool-tip like box pops up to tell you that "There is other software installed that might do a better job of. . . ."  If you click on the box, it gives you a list of things that really should have been default choices from the start, and lets you choose one.

Likewise, the application icons offered on the default home screen look like the kind of apps you'd expect to see on some smartphone, not on a tablet that wants to do something useful.

Many of the apps are scrolling boxes that display various things.  The weather app keeps scrolling various weather reports from all over Hell and Half of Texas; and quite frankly, I really am not all that interested in what the current weather is in Istanbul, Zaire, Uzbekistan, or Sydney.  There is a stock-ticker app, a news feed app, along with enough cruft to make actually finding something useful a challenge in itself.

The way I would describe most of these apps is that Microsoft appeared to take everything that I absolutely HATE about the MSN web-site, chopped the noisy little Java applet pieces up, and placed them on the primary startup screen.  Since they decided that the background color of the home screen should be a dark blue instead of some pleasant neutral color, it just makes the applet icons appear even more garish.

Like they tried to do with Vista, they are trying to impress everyone with lots of eye-candy.  As a result the default startup screen is ugly, it's way, way too visually noisy, and it's about as useful as Teats on a Boar Hog.  The few applets that are actually useful are buried in such a mountain of Gagh!, that it's almost impossible to find them.

What they should have done is to follow the example of Windows 7 by placing a few essential applets on a more cheerfully colored background, allowing the user to choose - like Windows 7's gadgets - what other applets they might want to have on their home screen.

Summary of Windows 8:

As a tablet based operating system, Windows 8 leaves a lot to be desired.

On a desktop system Windows 8 is absolute insanity as you end up with the worst of both worlds:  A touch-enabled operating system that functions more like a smartphone than a desktop, with a lot of the useful desktop functionality ripped out of it, installed on inexpensive desktop systems without touch-screens and tossed to an unsuspecting public.

If Microsoft is “betting the farm” on Windows 8 as some have said, then they’re doomed.

I did learn one important lesson about tablets and touch-screens though:

If you have any kind of tremor or palsy, (as I do), using a stylus on a touch-enabled device gets “interesting” to say the least.  I’m surprised that they didn’t include some kind of “jitter” compensation in their
“accessibility options”.  On the other hand, maybe I am not so surprised.

What say ye?

Jim (JR)


  1. I haven't even upgraded from XP to Win-7 yet, though it has been my intention to do so eventually. Still, I was kind of surprised Win-8 was announced so (comparatively) quickly after Win-7, especially having heard so many good things about 7. So that put me back in 'wait and see" mode. I thought maybe it might be better to migrate directly to Win-8, sparing myself 2X the usual pain of compatibility issues. From what you've said, it seems maybe Win-7 is my best bet. Of course, then again, my XP still works just fine. :-)

    1. Hello Randy, Jim,

      I took one look at Windows 8 and decided it's not really for me. I run three computers at my house and Anne runs a fourth, and they're all running Windows 7. From what Jim says, I can see where Windows 8 will never fly in a business environment. All of the professional (medical, dental, etc.) offices with which I'm familiar are still running Windows XP, as are the not-for-profit organizations with which I'm familiar.

      But I wonder if anyone has checked out what was touted as the "under-the-hood" improvements that were made in Windows 8. Specifically, were any benchmarks done to compare how fast a typical Windows 8 installation boots to desktop, runs specific apps (whether Microsoft or third party) versus how the same things run in a fresh and non-updated version of Windows 7, of course, using the same hardware configurations.

    2. Randy,

      I took one look at Windows 8 as a pre-release, and it was Gagh! back then. Hoping against hope that M$ had gotten a clue between then and now, I tried it again.

      The big difference between Win 7 and 8 is that when I launched 7, it was like the operating system welcomed me with open arms, inviting me to get things done. Windows 8 on the other hand, kind-of reminded me of Vista. You start it up and you are confronted with mountains of cruft. Doing something useful is an exercise in frustration.

      As Alan said, it damn-sure won't fly in the office, however I'm beginning to wonder how many other users are going to have the patience to deal with all this horse-hooey.

      One thing I will say is that, IMHO, touch enabled systems are indeed the wave of the future, however Microsoft and Windows 8 are still at the "early 1900's Tin-Lizzie" stage of development.

      Right now, as I see it, if someone else came out with a really useful, workable, touch-desktop paradigm that gave you the best of both worlds, they'd eat Microsoft's lunch - and it would be more like a snack!

      What say ye?

      Jim (JR)

  2. and that os may be android...


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