Windows 8: When Two Worlds Collide
By on September 19th, 2011

Steven Sinofsky, the President of the Windows division at Microsoft, has dubbed Windows 8 as Windows reimagined, and for once, it’s not just PR-speak. Windows 8 introduces sweeping changes that affects both users and developers. In many ways, it’s probably the most significant release of Windows since Windows 95. Windows 8 is a touch-first operating system, which offers a new immersive user interface that actually does away with the concept of windows.

Windows-8

From the start, our approach has been to reimagine Windows, and to be open to revisiting even the most basic elements of the user model, the platform and APIs, and the architectures we support.
- Steven Sinofsky

Windows 8 is Windows reimagined. However, Windows also has its own legacy and tradition that it just can’t axe at one fell swoop. Currently Windows has hundreds of thousands of apps that are utilized on a day to day basis by its millions of users. It simply can’t turn around and ask everyone to begin from scratch. Doing so will almost certainly have disastrous consequences for Windows both among enterprise users and consumers. As a result, Sinofsky has had to pull off a balancing act. Even though Sinofsky has stated that his goal was a no compromise design, Windows 8 is full of compromises.

Windows-Reimagined
Windows Reimagined

Windows 8 attempts to put the focus on the modern Metro interface, without abandoning the classic Windows shell. Windows 8 tries to put the focus on touch, without forgetting keyboard and mouse users. Windows 8 tries to simplify computing, without alienating its power users. In short, Windows 8 tries to please everyone. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. When two worlds collide, baby eating aliens are to be expected.

Windows 8 developer preview, which was unveiled last week at the BUILD conference, has garnered largely positive reviews. However, many of these positive reviews are from journalists comparing Windows 8 with iOS for iPad. The new immersive Metro UI offers a fantastic gesture based touch computing experience that should enable Microsoft to compete with the iPad. However, as a mouse-keyboard desktop operating system, Windows 8′s bewildering inconsistencies will most probably end up frustrating the average user.

The biggest problem with the Metro UI is that it feels oddly glued on top of the classic shell. Metro doesn’t seem self-sufficient. For example, venture into the Metro Control Panel and try to change how Windows Updates are downloaded and installed. You simply can’t. For this you will need to switch to the classic Control Panel. Do you wish to uninstall an app? Once again, it’s the same story.

Even while using the classic shell the inconsistencies don’t stop. Just take a look at the two different dialogue boxes that open up on clicking the battery icon and the network icon in the system tray. Why does clicking on two similar buttons bring up two entirely different kinds of dialogue boxes? Many a times Windows 8 seems an incoherent mix and match of blue and green.

Windows-8-Power-Dialogue-Box
Windows 8 Power Options
Windows-8-Network-Dialogue-Box
Windows 8 Network Options

It’s not just user interface inconsistencies that hurt Windows 8. Microsoft has also made some questionable decisions regarding the environment. In the Metro interface, there is no way to close an app. Microsoft has taken leaf out of Android’s book, and has eliminated the exit option. All Metro apps are automatically suspended within five seconds of losing focus. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. I have had games that continued playing its audio track even after losing focus. The only way out was to use the Task Manager to kill the app. Of course, this might due to a bug in the Developers Preview. Even if such issues are ironed out in the future releases, fact remains that all apps in the background will continue to consume RAM. Microsoft chose to introduce complications by removing an option that most users will invariably look for.

Windows 8 also has a slight learning curve, especially if you are using mouse and keyboard. To get things done in the Metro interface without a touch-sensitive device, you will need to familiarize yourself with a few of the new hotkeys. Once again, Microsoft’s poor design decisions are responsible for making things tough for users.

Windows Vista was criticized for the poor placement of the Shutdown button. However, Windows 8 takes things to an entirely different level. Have a look at the Charms screenshot embedded below. Can you venture a guess as to how to shutdown Windows 8?

Windows-8-Charms

Windows 8 makes powering off the computer so confusing that people are actually writing tutorials on it. Here’s what you need to do to actually switch off your computer.

  • Select Settings.
  • Then select Power.
  • And finally select the desired option (Shutdown, Sleep, or Restart).

Windows-8-Shutdown

Why Microsoft put the power options within Settings is anyone’s guess.

Windows 8 is an ambitious effort from Microsoft. Unfortunately, the last time they attempted something revolutionary, the results were disastrous. Thankfully, Windows 8 doesn’t look to be going the Vista way yet. However, its numerous usability guffaws does evoke memories of Vista.

We believe there is room for a more elegant, perhaps a more nuanced, approach. You get a beautiful, fast and fluid, Metro style interface and a huge variety of new apps to use. (…) If you want to stay permanently immersed in that Metro world, you will never see the desktop—we won’t even load it (literally the code will not be loaded) unless you explicitly choose to go there! This is Windows reimagined. But if you do see value in the desktop experience—in precise control, in powerful windowing and file management, in compatibility with hundreds of thousands of existing programs and devices, in support of your business software, those capabilities are right at your fingertips as well. (…) If you do want or need this functionality, then you can switch to it with ease and fluidity because Windows is right there. Essentially, you can think of the Windows desktop as just another app.
- Steven Sinofsky

I love the concept of a new simple and immersive user interface for casual usage, and a classic functional interface for the heavy duty stuff. However, for this concept to work in real life there needs to be perfect harmony between the two interfaces. This is something that Sinofsky’s grand new operating system fails to deliver. Windows 8 has a lot of positives. However, it also has just enough shabby design choices to pull it down.

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Author: Pallab De Google Profile for Pallab De
Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .

Pallab De has written and can be contacted at pallab@techie-buzz.com.
  • http://www.ictmanazer.cz/ Albert

    I genuinely hope Microsoft continue to innovate with Windows. We all know they took their eye off the ball with Vista (or maybe XP was still good enough) – but anyway, keeping up with (and continuing to challenge) Google and Apple is ultimately good for customers.

  • Human A

    I think there is no mystery that Microsoft will finally fail on their OS simple because they lack the knowledge in human interface. And they lack taste.

 
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