Windows 8 - The Fork in the Road

I am not a hard-core Windows or Microsoft lover, so I'm not some dyed-in-the-wool fanboy who is exclaiming his shock and horror at the looming threat of Windows computing destruction. While my preferred operating system is Linux, all of my customers use Microsoft Windows and that's the OS that I've come to learn, tolerate/hate and provide support for. I speaking from a desktop user's standpoint in this post, overlooking most of Windows 8's Metro interface.

Here are some truths as I know them: Change is inevitable. Change can be painful. Change can be good. Change can be bad. Like it or not, life is chock-full of change.

 

God loves geeks too!
Why Jesus?

 

"We've grown apart"
As of this writing, my wife and I have been married for a few years now. From the time we first met to right now, we both have changed. Some of the changes are desirable and some are not. That's just life and that's just the way it is. Very few things during our short stay on Earth never change. I use this example of my marriage because many computer users have had a long-term relationship with their operating system. If you've used Windows, Linux or Macs for any length of time, you've no doubt felt the uncomfortable sting that accompanies unwelcome changes with those platforms. If you haven't, then you either are very flexible, or you haven't paid very close attention! ;-)

I won't lie, I don't like change. As someone with Aspergers, change can be a downright terrifying thing. Even if a change will be good in the long run, the initial shock can nearly destroy me. Of course, it isn't this way with everything, but a good many things can bring about these kinds of feelings. I don't like to use different deodorant or different brands of margarine. I have my favorite coffee cup and would nearly be heartbroken if it were to vanish or be taken from me. Yeah, I'm a mess. So when I first saw the Windows 8 Developer Preview when it came out a few months ago, I was shocked, then afraid, then angry.

Right before my youngest son was born last year, it was time for us to trade in our old mobile phones for new ones. My old phone was a Samsung Propel, which was definitely not a smart phone. It was a small industrial-blue slider with a small portrait QWERTY keypad and had served me well for about a year and a half, but was starting to suffer the effects that most 'eh' quality consumer goods suffer after everyday usage. Being in the tech-support business, I was looking forward to trading up to a smart phone that had a good number of apps, with special attention on Jabber/XMPP instant messaging.

My wife's friend had blessed her with an iPhone a year or two ago, and while I couldn't work it well (I have fat fingers and my motor skills aren't all that hot), I became familiar with how her phone functioned. When we went to the mobile phone store to pick our our new 'trade ups', I really did not want an iPhone, simply because it didn't work well in my hands. I looked at the HP phones (before they killed off their webOS products), ignored Android phones (I have been boycotting Google and any of their products for a while now because of their stance on homosexuality) and took a serious look at Windows phones. I actually had walked into the phone store thinking I might just choose a Windows Phone because of the generally favorable reviews I had read about them.

Animations and transitions don't have 'value'
I played with a few Windows Phone models, and while the way things were arranged on-screen was tolerable, one thing that turned me off about them is how slow (and pervasive) the animations were. Being a software developer (as well as my other duties), usability is something I pay special attention to in my applications. I have written quite a few applications, some of them very large and complex. I have many customers who give me constant feedback about my products, and some of the loudest complaints I received in the early stages of software development were "It takes too many steps to do this task" or "The animation/special effects/eye-candy you included wastes too much of my time". That last complaint was exactly how I felt about Windows Phone's animations and transitions. I ain't gettin' any younger, and if even one percent of my life was wasted waiting for my phone's 'gee-whiz' animations to complete, that's just too much.

What does all of that have to do with Windows 8? Animations. Transitions. Speed. Latency. Usability. Usability is a very important thing to people who use their computers every day. When I want to perform a task on my computer, I don't want to spend five minutes doing something that should only take three. The operating system I use should present the path of least resistance to my workflow. I'm not some thirteen-year-old boy with blinding blue pulsing lights blasting from every nook and cranny of my computer case, I'm a 40-something tech support specialist, software developer and part-time graphic artist. I'm not trying to amaze my friends and family with how cool my OS looks, I'm using my OS to get things done, and in the least amount of time possible. The way Windows 8 previews are looking, things aren't looking up in the 'least amount of time possible' category.

The future is mobile computing, but...
I'm not stupid. I know a great deal of the world relies on and favors mobile computing. For certain situations, I also would like to do certain things on a tablet or other mobile device. But there will always be some things that just work better on desktop (and sometimes laptop) computers. Many of my customers have large, widescreen monitors, and when I remote into their computers, I really do not want to scroll all over a small screen just to traverse their large screen. My desktop computer's monitor has a nice 1920x1080 resolution, which is almost always enough screen real-estate for remote computer support. It's also nice to have a screen that size for software development and when editing images and videos. Sure, all of those things can be done on a small tablet or smart-phone screen, but how productive are you going to be?

Mobile OS Envy
It's my opinion that Microsoft is very concerned about keeping up with the rest of the industry. I think they see other companies, like Apple, running way ahead and making a killing on mobile computing. When Android also jogged by Microsoft in a leisurely manner, I think Microsoft felt a hot stab of panic in their corporate heart and decided they had to do something, and fast. Windows 8 feels like overcompensation. Windows 8 feels like Microsoft is trying too hard to please the mobile crowd while shrugging off everyone else.

One size does not fit all
I really do not see thousands of customer service workers having their desktop or laptop computers being thrown out and being handed tablets to work with. I don't see hardcore scientists and mathematicians throwing out their high-powered workstations so they can run calculations of huge data-sets on tablets. I don't see pro photographers and video editors tapping tablets or smartphones to make massive transforms or rendering special effects for high-definition video. Sure, variations of those things can be done on tablets and mobile devices, but let's be real...how productive or effective are they going to be in the real world? Microsoft appears to be thumbing their nose at whole market segments.

Bye bye, Start button
As you may know, Microsoft appears to be ditching the Start button (as we know it) in Windows 8. I guess this is one of the things that actually angers me about Windows 8. If you've been a user of Windows since Windows 95, you may frequently depend on the Start button to help you navigate the programs, settings and features of your operating system. I am not one of those shortcut-key kind of people, I like to use the mouse for a lot of things. I do use Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V and the like for cutting and pasting, but because of my motor-skills issues it's a lot harder to find and properly hit more than one key at a time, so clicking and right-clicking are the order of the day for me. But watch out!!!...here comes Windows 8! Now I have to remember a bunch of keyboard shortcuts to do common things. Sheesh, sounds like DOS all over again... :-\ (See this post for my low-tech Start button replacement for Windows 8)

Killing the Start button is akin to a library moving the book indexes from a convenient and central location within the library to huge rectangular pieces of cardboard glued to the outside walls of the library building. Finished reading one book and want to find another? You have to make your way outside, walk around the building until you find the right rectangle and then go back inside to find the book (if it isn't missing or damaged).

Insanity VS Innovation
Come on Microsoft! Making changes for the sake of innovation is one thing...making changes to appear to be innovating is quite another. Windows 8 will be joining other software that used to be fairly functional, but then their developers ruined them, such as the fairly functional Gnome 2 being replaced by the hot mess known as Gnome 3. Microsoft, and the developers of Unity and Gnome 3 seem to be awfully sure of themselves. What they all are really screaming is "Hey, look at us! We've changed our software to be so different that it's nearly unusable! We're totally cool...to the max!" Uh huh, riiiiight.

If Microsoft does choose to continue down this tablet-centric road with Windows 8 without also providing the ability to work in a Windows 7-like Desktop environment, complete with real and fully functional Start button, I really think they are going to force people away from Windows. Once the threat of Windows 8 starts to sink in, you'll have a massive rush of business and corporate customers swallowing up every last copy of Windows 7 and you'll have people experimenting and eventually switching to Linux.

I honestly do not believe that the big corporations and businesses that currently use Windows XP, Vista and 7 are okay with the massive user interface change Windows 8 presents. The hobbled version of the Desktop in Windows 8 is like having a token white guy in an otherwise Black movie and him being a horrible actor to boot. It's awkward, painful and embarrassing.

I agree with you Will, what can I do?
• If you can afford it, buy yourself as many copies of Windows 7 that you may need to sustain yourself until Microsoft completely stops supporting it.

• Switch to a Linux desktop environment that can be configured to act a lot like Windows XP or 7 and be sure you skip Ubuntu Unity or Linux distros that only offer Gnome 3. Though not as visually appealing as Windows 7 at first, the Xfce and LXDE Linux desktop environments provide good customization and theming and good usability. Linux Mint has some good alternatives to Ubuntu Unity, too. The cool thing about Linux desktop environments is that there are several good ones to choose from, and you can usually theme them to be pleasant to look at.

D0od, U r SOOO wrong and I think uR st0oPiDd!z11!
You wouldn't be the only one who has said that! :-P

Windows' new direction...you're along for the ride...like it or not!
Yes, we've hit a fork in the long-traveled road. Users of tablets and other touch-enabled mobile devices will probably rejoice when Windows 8 is released. Go on with your touch-enabled selves! :-) For us non-touch-enabled folks, the near-future release of Windows 8 is probably looking like a distant train-wreck or plane crash...the closer you get, the more grisly it's gonna get.

 

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