Friday, October 19, 2012

In Review: Big Changes in Windows 8

By Walter Mossberg

Microsoft is giving Windows its most radical overhaul since 1995 and even its most devoted users won't recognize the venerable computer operating system in this new incarnation, called Windows 8, when it appears Oct. 26.

The minute you turn it on, the difference is apparent. Instead of the familiar desktop, you see a handsome, modern, slick world of large, scrolling tiles and simpler, full-screen apps best used on a touch screen and inspired by tablets and smartphones.

This is called the Start screen and it replaces the Start Menu every Windows user knows. But it's not just a menu, it's a whole computing environment that takes over the entire display, with its own separate apps and controls. The old desktop and old-style apps are still there. But in Windows 8, the desktop is like another app—you tap or click on a Start screen icon or button to use it.

This is a bold move and in my view, the new tile-based environment works very well and is a welcome step. It feels natural, especially on a touch screen, and brings Windows into the tablet era. It may even mark the beginning of a long transition in which the new design gradually displaces the old one, though that will depend on how fast Microsoft can attract new-style apps.

Windows will now consist of two very different user experiences bound into a single package. The idea is it's a one-size-fits-all operating system, which can run on everything from older, mouse-driven PCs to touch-controlled tablets without compromise. Everything from a touch-based weather app to mouse-driven Excel will run on it. That's a big contrast to Apple's approach, which uses separate operating systems for its iPad tablets and more standard Mac computers.

Potential for Confusion
By adopting the dual-environment strategy, Microsoft risks confusing traditional PC users, who will be jumping back and forth between two ways of doing things. Both the new and old environments can work via either touch or a mouse and keyboard, but the former works best with touch, the latter best with the mouse or track pad.

There are even two different versions of Internet Explorer. And many functions are different. For instance, Start-screen apps typically lack the standard menus, toolbars, resizing and closing buttons at the top that older apps do.

The company is gambling that the confusion will be brief and will be offset by the ability, via the old desktop, to run traditional productivity app.

Here's the full review:


  1. "and simpler, full-screen apps best used on a touch screen and inspired by tablets and smartphones."

    Yeah, this about sums up why the new environment is horrible for PCs.

  2. I suppose the notion of incremental advance on an already successful platform is lost on Microsoft after years of dominance.

    I predict a full scale customer revolt unless you can revert to the old GUI...

  3. Another reason why I don't switch to the new Windows OS until I'm forced to

  4. Wow!!! Totally NEW concept! Never seen ANYTHING like this before... no, wait... Ahhhh Apple? Mnnnn Android?

    There stands Microsoft at the station again, with their brand new thingy, the train disappearing in the distance. Once more too little, too late, and if it's like their much of their other work, so buggy it's painful to use.

    Sorry boys, I quit you last year. Took all my corporate and personal PCs and phones and but them in the trash - tried to give them away but no takers... Not a single crash since, no more blue screens of death, and everything works all the time, every day - don't even need an antivirus program.

    Have never looked back - ex-customer for life. Sad really, as I started programing in DOS and went through XP - refused VISTA and all that came after - just unworkable. What pushed me over the edge was a week of my life on the phone with "Mike" (Kumar) who was great, by the way, but eventually admitted he was in Mumbai (Noooooo) and told me there was nothing more he could do for me. Turns out there was something I could do and should have done years sooner.

    Never own another Microsoft product - dead horse. Truth is I am enormously grateful to the Microsoft crew as I could not have built my companies without them, but they went from being an asset to a liability. It's what happens when you become more interested in protecting your base than innovating and leading your industry. Not the first company it's happened to, and certainly not the last. If you look closely you can see the next candidates across multiple industries lining up in the "fail" line.

  5. I got ahold of a developer copy. It was horrible. Horrible. Nothing is intuitive. There are no menus. You can hardly figure out how to close a program. Files? Yeah right. What are those? Where are they? How do I get to them?

    And you have an app store to purchase widgets to put on the start screen.

    Oh and everyone's favorite, your login is an MSN account that you create. If don't believe that every keystroke and click aren't being tracked, you are naive.

    Face it. MSFT is sustaining itself off IT departments paying license fees and 15 year olds playing with their thumbs on the couch (X-Box). I'm sure they had a vision for this, but it was developed by MBA who have no clue. Forget about doing work with it. Excel where you move back and forth from screen to screen? Get real. Not going to happen and so IT department is going to risk rolling this out.

    1. Completely agree. I played around with Windows 8 on one of those touch screen laptops, and it was just a terrible experience. It may be OK for tablets, but why would anyone choose to put that operating system on a PC?

  6. There are always various opinions, right... so here is a different one:

    Windows 8 is a bit shocking, really, if you get thrown into it without being ready for it. Truth though is - there is no "new" UI" but there is "new UI, with the old UI also". The UI that everyone seems to love is called "desktop" and that is still there. Launch any desktop apps and they will go right to the desktop and will behave as they always did.

    The new "modern" UI (or whatever Microsoft is calling it now) is an addition to the Windows experience. It might or might not make sense for a heavy desktop user without the touch screen, but that is really the point - they do not have to use it.

    Then there is a question of navigating through Windows as an operating system, which also takes some adjusting to. One could ask why new navigation was "forced" on everyone but really - I feel that this should be thought about more like new age for Windows as opposed to just one more version of Windows. I see all kinds of people having no problems learning how to navigate an iPad, Android tablets (which are more of a UI mess) or switching from Windows to a Mac, Mac to Windows, Linux to Windows, Windows to Linux etc. It all carries some learning.

    But there is still the same desktop world there if you simply do not care, and use Start just to launch your "legacy" Windows apps.

    So I am failing to see how this is a disaster. Performance-wise, Windows 8 will run better than Windows 7 any day, on any hardware I tried. Stability is vastly improved over Dev and Consumer previews. It does require some flexibility to get used to but after my examples, I am confident people are capable of it. :)

    In short, I love it. On non-touch desktop, laptop and tablet. Yes I have it running on all 3.

  7. Microsoft's kernel hasn't changed a lot since Windows 2000. For instance, there is no substantive difference between the Win2k Kernel and the WinXP kernel. Just a few revs.

    Vista's main difference (other than they changed the GUI again) was enabling support for more memory and 65-bit operation... These two are tied together for technical reasons. Meanwhile, beneath the facade the changes were much shallower.

    Windows 7 is windows Vista with its most annoying features turned down and an attempt to remain a little more true to the GUI and format that made so many love XP for so long. The kernel, however, is largely unchanged.

    So, understand that a little refactoring with the kernel was a practical necessity.

    Microsoft's Success boils down to surprisingly few points.
    - Copy, buy, or emulate the most popular interface.

    - Maintain external software portability across versions. Customers hate re-buying software just because they bought this year's model of computer.

    - Support portability either by making the "versions" largely cosmetic, or by using emulators. (Win3, '95, '98, and 'Millenium' were on generation. The other started with NT 3.5 and includes Win8).

    - Pair the client OS with a set of enterprise servers geared to the lowest-denominator Admin and use the GUI to extend their competence beyond their understanding (with the GUI you don't have to understand how the server works under the skin).

    - Make admin training on the Server highly available and cheap. Combined with the GUI, this will drive down administration costs.

    - Give away the OS as much as possible to IT pros. Give free versions of the OS to the public for limited terms.

    -Then, once the OS is dominant, use the inside advantages of being inside the OS design to make 'better' office automation.

    The keystone is the low-cost-administration server environment.

    Where policy management was peripheral, and form-factor and finesse are preferred Apple products have been more popular.

    Where data throughput and reliability is the goal, Unix or its descendant Linux are preferred.

    It is a true wonder no one has tried to challenge MS in a serious way at their own game...because Microsoft made some design decisions with regard to their kernel that are practically speaking irreversible at this point. These design decisions have been haunting MS ever since, and the reason(s) why MS OS's have so much difficulty with remotely executed code.

    Now...other OS's have matured along with Microsoft.

    All the other elements are in place. But still no one has thought to offer an alternative set of server systems geared to the lowest denominator Admin, and then offer cheap training.

    Of course if they did, they'd win in the corporate environment. They'd be more stable while having the same low-cost administration advantages for which the corporate world loves MS.

    And MS is stuck. They can't correct those early design decisions without breaking one of the early tenets that made people like them. If they fix their design, people would have to buy all new software.

  8. I'll hang on to XP on all my small business computers as long as I possibly can.

    Great write up btw.

    Incidentally I use Ubuntu on a netbook and computer at home. If I could get enough specialized applications(CAD/CAM specifically) to run without hassles on such a platform for my business I'd do it in a heartbeat-assuming there was cross platform functionality(like word processing/spreadsheet programs finally have). Although I still have one DOS platform program I use for one function that I haven't found a great replacement understanding with Vista and up is that it doesn't handle old DOS stuff well internally without some 3rd party emulation.(Unlike XP)

    I've been using Ubuntu at home for almost three years now,the LTS versions, and it keeps getting better. Stability is pretty good and it runs well on underpowered computers.

    Interestly though, they seem to be moving in the same direction as MS- making access to the background operations more difficult and dumbing down the GUI interface over time.

    I really think XP is the best overall still...I dread when MS finally puts the knife through it.