Friday, 19 October 2012

Windows 8...

I, like a great many others, was quite taken aback by Microsoft when then released Windows 7.  Here was an operating system that not only looked great, but it was brilliant in it's workflow and usability.  MS had made all the necessary changes to Vista to make it a far more complete OS without losing the familiarity of XP.  XP was the last time that MS really out did themselves in upgrading a new OS and I guess if you look at the pattern of their releases it came as no surprise that Windows 8 is an utter hash job.

 Windows 7 is a robust and user friendly OS, but it's also a systems administrator friendly OS.  It's SA friendly for a couple of reasons, the first being that it protects itself well from people accidentally making errors and but it also didn't lose functionality and familiarity of XP.  This was awesome because when you sat a user down in front of their newly build Windows 7 machine you were able to say to them "You're familiar with Windows XP?  Well this is pretty much the same but you have all this great added functionality such as aero snap, an intelligent explorer search function, pinning applications to the taskbar and a massively more functional start menu".  Within all of this they had also made it a damn sight prettier.

Windows 8 is only one of these things.  It's prettier.  I personally believe that Microsoft have shot themselves in the foot with this release for a couple of reasons but I will get to that in a moment.  Microsoft have always lagged behind in the 'cool' market.  Despite having a huge presence in the gaming market with XBOX they still don't have an image of cool or desirable.  Their mobile phones have historically been a non event, and even sometimes worse, they've been borderline offensive in how unusable they were.  Their Zune brand has been a flop despite the hardware being stunning simply because they don't have the marketing prowess of Apple.  It's because of this that they constantly strive to get a foothold in the home and mobile marketplaces.

Historically Microsoft has made the majority of its revenue from the enterprise market, Server, MS Office, SQL, Sharepoint etc.  In recent years their home PC and Entertainment divisions have been picking up a fair amount of their overall revenue but they have begun to see this fade off a bit.  The reasoning for this is that consumers no longer see a need for a fully blown desktop.  They can play games, check email, browse the internet and watch movies all on their iPads, Android devices and on a whole host of netbook style devices.  Tied in with this is that stylistically, Apple especially, these devices have a desirability about them and an extremely well marketed 'cool' factor.  For every PC that would sell with Windows on it MS would be making money.  If consumers don't need or want a PC because an iPad or their mobile phone/phablet/tablet does everything they need, why spend 2,3,4 times the amount on a Desktop that will only take up space and ultimately become a virus and spyware filled liability?

Enter Windows 8.  Windows 8 is not Microsoft's first foray into the mobile tablet form factor nor is it the first time we've seen the 'Metro' interface.  This first popped up in the recent version of Windows Mobile.  What this is is a change in the way that Microsoft has prioritised it's desktop operating system.  Windows has primarily been about covering all bases, both home and enterprise.  Windows 8 is not about this, I suspect that Microsoft would like to think that it is, but I would beg to differ.  The reason I say this is that the overriding UI is aimed at touch screen mobile devices and translates into swipes and gestures for the greater part of it's functionality.  That's great for those using a tablet or touch screen device, not so great when you're using a mouse and keyboard.

I mentioned that I though that MS had shot themselves in the foot with this release.  My reasoning is relatively simplistic, and it goes like this.  I said that when you put Windows 7 (or any previous iteration of Windows) in front of a normal office worker, they can intuitively figure out where they should go to find stuff (and I say intuitively because they've spent the last 15 years using the same form factor).  Windows 8 is not like this.  It has no start button, when you go hunting for it you'll find that it kicks you back to the Metro interface completely overriding the desktop.  I can only imagine the frustration that this will bring on with secretaries, legal staff, accounting staff in fact all staff other than the most tech savvy.  This is only one example of changes, they've altered the way search works, it's now not so immediately context driven and it doesn't present smart results like Windows 7.  

There are a whole bunch of ultimately frustrating and needless changes that have been made and I believe that this will do two things.  One, it will alienate those users that are not 'power users' that come into work, push the power button and expect familiarity.  Change is not great for these people.  It increases their work load and their frustration spreads around all the people they work with.  Second, if they have a bad experience with Windows and Microsoft product at work, then they sure as hell won't be going home and saying "we need a new PC, let's go buy another Windows machine".  They're going to pull out their iPad and go "this is nice and simple to use, let's get a Mac!"

To be fair the majority of enterprise environments will likely still be migrating the last of their machines from XP to Windows 7 so they will pass over this version, but for a company that is so driven to get a foothold into the home and mobile market, it seems foolish to me to alienate their enterprise customers.  I've already seen that Apple are gaining in a big way in the corporate environment with iPhones and iPads.  If Microsoft doesn't back track in one way or another with Windows 9 to attempt a hearts and minds win then I think we'll see more and more people moving to Apple.

Personally I won't be touching Windows 8 with a 10 foot barge pole.  It has no appeal to me, it gains me no added functionality and promises too many frustrations.  I guess we could see some changes in SP1 (it's a common rule with MS operating systems to wait for the first service pack releases) but I don't believe we will see them backing down from the overall functionality because Microsoft are so desperate to get into the tablet section of the market.  Personally I don't see it, just like I don't see their Windows Mobile Phone devices doing well either.  For all the prettiness, Microsoft just isn't 'cool'.

1 comment:

  1. Aw shucks, no love for Windows Vista? It introduced a lot of the nice features present in Windows 7. Examples are Aero, Flip 3D, Instant Search, Start Search, Sidebar, etc.

    "Windows 7 is the next 'real' operating system after Windows XP. We don't talk about Vista..."