Critical Skepticism of Windows 8 Grows

June 19th, 2012

You can almost always depend on loads of Microsoft sycophants extolling the virtues of a new Microsoft product. Sometimes you even get a press release offering some sort of “independent blogger” for an interview. Just recently, for example, a PR agency sent along the name of someone who could tell us all about the then-new Nokia Lumia 900, the supposed flagship smartphone for the Windows Phone OS.

After actually doing the interview for The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I discovered that the blogger in question, who supposedly used Apple gear, had previously announced a switch from the iPhone to another Windows Phone device back in December 2011. Evidently the agency hoped I wouldn’t run across that contradiction.

When Windows 8 was announced, some favored journalists got portable PC tablets to demonstrate the greatness of the successor to Windows 7. But something strange happened. Microsoft didn’t get the love they expected. In fact, in the past week, I’ve read several articles from tech pundits that, instead of praising Microsoft to the skies over the unique virtues — such as they are — of Windows 8, are clearly concerned that it’s all one huge mess.

At the same time, Microsoft seems oblivious to the skepticism. At their media event Monday, CEO Steve Ballmer said he was gratified by the “enthusiastic response” to Windows 8. But he was right when he conceded that computers work better when they consider the software and hardware together. Well, isn’t that Apple’s selling point?

All this represented part of Microsoft’s spiel in introducing a new, smaller version of the Surface, essentially a tablet computer meant to compete with, of course, the iPad. It will ship in ARM and Intel-based versions; the latter runs regular Windows software.

Now the original Surface, kind of an overpriced coffee table that served as a touch computer, has been a poor seller, though it does turn up in product placements on TV shows and movies from time to time. The new Surface tablets, constructed of magnesium, sport a 10.6-inch display with an awkward 16:9 aspect ratio. The supposed innovation is a Touch Cover, which contains a physical keyboard and trackpad on the inside cover. Oh well, it’s not as if anyone was surprised that Microsoft would attempt to take over the moribund Windows tablet market with its own entry, shades of the Zune. But it’s also true that the media was kept at bay in examining the various Surface prototypes. Microsoft only granted limited face time, so it’s not at all clear how well they actually work, since many of the prototypes were nonfunctional. You also have to be concerned over the state of these prototypes because the Surface is only a few months from actual production. Or so says Microsoft.

Let me put my cards on the table: I may prefer the Apple solution, but I have had little trouble using most versions of Windows except for the very earliest versions in the 1990s, which were dreadfully slow even on a PC with decent hardware. My biggest complaint against the Microsoft solution has always been the company’s penchant for complex procedures to perform simple functions. I remember how screen captures for some of my books had to be copied and saved to an image editing app, rather than just creating the file as part of the capture process. That’s the way it works on a Mac.

On many occasions, I attempted to configure peripheral hardware for a Windows PC, most often a printer, only to find that the setup process was hit or miss. Sure it’s gotten a whole lot better, and may be almost automatic in recent versions of Windows. But Microsoft hasn’t learned that regular people want something that works, rather than requiring lots of handholding.

To this day, Microsoft has yet to find a better solution for the dreaded Windows Registry. For those who don’t know what that’s all about, here’s the official Wikipedia definition:

The Windows Registry is a hierarchical database that stores configuration settings and options on Microsoft Windows operating systems. It contains settings for low-level operating system components as well as the applications running on the platform: the kernel, device drivers, services, SAM, user interface and third party applications all make use of the registry. The registry also provides a means to access counters for profiling system performance.

So rather than store settings as separate files as Apple does, everything is thrown into a single, monolithic database. So if the database becomes corrupted, you have to use one of those Registry fixer-upper utilities, or go through lots of manual labor to sort things out. A common scenario is that, as the Registry gets filled, your PC’s performance takes a nosedive.

On the Mac, if you have a bad preference file, it’s just one file that you can usually just delete, although you may have to reconfigure an app’s settings as a result. But that’s a far less onerous process than coping with one massive database file that contains everything.

Certainly Mac users of Microsoft Entourage and Outlook realize that bad things database corruption can cause. With Entourage you could lose messages. With Outlook 2011, Microsoft put the messages in separate files, but kept a smaller database that created all sorts of headaches when the recent SP2 Office update came out. Microsoft had to redo the update a couple of times to set things right.

Microsoft never learns. Worse, with recent versions of Windows, Microsoft has tried to throw out tried and proven interface elements and replace or hide them. Consider that dreadful ribbon, which is a potential nightmare on a touch-based system, instead of the menu bar. Sure, Office 2011 for the Mac still supports the menu bar, since it’s a Mac interface convention, but loads of functions are thrown almost haphazardly onto the multileveled toolbar they call a ribbon.

With Windows 8, caution was thrown to the wind with Metro, and the end of the traditional Start menu. For better or worse, the Start menu, though misnamed for the functions it provides, was at least fairly straightforward to use. With Windows 8, there are loads of features with little integration and consistency. No wonder the people who used to boast about Microsoft’s greatness are suddenly concerned.

So Microsoft is acting as if nothing is wrong, but that doesn’t mean that butt-ugly version 2 of the Surface is going to light anyone’s fire. When you consider the keyboard cover and all the rest of the features, once again it’s clear that the phrase “keep it simple, stupid!” doesn’t register with Microsoft.

In any case, if you really want one of those things, expect the ARM version to be out around the time Windows 8 is released, which is expected this fall, for a price said to be competitive with other ARM-based tablets. The Intel version will ship three months later, and will supposedly be priced in the same league as an Ultrabook portable. But the real question is what Microsoft’s OEM partners will think about yet another betrayal, shades of the Zune.

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8 Responses to “Critical Skepticism of Windows 8 Grows”

  1. DaveD says:

    I’ve come to a belief that Microsoft is trying to be like Apple AND wants to outdo them.

    A quest for the “je ne sais quoi” that Apple has.

    But in their grand scheme that there are no Googles or Apples in their world, it’s Windows everywhere. Reality is that Microsoft is the best successful copier for a few products (OS, Word processing, spreadsheet, servers, etc.). Beyond that small list are the many misses (Bob, Kin, Zune, SPOT, Big-A$$ table, etc.). Apple does change the world as a trailblazer knowing what a user really wants. Microsoft can only follow behind from behind, a distance that gets longer and longer.

  2. Ted Schroeder says:

    IMHO, what Microsoft screwed up was not having a date and a price.

    Having either the ARM or the Intel version available for sale the same day as the announcement would’ve been good too.

    So the buying public is left with a promise that something cool is coming out at some point and will cost an unknown amount.

    Hard to make plans on that.

    • @Ted Schroeder, That’s typical of Microsoft. They will only say that the Intel version will ship 90 days after the ARM version. The reason they are so indefinite is that the product is still vapor at this point. They couldn’t even get a full working version into the hands of the media for a decent amount of face time, because they just aren’t ready. Watch if the shipping date doesn’t slip; at this point, the Windows RT version of Surface should be ready for final production testing, and the factories should be rolling them out by mid-summer. How can they do that if they still can’t demonstrate a single unit that’s fully functional in a way that the critics would accept?


  3. ccllyyddee says:

    Stop complaining. You can still play with your coffee table. Just be careful not to spill the strawberry daiquiri. I think geography has more to do with the differences between the two than most people realize. I won’t elaborate lest I write some thing very vulgar in this space.

    As the CEO of General Motors once said about Chrysler’s Dodge, ‘some body has to drive the loser’s image.’

    If it weren’t for so many glaring examples in this civilization I wouldn’t be able to understand why they can’t come up with product that entices rather than depending on dogged devotion. Apple users are quick to bitch about the least little inadequacies of things Mac. Including me.

    If you aren’t around Microsoft software very much, pay a charity visit to your local public library. Go over to a computer that is devoted to the card catalog. Start to use it. Deal with being told that the session has timed out and you have to Restart and choose which program. Usually the other programs there are for show only. When you enter an author’s name, be sure you use the old filing system method of last name first, coma, first name last. Be prepared for mixed results.

    As I’ve said before, to use a Microsoft product, you have to circle the outhouse three times chanting, ‘Bill Gates is great, etc…..’ before it actually does something.

    Maybe they can reinvent downhill skiing, or something.

  4. AdamC says:

    Gene, you had insulted the sensitivity of a, gasp, MS fanboy visiting your blog. LOL

  5. ccllyyddee says:

    Balmer is calmer, Balmer is calmer…..then? But 3 circumambulations definitely. And don’t forget to click on Restart upon entering.

  6. ccllyyddee says:

    I just looked at an RSS with real photos of the device(s maybe). Yup, sure enough, there’s a cover that doubles as a keyboard, But not any old keyboard. A flat piece of plastic with a ‘touch screen’ that looks like a keyboard. Won’t that wow them at Starbucks! Stinky product, smelly coffee. If they would re-invent springy action keyboard, I’d look into that. Meanwhile, I’ll hold out for an iPad if ever I can get my Air pried from my finger tips. I already have an aluminum bluetooth keyboard for when I want to do a lot of typing rapidly.

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