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  • Early Windows 8 Reviews: Understating the Obvious

    October 18th, 2012

    I suppose you can regard Walt Mossberg, of the Wall Street Journal, as the “dean of tech journalists,” since he has been in the business for years. He also hosts the AllThingsD conferences that have featured the movers and shakers of the tech industry, including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Tim Cook. So what he says clearly commands respect, and when he severely understates the obvious or falls down on the job entirely in his product reviews, you have to wonder if he hasn’t just lost his edge. Or maybe it’s time to cede the job to someone else.

    Take Mossberg’s review of Windows 8, which was posted Wednesday morning. Clearly Mossberg’s impressed by Microsoft’s daringly different approach to their venerable operating system. The Modern UI, formerly known as Metro, is especially impressive. Mossberg says, “It feels natural, especially on a touch screen, and brings Windows into the tablet era.”

    Well, I won’t dispute the fact that the Modern UI looks nice, and runs smoothly. But Mossberg is still mindful of the landmines: “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.”

    You think?

    The schizophrenic nature of Windows 8 is so glaring that it’s strange that Microsoft doesn’t understand the havoc they wrought. This situation is quite different from the Classic Mac OS to OS X transition. Even when you ran Classic in its own app window under OS X, it still functioned like a Mac. Yes, OS X had notable differences in fit and polish, but the Mac fundamentals were still present and accounted for. Even though Lion and Mountain Lion incorporate features and apps derived from the iOS, the interface and usability changes are minimal in the scheme of things. Very little relearning is required.

    Here’s a telling example of where Mossberg apparently overlooks serious problems. He says “the new Mail app was disappointing.” Yes, especially if you have email accounts from services other than Microsoft and Google. On the preview versions, I could see no way to add other IMAP accounts from Polaris Mail, a business email hosting service, nor from other services to which I subscribe. There may be a secret handshake, or perhaps it was a limitation of the prerelease version, but it wasn’t there, and Mossberg says nothing about the problem.

    The other day, I attacked Microsoft’s decision to make such basic functions as printing more difficult. As with search, settings, and devices, the print function is buried in Charms, the Windows 8 control panel replacement that appears when you swipe in from the right edge, or click the hot spot in the upper right corner. Let me tell you it’s an awkward jump. Mossberg seems to love Charms.

    The other huge problem with Windows 8 is the emphasis on touch. If you have one of hundreds of millions of regular PCs with mouse and keyboard, you’ll discover that, “If you don’t have a touchscreen, Windows 8 will still work, but more clumsily.”

    So what’s the point?

    Understand that Microsoft’s earns a hefty portion of their profits from the enterprise. When businesses buy truckloads of PCs, Microsoft gets an OEM license fee for Windows on each and every sale. But the chance that most IT people would touch Windows 8 with a ten foot poll is slim to none. When Mossberg says that “Microsoft risks confusing traditional PC users,” he is understating the obvious. When a company has to retrain employees without any proven benefit to productivity, they will usually consider a less expensive alternative, or just do nothing. If the company is using Windows XP, the upgrade will be to Windows 7.

    For Windows 8 to succeed beyond the consumer market, Microsoft has to make the case for going all or mostly touch on a regular PC. It is definitely not the same as using the touchscreen on an iOS or Android mobile computer. Far from it. Having to jump from keyboard to screen on a traditional personal computer is not just an awkward process, it frankly doesn’t make much sense. That explains why tablets that were essentially convertible note-books have failed in the marketplace.

    Microsoft doesn’t get it. You’ll notice that even Microsoft’s Surface tablet emphasizes the use of a PC-style keyboard and putting the unit on a desk using the kickstand rather than just holding it on your hand, or on your lap.

    Mossberg’s effort to be a little too fair and balanced is best exemplified in the concluding paragraph of his review: “Microsoft deserves credit for giving Windows a new, modern, face. And the company will surely please existing users by maintaining the old one and the ability to run older apps. But the combination will require re-learning the most familiar computing system on the planet.”

    But the danger signs are obvious. Yes, loud and boisterous Windows 8 and Surface ads may attract a reasonable number of consumers. But for those who actually want to get real work done, productivity will just go out the window.

    So should we start talking about Windows 9 yet?



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    10 Responses to “Early Windows 8 Reviews: Understating the Obvious”

    1. Don108 says:

      Respectfully, for Microsoft there’s an enormous difference between consumers and users. There are two main groups of Microsoft consumers, the people who buy from them: manufacturers such as Dell and HP, and IT departments. Actual users who buy Microsoft products FROM Microsoft are small in number compared to their main customers. Users generally get Microsoft products when they buy (or are issued) a new computer (or the IT departments makes an upgrade).

      Microsoft doesn’t have to make their users happy, they just have to provide something NEW! NEW! NEW! to keep their customers happy (because users will buy new products or users will give IT departments job security by needing to call them regularly).

      • @Don108, Well, the question is whether Windows 8 will improve flagging PC sales. And also how many of their OEMs will be asked to downgrade their Windows installations to, say, Windows 7, which doesn’t help the cause.

        Peace,
        Gene

    2. ViewRoyal says:

      The Microsoft Surface television ad gives the impression that if you plan to use a Surface (or Windows 8), whether at home or work, you’ll need to learn to dance.

      Schools offering dance lessons are going to make a fortune! 😉

    3. Peter says:

      Here’s a telling example of where Mossberg apparently overlooks serious problems. He says “the new Mail app was disappointing.” Yes, especially if you have email accounts from services other than Microsoft and Google. On the preview versions, I could see no way to add other IMAP accounts from Polaris Mail, a business email hosting service, nor from other services to which I subscribe. There may be a secret handshake, or perhaps it was a limitation of the prerelease version, but it wasn’t there, and Mossberg says nothing about the problem.

      Okay, let me get this straight.

      On the preview versions (ie, not the release), you could find no way to add other IMAP accounts. Mossberg, who I rashly assume was using the RTM version, didn’t mention this.

      There are two possibilities:

      1. Walt Mossberg overlooked a serious problem.
      2. Microsoft fixed the problem.

      So the first theory is that Walt purposefully ignored a problem because…he’s part of the grand conspiracy and Microsoft paid him for good reviews because he’s a Microsoft shill! Yeah!

      Or there was no problem. No, that can’t be!

      Understand that Microsoft’s earns a hefty portion of their profits from the enterprise. When businesses buy truckloads of PCs, Microsoft gets an OEM license fee for Windows on each and every sale. But the chance that most IT people would touch Windows 8 with a ten foot poll is slim to none. […] If the company is using Windows XP, the upgrade will be to Windows 7.

      And Microsoft makes no money when businesses upgrade to Windows 7, right?

      For Windows 8 to succeed beyond the consumer market, Microsoft has to make the case for going all or mostly touch on a regular PC.

      Quick question: How are laptops selling compared to desktop PCs? You know, the laptops that have that little track-paddy touch thing? I’d say people are already pretty used to touch.

      And, of course, Nobody is making a touch device for Windows. Oh yeah…

      By the way, the hot new business strategy is that whole BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) thing. So today’s consumer machines are also business machines. So if you convince consumers to buy Windows 8 tablets, they can also be used as work machines. Y’know, like iPads and iPhones and such.

      That’s why the focus is on the consumer–well, that and the fact that it’s being released in October, a scant few months before the biggest consumer event of the year. You may have heard of it: Christmas. Or “The Holiday Season” if you’re one of those types. 😀

      Really, Gene. It’s not that difficult.

      • @Peter, In all due respect, your opinions are a little wacky.

        Your assumption that Mossberg, if he is wrong or if his review understates a problem, must be a Microsoft shill, is absurd. That’s a conclusion that has nothing to do with my article.

        I didn’t say Microsoft doesn’t still make money from Windows 7.

        Obviously, I didn’t say there are no touch devices for Windows. How would I be writing about the Surface?

        BYOD has its limits: If corporate IT people haven’t certified Windows 8, those who bring in their own laptops, for example, will be required to use Windows 7 if they want to connect to the corporate network. There is no app ecosystem yet for Windows RT, the ARM version, so the question of using one at the office is academic, unless the employee restricts themselves to email, Web browsing, or Microsoft Office. Or waits to see if there’s enough of a user base to attract a large number of developers.

        Microsoft still earns most of its Windows sales from OEM customers or large business licensing. If Windows 8 boosts sales, Microsoft gains. If sales remain in the doldrums as they are now, or grow worse because of resistance to Windows 8, Microsoft loses.

        Please no more assumptions without evidence please.

        Peace,
        Gene

    4. Peter says:

      Your assumption that Mossberg, if he is wrong or if his review understates a problem, must be a Microsoft shill.

      My assumption?

      Let’s try this again.

      You stated, above, “Here’s a telling example of where Mossberg apparently overlooks serious problems.” You then talk about how you can’t use an IMAP server other than Microsoft or Google Mail. You backpedal a bit with by saying, in essence, “Well, the issue was in a prerelease version, but Walt should have mentioned it!”

      Perhaps he didn’t mention it because it’s been fixed?

      But in your way of thinking, that’s impossible. No, Walt must have overlooked what is a serious problem.

      Please no more assumptions without evidence please.

      You first.

      You assume that there is no IMAP support in Windows 8 Mail. Yet here’s a review that states, “It’s worth noting that while Microsoft added IMAP support in a recent update […]” This was found with a Google search, “windows 8 mail app imap” and it was the first thing shown.

      Which basically proves what I was saying above: Walt didn’t mention it because there’s no problem.

      On to some of the rest of the things.

      You talk about how awkward it is to jump between keyboard and touch on a traditional PC with a keyboard and mouse. But remember that the majority of PCs being sold today don’t even have a mouse! They have a trackpad because, even in the PC realm, the majority of PCs being sold are laptops. And they have touchpads similar to the ones Apple has–they even support multi-touch! OS X Lion and Mountain Lion also support gestures. Have you tried using LaunchPad with a mouse? But it’s okay when Apple does it.

      One of the complaints I hear from people using the iPad is with the on-screen keyboard–it’s fine for quick messages but you wouldn’t want to use it for “real work.” Now I’m not sure I agree, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to spend my day standing around trying to type up that report on an iPad. If I could just sit down and use a real keyboard and have more screen real-estate to see what I’m doing, I’d be happier. But to your way of thinking, Microsoft “doesn’t get it.” You figure that people would rather stand around all day and lose half their screen to a keyboard rather than sit down and use a keyboard. Maybe for quick messages, but not for real work.

      • @Peter, Well, since I haven’t had access to a fixed version, I wouldn’t presume to tell you how well Windows 8 Mail works with IMAP accounts. When I do, I’ll have more to say.

        But I see you are changing the argument about Mossberg, so let’s move on.

        As to Lion and Mountain and gestures, those gestures are accomplished on a trackpad for a Mac notebook, or a Magic Trackpad or similar device for a desktop Mac. They aren’t done on screen. Guess you’re not familiar with Macs.

        Peace,
        Gene

    5. Steve says:

      It is ironic that optimal usage of desktop Windows 8 will involve a touchscreen, but at the same time they are heavily promoting the keyboard and kickstand for Surface.

      The keyboard and kickstand is a nice option for a tablet when you want to sit down and really write, but I do very little of it on my iPad (probably because I have a notebook computer for that.) I use and enjoy my iPad the most sitting on a couch, in bed, that sort of thing- that’s when the form factor really works.

      A final comment on the Surface ad- I guess in retrospect it’s not surprising that the ad shows little of the actual operating system, in the Surface press event they barely showed the OS either.

    6. Al says:

      Sit down and pretend to work on your desktop or laptop as you normally would. Now go through the motions of typing on the keyboard and occasionally reach up to the screen to perform touch gestures. Do those simulated touch gestures as frequently as you would normally use a mouse or touch pad.

      Now answer truthfully. Do you think you can reach out to the screen and bend your wrist up and backward that often without tiring of the (repetitive) motion? Would you rather stick with the trusty old mouse or touchpad?

      There’s your answer why this hybrid touch screen/keyboard user interface is going to be a flop. Apple probably went through the motions of testing it out, that’s why they concluded that touch gestures on a desktop or laptop are best implemented through a touch pad. MS on the other hand never bothers to even thing of those things.

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