Microsoft are under pressure. Their once dominating operating system is experiencing threat from the overpowering strength of the tablet market. 66 million tablets were sold last year, slowing PC sales, and Microsoft have promptly realised they’ve got to do something about it. Their answer: Windows 8. An all new, redesigned operating system which is meant to be as fluid running on a desktop, as it is on a tablet. But will companies and general users adapt well to such drastic changes?
That start menu we’ve had on Windows since 1995, is gone for good, replaced by the ‘Metro’ UI (pictured right), which is currently a fundamental part of the Windows Phone 7 operating system. This interface, when on a tablet, does seem feature rich, productive, fluid, and very enticing but Microsoft hopes to make this a standard interface for all their devices, including desktops. It’s a gamble which Microsoft are willing to take, but will it pull off?
To start, let’s view the competition. Of course, much of this is Apple. Apple don’t take anywhere near the market share which Microsoft do for PC sales but are being seen making similar moves to create a more unified experience between devices. To make their desktop operating system, OS X, run in a similar way to iOS, their mobile operating system, they are transferring features, and UI elements, but nowhere near as much as Microsoft are. Apple’s Tim Cook has a good reason for this. Tablets and desktops are different things, and should not be merged.
“You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but you know those things are not going to be probably be pleasing to the user”
Apple don’t want to lose their userbase, like Microsoft are in danger of doing. Running the same OS on both sets of devices is not only too risky for Cook’s company, but also would not give the user experience they want.
Many people have expressed distaste in such drastic changes. Ex Microsoft programmer Mike Bibik recently spoke out against the software, telling us that it might be a shock for new users.
“Windows 8 just dumps you into the Start screen. No tutorial, no help icon on the main screen, nothing. This will be fixed by launch or Windows 8 will fail.”
He seems to be on point. There are so many gestures to learn, such as swiping from the side of the screen, or holding the cursor in a corner to bring up a different menu, which just aren’t clearly explained. If Microsoft wants Windows to become more simple, why add these sometimes awkward gestures, which are foreign to most users?
However, it seems those at Microsoft, the designers and engineers, are confident with their creation, and think that people will quickly become adept with the changes. This is because of the feature which allows users to switch back to the desktop and run standard applications, however this creates a sense of fragmentation. For example, there are two versions of Internet Explorer in the OS, one for the Metro UI and one for the desktop. These are two different processes, and switching between the two gets confusing. Also, the Metro UI version of the browser is adapted for touch, and therefore misses many features off of the full browser, so why is it included in the desktop version of the system? Third party developers will also be encouraged to build new, Metro apps to suit the OS, even if they already have a perfectly functional desktop app.
Sam Moreau, user experience director for Windows, disagrees, and told Gizmodo he thinks that Windows 8 uses the PC legacy “elegantly”.
“We designed a future model that didn’t have to leave the past at the same time.”
“To pass down the future at the same time and make it cohesive. And I think we did. I think we’ve made it elegantly and gracefully using the entirety of the PC’s legacy and potential at the same time in this design.”
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, calls this iteration of the OS the “dawning of the rebirth of Microsoft Windows”. It sure is a rebirth, but one that will come with a challenge. The challenge of transferring users.
It’s clear many people may feel that this upgrade is pretty, yet not essential and an unnecessary expense. PC World ran a survey with those who have used the Consumer Preview of the OS, and results were mixed. It showed a close to 50/50 split between those who were satisfied and unsatisfied. One person stated that they “hate the new user interface and the lack of a Start button” while another uses states: “I am blown away. The PC just became fun to use again,” informing us of diverse opinion. Many complain that even simple tasks are difficult, including shutting down which takes too many steps.
Which becomes the most common viewpoint only time will tell, as we wait for the fall release date.
In the mean time, tell us in the comments if you’re going to update and why, or why not. If you want to try it now, you can download the recently released ‘Release Preview’ here.
- Windows 8 Release Preview: Microsoft gets its apps together (zdnet.com)
- Dvorak: Windows 8 an unmitigated disaster; unusable and annoying; it makes your teeth itch (macdailynews.com)
- Windows 8: Why I’m struggling with Microsoft’s new thing (geekwire.com)
- Microsoft Windows 8 Release Preview – review (telegraph.co.uk)