Hans D. Baumeister

Hans D. Baumeister

Windows 8 - What a Disaster

My wife bought a new laptop recently. She was a bit shocked to find that you can’t buy a laptop anymore with Windows 7 on it - they simply aren’t on offer.

So Windows 8 is what she is stuck with. I had the appealing job of getting the thing configured and up and running. If you’ve read previous blog entries, you’ll know that I’m not one of Redmond’s biggest fans (and I don’t mean the city, folks), even though I have to admit that Windows 7 was an improvement on XP (Vista, after all, isn’t an operating system. If you want to read about disease, check a medical website).

I wasn’t prepared for Windows 8, quite honestly. I’d seen it used by my contact at Microsoft when it first came out. He did, however, have a touchscreen laptop. My first impression has stuck: what a load of crap. Microsoft really outdid themselves in alienating just about every user with possible exception of those that are religiously motivated and have elevated the ex-Gates-company to demigod status.

I should be happy - after all, I own Apple stock (which certainly won’t decline due to Windows 8 being out there), but having become the designated “admin” for this abomination of a GUI, I suffer.

A few examples:

1.
Feedback
Because the touchpad just of this (plastic-case) laptop just isn’t on par with my MacBook Pro one, I plugged in a USB mouse. Mind you, it wasn’t one of those “42-button-jobbers” where the wheel doesn’t just rotate but also clicks down and left and right. I would have accepted (not expected!) some difficulty in getting a driver installed. This was a €7 mouse with the most basic of functionality. What happened when I plugged the rodent in?

Nothing!

For minutes on end, nothing happened. Not a single message, status bar or other indication, that the device was even alive (the LED on the bottom was on, though, so at least it had juice). After a good two minutes, all of a sudden, the thing worked. No message telling you that whatever Windows 8 had been doing was finished and that you could use the mouse.

In fact, Windows 8 doesn’t tell you very much at all about what it is and isn’t doing. Ok, Windows has always had some issues with progress bars and the lot (remember those funny ones telling you a certain operation would take about 3 x 10E15 minutes?), but this silence is oppressive!

It starts when you boot up the computer by presenting you with a black screen for quite some time (while, I presume, the OS is starting in the background). You don’t know wether the thing has crashed, has turned itself off or what is going on until, all of a sudden, it presents a happy, colorful screen with the Seattle Space Needle (what, doesn’t Redmond have a landmark?) and some rolling hills. Now what? No idea!

Another example: after taking quite some time on figuring out how to get to the (Windows XP-looking) Control Panel, I wanted to use it to delete the users that had been added (see bottom for the reason why). You’re presented with old-style dialogs (that don’t fit with the new look and feel at all), but when you click the final “OK” to delete the user and all their files, nothing happens. The button doesn’t even react. No rotating hour glass, no status bar, nothing. Then all of a sudden, Win 8 is done and relinquishes control.

What, are you trying to cater to the I’ve-never-used-a-PC crowd here, Microsoft? Do you think they appreciate not getting any sort of feedback from actions they have taken (or possibly not taken)? Do you really think they will be going out to buy a Windows 8 device of any sort? Sorry, Microsoft, those people bought an iPad long before you came out with your unloved Surface tablet!

I very much doubt that more than 10% of regular windows users are happy or willing to switch to this disastrous GUI.

2.
IMAP
The age of POP is long gone, I thing most people that know what it is would agree. With the plethora of devices that people use every day to read their mail, retrieving it from the server to a single device just isn’t sensible.
IMAP has been around since 1986 and is a really stable technology. It lets you keep your emails on a server and read and delete them from multiple devices. Pretty cool, really.

Would you believe that Outlook 13 doesn’t support IMAP anymore? Aside from the preferred Exchange or Office 360 accounts, Outlook 13 (which, folks, is made for Windows 8) only supports POP for send/receive. You can add a send-only account for “accounts that can’t use POP”. I have no idea if this means IMAP, but what the heck am I going to do with a send-only email account? Sounds like the right tool for a spammer, but not for a regular user.

3.
GUI
Folks, I’m open-minded - really, I am. I’ve used lots of different operating systems with different GUIs, but I’ve never come across something so inconsistent as the Windows 8 GUI. You aren’t guided as a user, you have to learn it. What good is a modern GUI if you have to read a manual to use it?

I hate to do this, because it’ll make me seem biased (again), but if you look at the iOS GUI, you’ll find that there is built-in guidance (at least for apps that follow the GUI guidelines) on how to use the interface and applications built on it. You know intuitively, how to get to the settings for a particular app and you know what to expect when you do a certain action (like tapping on a button or swiping something). Yes, there are apps out there that don’t work this way, but most of them do. I’ve seen octogenarians getting into using iOS. I don’t have to tell you what happens when you hand an iPad to a toddler - there is plenty of videos on YouTube that show you just how user-friendly iOS is.

I wonder what would happen if you handed a Surface tablet (which uses the same interface) to a child. Chances are, it would toss the thing in a corner quite quickly, highly frustrated by its illogical interface.

What really kills me about the new GUI though, is the fact that you’ve got age-old settings dialogs that pop up (after you learn for 1/2h on how to get to them from an online manual), reminiscent of Windows 2000. Probably haven’t changed since then. It’s just such a mixed bag of elements and styles that it is bound to be a failure.

4.
The Church of Microsoft
“Thou shalt not downgrade if though aren’t worthy!” That’s the message, folks. If you read about this topic on blogs and in articles, you’ll find that the majority of the Windows 8 jaded have tried to get back to something halfway usable.

Apparently, MS only permits a downgrade to Windows 7 for “Windows 8 Professional” licenses. If you have a “Windows 8 Home Pro” (or whatever its called), you’re SOL. Okay - a long shot, but: I finally found a screen that would tell me, amongst other things, what Windows version was installed. Guess what I found there? “Windows 8”. Great. No shit, sherlock.

I’ve checked several articles on downgrading and all indicate unisono, that MS has done a great job of making this as hard as possible...

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We’re now planning to either return the laptop and try to find one with Windows 7 on it or to get it downgraded. I’ll keep you posted.
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