How Microsoft can succeed with Windows 8

So I got a new Macbook pro with retina display and along with the upgrade to Mountain Lion (I’ll write another article on that experience later), I also upgraded my Parallels virtual machine and Windows system as well. For my current work environment, I was still using Windows XP for the most part and at home I had a Windows Vista system that I really used only to test things in IE 9. I had seen several folks with Windows 7 and it seemed that Microsoft had worked out most of the problems with Vista with that version. Although I never really had many problems with Vista as I did not have any peripherals I needed to connect.

I think it is obvious that with this new version of Windows, Microsoft is looking to not just gain ground on Apple and Google, they are looking to bypass them. Unlike the muddled failure that Vista was, where most problems were hardware compatibility and a few usability issues, this time around the problems are hardware utility and perhaps some major usability issues.


Quite honestly I was interested in the new UI formerly known as Metro. Through the rough years when Apple’s OS 7-9 UI really got long in the tooth, there were many things I liked about Windows UI. Probably the most significant were the start menu and the minimize/maximize window controls. So I was eager to see and play around with the revolutionary UI of Windows 8. The installation in Parallels was easy and it booted right up. Then the confusion began. I had problems activating the control bar on the right side. Even when I was in full screen mode, the UI was just obtuse. Icons with no labels, labels that were unclear, the UI switching from the touch UI to the desktop for no clear reason, and no apparent way to figure things out. Sometimes I was stuck trying to figure out how to get back to something that was in the Touch/Start UI and something that was on the desktop. It made no sense.

So the number one recommendation I humbly suggest is for MS to only enable the Start/Touch UI for devices that have touch screens. Otherwise, make the desktop the default for all installs. I know this is not groundbreaking advice. Others have pretty much called for the same. The world is simply not ready or caring to have a touch UI for a mouse controlled device. Also losing reference to the file system is confusing as well. Yes, users are also confused by double click, and where downloaded or saved files go in the current systems, but for all the users who understand these interactions, forcing them to the Touch UI is a pain.

Microsoft did a tremendous amount of good work on the architecture of Windows making it more secure than ever, but trying to force an incongruent experience for existing users leaves many scratching their heads and frustrated. The Start/Touch UI makes things that are easy on a desktop convoluted. Having multiple apps and windows open is quite common and preferred for desktops with 20+ inch screens. This is simply annoying to do in the Start/Touch UI.

I think if MS were to make this change and allow users to have the desktop UI as the preferred UI for non-touch devices that will open the door for faster adoption. In a way it is frustrating to see an otherwise great company take the same approach as Apple with trying to force users to just do things their way because they think it is better for them. This is what many people complain the most about Apple. Especially, those who need to be as productive and efficient with their work on a computer as possible. Forcing users to change their workflow is going to antagonize them unless it is absolutely crystal clear the benefit of the change. So my final advice is don’t try to be like Apple, beat them by solving the fundamental problems novices have without sacrificing the power and control that experts need.

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