I know I’m putting myself out there with this article, but I’m doing it anyway. Folks, you need to stop freaking out about Windows 8. Just stop. I know, I know, at this point hating any new Microsoft product is an involuntary reflex. It’s like when the Dr. bangs on your knee with that little hammer and no matter how hard you try to control it, your lower leg swings out in front of you. Microsoft can barely get the message out about a new product and everyone is already screaming about what a disaster it’s going to be and how it sucks, and what chaos will result in the adoption of the new product. It’s happened with EVERY release of Windows, nearly every release of Office and pretty much any other application or service Microsoft launches.
Clearly there are examples of this sort of reaction being justified. Windows Me, Vista, and pretty much any version of Internet Explorer are great examples of horrible failures by Microsoft. Additionally in the last decade or three, Microsoft has had a tendency to be a little late to the party on trends and innovation. I’m here to tell you that Windows 8 is not one of these epic failures.
On a very practical side, Windows 8 does not fall into the category of Me and Vista due to the fact that Windows 8 actually works. I’ve installed it on a variety of machines, with and without touch screen, old machines, new machines, brand name machines, laptops, and home-built machines with no-name $49 motherboards and it works. It just works. Fires right up. My main PC in my home office is an old HP Xw4300 with a Core 2 Duo processor and 3 GB’s of RAM. Installed in 15 minutes and connected to my 2003 Domain controller, drives mapped, scripts ran, etc… All my devices worked with my existing Windows 7 drivers, or if the Windows 8 specific driver was available I tried to use that. Office, all the games I play, new and old, fired right up. Couple of tweaks here and there with resolutions, regarding dual monitors, but it just worked. Every PC I’ve installed Windows 8 on works. I could not say the same thing about Me or Vista… heck even Windows 7 didn’t go that smoothly at first. This is why, from a practical stand point, Windows 8 is not in the category of epic failure. Windows 8 actually works.
From an innovation standpoint it’s also not a failure. What makes Windows 8 innovative is the coexistence, yet the complete separation of the tablet and PC functions and the ease at which a user can switch between the two. In fact, I’m not sure folks would even know when they are using one area vs. the other. All they know is that they can run their true desktop programs like AutoCAD , Photoshop, MS office and their browser of choice just like they normally would, but also be able to download and use all the goofy tablet/mobile device type apps that are popular without having multiple devices. Heck, if they want to have a mobile device they can, and it will look just like their PC does. That’s what is innovative about Windows 8 and again, it actually works.
Microsoft is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to innovation in comparison with its competitors. Microsoft currently has 92% of the desktop operating system market share. If Microsoft wants to change something 92% of the computer using population has to change with them. Unfortunately with 92% of the computer using population tied to any number of versions of software and operating systems Microsoft is on the hook to support generations of legacy products. When they don’t they face endless lawsuits and months of persistent bad press. When Apple decides to change something, or force everyone to buy something new, they are only dealing with a small 8% of the computer using population.
In the same way that Microsoft gets automatic criticism for everything they do, Apple gets automatic praise for everything they do. Apple is NOT in the habit of supporting legacy products and gets away with it. Apple makes significant changes to their Mac OS each time, and gets praise for it. Apple forces their customers into their world the minute they buy their first Apple product. Apple forces the use of iTunes to accomplish nearly every task, Apple adds/changes/removes features with each update and their users just go along with it. Apple releases and discontinues products in the same calendar year (sometimes in just a few short months) from when it was telling you it was the most advanced product on the earth. Apple users just take it, merely on the perception that they are part of some elite group, and pay unapologetically high prices just to be jerked around by Apple time and time again. Apple can somehow claim that they invented a technology that’s already been around for decades, and everyone believes them.
With Apple’s, can do no wrong, image in the world, it can afford to be more nimble with its devices. Also, somehow that 8% of the computer using population seems to be setting the trends and direction for products that 100% of the computer using population will use. Microsoft changes a font on one of the menus in Excel and headlines read “Microsoft’s new font choice is being linked to reduced productivity, eye strain and excess toner usage when printing documents”. Apple discontinues the 3rd generation iPad barely six months after releasing it and replaces it with the 4th generation that has a different connector on the bottom which renders all previously purchased accessories useless without really telling anyone, and the headlines practically read, “Apple users gleefully toss their six-month-old, $600 iPads and all their accessories into the nearest trash can on their way to stand in line to feast on Apple’s latest game changer as Apple marches forward with progress and innovation! ”, which turned out to be EXCATLY the same product as the 3rd gen iPad, but with a different connector on the bottom. No bad press, no public outcry, nothing - Just praise and acceptance. This is what makes Microsoft reluctant to innovate.
This time Microsoft did it right. They got onboard with the current tablet trend and took it a step in the right direction by making the same interface available on a user’s desktop computer, laptop computer, or mobile device. No one else is doing that. They also did THAT correctly. They didn’t abandon PC functionality, and they didn’t try to convince people that their tablet is going to replace their PC. They have both interfaces available on the PC. So if you want to use your PC like you always have, you can. If you want to operate in a tablet environment you can do that too. They are leaving the hardware to the hardware guys and therefore a device or devices that suits your specific need is likely available.
Microsoft is even marketing Windows 8 correctly this time. Taking the Apple approach, Microsoft’s commercials for Windows 8 and their Surface Tablet consist of trendy, in shape, people in impossibly modern looking offices dancing, tossing the tablet all over the place, and clicking keyboards into the bottom of the device implying that everything is super simple.
This mass hysteria is completely unwarranted at this point. People are so used to bashing and hating everything Microsoft puts out, that the current response is automatic. Microsoft could be releasing machines that literally print gold bricks and everyone would be screaming about what an inconvenience this has caused them. “What do you mean I still have to carry that heavy brick to the bank myself? I’m not buying it. Stupid Microsoft”. Everyone screamed and yelled when the “start button” was introduced with Windows 95, and now they are crying when Microsoft takes it way. Changing everything is celebrated when Apple does it, or a car company does it, or a presidential candidate runs on it, but when Microsoft changes something, you’d think Bill Gates himself punched each and every computer user in the face.
All the complaints I’ve heard regarding Windows 8 come down to one thing. Learning curve. That’s it. Learning how to do what you used to do in the new interface. Microsoft has been supporting Windows XP for 13 years now, and the whole idea of the “start button” for 18 years. Microsoft has caught flack for that too by being accused of not innovating. The same interface for 18 years, at some point, it’s going to change. This is that point.
Business users will have the hardest time, but it’s no different than anything else. You just learn the new interface and get used to it. Drives still map, GPOs still work, there’s still a desktop and you can still put icons on it, IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari all still work. Office 2003 and newer still works, printers and Adobe products all still work. At work I can still use my RS-232 ports for router and switch configs or my KeySpan USB adaptor on newer machines without serial ports. I can still install the remote server administration tools to manage my servers. At home I can still install my Arduino IDE and program microcontrollers with my FTDI module. Windows 8 works.
The big issue is the missing start button. It’s a big change, no doubt, and it does take some getting used to. Took me a week or so, and now when I’m using my windows 7 machines I find myself rarely using the start button and frankly missing the new menu system and search feature. One totally legitimate complaint regarding the new menu system is that you can’t control it with a GPO. This I completely agree is a problem that Microsoft will have to deal with. It’s a pretty big issue and I don’t have any great solutions for that other than Microsoft writing in some Windows RT controls into GPOs or developing a similar menu system that doesn’t run as part of the runtime environment that has controls in group policy. These are small but significant issues that I can see delaying a large scale roll out. On my summer project list is to install two Windows 8 machines into my environment that end users will actually use. I fully expect some challenges, but nothing that will be a show stopper.
I strongly encourage Microsoft to NOT dial back any features in their desktop operating system. It’s time for a change, it’s time for Microsoft to take a giant leap forward, to have a new look and feel, to embrace current trends rather than letting the other trendy brands do it. The touch screen era is the time to do it, and I’m glad Microsoft is finally making an effort to cut loose the dead weight and move forward. Windows 8 is the only Windows desktop operating system that has ever had the potential to really push Apple hard enough to the point where Apple might get desperate and screw up. Dialing back Windows 8 will show weakness and dilute what they are trying to do and should do.
Windows 8 is not the epic failure Me, Vista, and other products have been. It’s current, it’s consistent with trends, it’s innovative, it’s forward looking, it’s functional, it’s looks great, it balances backward compatibility with an insightful and smart attempt at accommodating the future and most of all – it works.