In a recently-published blog entry, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen shares a detailed, fascinating account of his experience with Windows 8. While Allen seems to like the new OS overall, he does list several “minor” concerns, which could discourage ambivalent users from upgrading.
Allen says Windows 8 is an “evolutionary milestone” in the OS’s development, because it unifies Windows across multiple platforms. The new tablet features, Allen writes, are “bold and innovative,” and he is impressed with the OS’s “clever integration” of tablet and desktop functions into a single, bimodal interface.
Allen even finds Windows 8 to be snappier and more responsive than Windows 7.
However, Allen acknowledges that the new interface might confuse existing Windows users, especially since applications and files can be opened in both desktop mode and tablet mode and run simultaneously.
“Windows 8 does certainly require a brief adjustment period before users become familiar and comfortable with the new bimodal operating system,” Allen notes.
Windows 8 is designed to force users to navigate an unfamiliar interface. Instead of seeing the familiar Windows desktop when the operating system boots up, a new tiled start screen appears, similar to the screen found on Windows phones and tablets. You can get to the old desktop screen by clicking a tile on the start screen, but you can’t force Windows 8 to take you to the desktop by default – a quirk that bothers Allen.
“The goal must have been to encourage people to acclimatize to Windows 8 style immediately,” Allen writes. For users who don’t want to “acclimatize” themselves with the new interface, this design approach might look like an invitation to remain within the comfortable confines of Windows 7.
Allen also points out some less-than-intuitive elements. For example, the Charms bar – which includes a number of important tools such as search, start, settings, and devices – has no visual cues to inform the user how to display it. A similar absence of visual cues exists in apps that run under “Windows 8 style,” formerly known as Metro. While Allen finds closing a program on a tablet to be intuitive, doing so on a desktop is less so. To close a program on a desktop, the user must move their cursor to the top of the screen, wait for it to turn into a hand, and then use it to drag the application window to the bottom of the screen.
Windows 8 also suffers from some obvious oversights: there’s no clock on the start screen. Also, to reach power functions (sleep, shutdown, restart), users have to go through two steps instead of one.
Allen’s conclusion: “Desktop PC users, with only minor tweaks and adjustments, should be able to pick things up without much trouble. I am sure most the [sic] minor issues I pointed out will be addressed in the next release of the operating system.”
In other words, users may be better off waiting for SP1 to drop before they dip their toes into the waters of Windows 8.
John Mello writes on technology and cyber security for a number of online publications and is former managing editor of the Boston Business Journal and Boston Phoenix. Disclosure: He also writes for Hewlett-Packad's marketing website TechBeacon.