Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Windows 8 - Good or Bad?

I have been using windows since, well, since it started really. Here is a brief history of Windows as I see it.

I've used Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, but I try and forget about that.

Windows 95 was a revelation, a real boost into a modern OS compared to DOS and at the time MacOS and OS/2 warp. Ah, those were the days. Actually, no they weren't. They all sucked - even at the time, for various reasons but mostly due to god-awful drivers and DLL issues. Just getting a printer or scanner to work might be days of your life gone.

Windows 98 fixed a lot of the problems with Windows 95, and for many people this was as good as an OS needed to be to actually make a computer useful. 

Windows ME was a joke. A bad joke. 

Windows 2000 was good though, but fairly business orientated due to it's windows NT heritage. Most home users stuck with 98. A lot of businesses ditched old NT domains for the new Active Directory in Windows 2000 and have been using an evolution of this since, as it scales well.
Windows XP was the next good, stable jump that a lot of people were hanging out for to upgrade from 98. Again, it made a lot of small improvements, and overall was a slick customer. It did well for both business and private sales. Many people still use Windows XP today, and see no reason to ditch this for something new - but probably will when the computer they are using finally dies.

Windows Vista took a long time to come out - too long - and was overbaked. They had ambitious plans for this OS actually, notably a reworked file system. This made sense on paper but in practice was too big a change to swallow. When Vista came out it looked ok, but was unstable and very resource hungry - and got a bad reputation with geeks from the start. It was telling that Microsoft sold XP licenses while Vista was on sale for a LONG time because, well, people actually preferred XP by quite a wide margin. Very few businesses took on Vista - most stuck with XP desktops.

Windows 7 came out on schedule and it was more the vision that Vista was going for. It was stable, modern, lowered system requirements and just seemed to work. The "Start" menu turned into a Windows ball, and applications got a bit more iconized in the taskbar, there is some transparency here and there, but more or less it was business as usual. People like Windows 7, in general, and so do I. Mostly because it works, I can find what I am looking for, it get's out of my face so I can get things done. It doesn't crash much either, truth be told. That's good.

So a recap of the good = 98, 2000, XP, 7

And the bad = 95 (well, it was ok), ME, Vista.

It's almost 50/50. This is all just my opinion mind you. You may love or hate one of the things in complete opposite to me. More power to you, I say - even if you are obviously wrong! Haha.
Anyway, and to the point of this post, I have been thinking about windows 8, and where this will fit into this somewhat patchy history of windows. In a nutshell, I think it's going to fall fairly heavily into the "bad" list, and I will explain why.

We have all been using personal computers for the better part of 15 years, or more, and gotten used to certain things. I work in businesses within the IT department, and I have supported literally hundreds of users with all manner of problems. Some people "get" computers, some don't, and I understand and accept this without judgement. 

Now here it the thing - Windows 8 throws out a lot (everything?) you have learnt over those years for a new user interface. I'm betting that for most people, who are naturally resistant to change, this will not go down well at all. Hell, I still hate the "Ribbon" interface in Office - and it's been there a while now. Why? Well, it was more or less change for changes sake, and it didn't improve anything really. Worse - screens have become very wide but not tall, so losing an inch of height is the wrong thing to do. I hate letterboxed documents. Ahem, I think I have gotten sidetracked a bit, but perhaps not much, as I think this does illustrate my point - which is that people don't like change and can sometimes be quite passionate about it.

There is another serious issue for Microsoft, and this is that there is more decent opposition these days. For a start, Apple is doing well and they are going to get a lot of migrating customers who are bewildered by the Metro interface. The premium on Apple hardware has come down somewhat, it uses more standard ports unlike days of old and has the cool factor. 

On the uber-geek side, and for the tinkerers and the penny pinchers is the all-free Linux. I have played with Ubuntu, for example, and once you get over the first few days it is pretty good. Firefox in ubuntu is EXACTLY the same experience as in windows. I will add that I dropped my Ubuntu dual boot when they changed UI a few versions ago though. Anyway, you can download the CD image and try it for free with no effect on your current hard drive - so why not try it (and open office - the free office replacement) and see if the free alternative is any good?

Time will tell how well Windows 8 will do. As it will ship with most new PC's, it will sell at least OK to start off. I think though that there will be a situation much like with Vista, where people DEMAND windows 7 licenses for the simple fact that they prefer it. Perhaps windows 9 (or whatever it will be called) will be the next good version to jump to, that would make sense from a historical perspective.

By the way, I get the concept that Windows 8 is an attempt to merge a phone OS, a table OS, a desktop OS. To get to this point, they have had to make a lot of compromises to deal with the massive variations in screen size and input devices/touch abilities. If windows 8 early reviews were all glowing positive about the change, then I would hold reservation - but the ones I have read have all had basic usability issues in just doing the simple things like opening a program,  changing some settings or organizing your files. This is not a good omen. They might pull a rabbit out of their hat before final release, but I'm not overly hopeful at this outcome.

Perhaps I'm just jaded because I am not remotely excited by Windows 8. I can think of 100 ways they could improve windows 7, and a lot of people would have been very happy about a new version like that instead.

Feel free to add your thoughts on this!