Year in Review, 2012: Windows 8 Fiasco

Microsoft made a colossal error this year, releasing an OS based on the premise that people wanted a single user experience across tablet and desktop. Microsoft mistakenly identified the popularity of iOS/iPad as demand for a new UI paradigm on the desktop. Not so: the iPad is popular because its a great complement to the traditional desktop — not because people want to replace their desktops with it.

Desktop and tablet use cases are different and complementary, and attempting to cram both into the same OS creates lousy experiences for either. To put it another way, a traditional desktop (be it Windows 7 or OSX) and a tablet OS work together to give users a complete computing package. Each gets used at different times and places depending on the setting and task at hand. Key thing here is that each will have clear cases where it is the best option (i.e.: tablet for Netflix, desktop for web development).

What Windows 8 has done is muddied the waters between tablet and desktop OSs, and created something that’s the worst of both worlds. Now, tasks that are clearly “desktop” oriented (like web development) are a pain in the ass to do, because they’re saddled with tablet features.

Apple gets it. They have clearly delineated lines between mobile and desktop. And, they’ve done a good job of identifying the parts of the mobile experience that can be integrated into the desktop environment without compromising its utility (App Store, Siri). Windows 8 is equivalent to Apple discontinuing OSX and putting iOS on all of its desktops – which I don’t think anyone could ever imagine Apple doing.

What Microsoft could have done is created three pillars of OS: phone, tablet, and desktop. They could be integrated via Microsoft’s suite of online services (SkyDrive, etc.) and run on the same kernel while retaining the interface elements that make sense for each.

I think at some level, Microsoft knows all of this already. That’s why there’s a ridiculous Windows 7 Desktop App in Windows 8, in which the vast majority of my applications run. Shouldn’t the inclusion of this have been a big warning flag? Maybe it was. Microsoft had some notable executive turnover immediately after the Windows 8 launch.

The most frustrating thing about Windows 8 is that when you’re not fighting the user interface to try and get things done, it appears to be a great product: its fast and stable, and apparently has lots of under-the-hood improvements that make it a technologically superior product to Windows 7. All of that is lost on me, however, as I’m just generally annoyed by the whole thing.

 

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