Preston Gralla

Big backlash is building against Windows 8. Will Microsoft listen?

March 15, 2012 3:43 PM EDT
The Windows 8 Consumer Preview has been out long enough for people to try and get used to its dual Metro/Desktop interface. But the longer it's out there, the less people like it, and there's a backlash against the dual system from people ranging from normal users to engineers. Will Microsoft listen and fix the hybrid operating system?

Ex-Microsoft program manager Mike Bibik launched a broadside against the new operating system because of how difficult it is to use with a keyboard and mouse. He launched a site fixingwindows8.com to air his complaints. (Note: When I tried visiting the site today, it displayed only blank pages.) Among other complaints he has is this accurate one:

"Windows 8 just dumps you into the Start screen. No tutorial, no help icon on the main screen, nothing. This will be fixed by launch or Windows 8 will fail."
Bibik is on target. Most people who use Windows 8 on traditional computers rather than tablets will spend their time in the Desktop because that's where the apps they most use are, notably Microsoft Office, which won't run as a Metro app. Yet the Windows 8 Desktop is less useful than in previous versions because the Start menu and Start button have been taken away.

Metro and the Desktop are essentially two different operating systems incompletely bolted together. Sure, techies can figure out how to navigate between the two interfaces, but other people will have a hard time. If you need any evidence of that, you only need to look at a video that Chris Pirillo of Lockergnome made of his father trying to use Windows 8. His father accidentally sends himself to the Desktop and tries to get back to Metro, and is thoroughly confused. When he finds out that Microsoft puts out Windows 8, he asks his son: "They trying to drive me to the Mac?"

In fact, Windows 8 has driven at least one prominent tech journalist to the Mac. InfoWorld's Eric Knorr wrote a blog post, Why I'm finally switching to the Mac. After spending time with Windows 8, he wrote:

"After 22 years of using Windows for work, I'm opting for a Mac instead.

"All it took was a long look at Windows 8 Consumer Preview. In hindsight, I suppose that Microsoft's quest to combine a desktop and mobile OS into one was damn near impossible to begin with. But couldn't the company do better than what landed with a thud on Feb. 29? I was shocked, not only at the clunkiness of Metro on the desktop, but also at the disappearance of the Start menu -- a double-barreled fail."
I've noticed a split between reviewers of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Reviewers who were able to get their hands on Windows 8 on a tablet and reviewed that tended to laud the new operating system. Those who instead reviewed it on a traditional PC (like me), warned that it was difficult to use with a mouse and keyboard, and felt as if it were an uncomfortable kludge.

Microsoft needs to fix the problem before it ships Windows 8. There's no reason that an operating system should be identical on a traditional computer and a tablet. After all, Apple has done a superb of having Mac OS X and iOS share a common foundation and features, but be optimized for the different devices on which they run.

Microsoft needs to do the same. If not, it could have another Vista debacle on its hands.