Confusing Surrounds Upcoming Windows 8
October 21, 2012

Do Early Reports Of User Confusion Spell Doom For Windows 8?

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

Windows 8, which boasts the biggest overhaul to Microsoft's venerable operating system in nearly two decades, is set to be released in less than a week. Early reports suggest it may not be the panacea the ailing technology giant had been banking on.

Users who have had access to early preview versions of the program have called Windows 8 "difficult to get used to," "weird," and like "a tablet operating system that Microsoft managed to twist and shoehorn onto a desktop," according to an October 19 article by AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson.

Svensson himself says that consumers planning to switch from existing versions of Windows to the new OS are "in for a shock" and will find themselves forced "to learn new things to get things done."

"Microsoft is making a radical break with the past to stay relevant in a world where smartphones and tablets have eroded the three-decade dominance of the personal computer," the AP reporter said. "Windows 8 is supposed to tie together Microsoft's PC, tablet and phone software with one look. But judging by the reactions of some people who have tried the PC version, it's a move that risks confusing and alienating customers."

That's not what Microsoft wants to hear about their new, touch-screen friendly version of Windows, especially in light of reports from USA Today and others that the company reported their third-quarter profits had dropped 22%.

Of course, USA Today's Matt Krantz said that slumping PC sales and increasing demand for tablets was to blame for that, so perhaps there is hope for a rebound on the strength of a more tablet-friendly OS like Windows 8.

"The question," according to Svensson, "is whether the new version, which can be run on tablets and smartphones, along with the traditional PC, can satisfy the needs of both types of users."

After all, most current desktop and laptop owners will not be able to take advantage of all of Windows 8's new features, which require screens or monitors capable of multi-touch input in order to work in their entirety. Not to mention the fact those who grew up with how Windows has worked over the past two decades or so could find themselves lost thanks to some rather striking changes.

"Instead of the familiar Start menu and icons, Windows 8 displays applications as a colorful array of tiles, which can feature updated information from the applications," Svensson explained. "For instance, the 'Photos' tile shows an image from the user's collection, and the 'People' tile shows images from the user's social-media contacts."

"The tiles are big and easy to hit with a finger -- convenient for a touch screen. Applications fill the whole screen by default -- convenient for a tablet screen, which is usually smaller than a PC's. The little buttons that surround Windows 7 applications, for functions like controlling the speaker volume, are hidden, giving a clean, uncluttered view," he added. "When you need those little buttons, you can bring them out, but users have to figure out on their own how to do it."

Traditionalists, especially those who rely on a keyboard and a mouse, may be put off by the changes.

"I actually think the Windows 8 UI looks good. While the app-centric design is a little too consumer-oriented for my tastes, there are many potential business uses in changes like SkyDrive integration," InformationWeek's Kevin Casey said. "Beyond the UI, InformationWeek readers have also pointed out some compelling reasons why they're excited for Windows 8, such as improved dual monitor support, Storage Spaces, and under-the-hood improvements."

"People can learn a new UI. That's a solvable problem. What's less clear is why I would use an OS that is clearly designed for tablets and other touch-screen devices when I'm not using one of those devices," he added. "I like the touch interface on my phone; it also makes sense on tablets. I don't get it on the PC. I'm sure over time, more and more people will use touch-screen PCs or laptop-tablet hybrids that include keyboards, particularly once retail stocks are replaced with Windows 8 hardware. But I'm reasonably skeptical that touch PCs will have the same sweeping impact as smartphones and, to a lesser extent, tablets."

As Casey points out, Windows 8 can be used with a keyboard and a mouse, and many of the settings can be altered to more closely resemble previous versions of Windows, complete with the old-school Start button that the Microsoft faithful have come to know and love.

Even so, he says, "the QWERTY crowd is better off sticking with Windows 7 for now."