Some brief observations and opinions on the direction of Windows
I originally posted this as a comment on Facebook to a post by someone who tried out Windows 8 and didn’t like it. Unsurprisingly, I have opinions on this. I have also added some additional context in italics throughout the post.
The problem with Windows recently has been twofold: 1) computers have become ubiquitous, and therefore, the lowest common denominator of users has gotten lower and lower. 2) When the “average” user today is a lot dumber than the “average” user 10 or 15 years ago, and MS creates focus groups for features and UI, you wind up with a lot of people who have no prior context for MS/Windows UI and perhaps find things like the Office Ribbon and Metro (Windows 8’s new UI) to be more intuitive.
However, for the rest of us who have been using Windows as a matter of course since 3.x (or earlier), we’re forced into a completely new environment that has been so overly focus-grouped and idiot-proofed that it’s no longer a production tool; it’s a toy. It’s a Fisher-Price “My first operating system.” (To be fair, I also had these feelings about the UI shift from 3.x to Windows 95, and I got over it, so take that as you will.)
I’ve been ok with some of this up until this point because even in Windows 7, I can customize my functionality into a desktop that doesn’t work terribly differently (from a usability standpoint) than any other Windows environment since Win95. However, with what I’ve seen of Windows 8 (and I will admit I have only seen demos and reviews and haven’t had hands-on time with it), the traditional desktop functionality has been shunted into what feels like a development ghetto in favor of something “simple” and colorful. And it looks like it works great in a tablet/mobile environment– it’s possibly one of the most powerful ones out there–and takes into account a lot of problems that exist when a touch screen is your primary input and mitigates or eliminates many of them. But that doesn’t translate to desktops or laptops meant as business tools, and despite predictions to the contrary since the release of the first luggable, the desktop is not going away. (In fact, I am typing this on a desktop I built fairly recently.)
I predict that Microsoft’s mobile and desktop OSes will fork again after this iteration. Windows 8 is not something I can see being widely adopted in stuffy, enterprise environments (and like it or not, that’s still their primary customer base). This will become evident, and they will correct course.