I've been using Windows 8 since the release of the Developer Preview. I feel comfortable enough with the OS and with the hardware it runs on that I feel I have a valid opinion of Microsoft's latest desktop operating system.
After a leaked version showed up all over the place, Microsoft yesterday acknowledged that something called "Windows Blue" exists. I'm not happy with Windows 8, and I'm hoping that Windows Blue makes it better.
However, I'm not going to hold my breath. Windows 8 has some serious issues that scream at you when you pop the top on the "retail box:"
- Dueling interfaces — There's more than one, and they don't mix together well at all.
- Modern UI vs. desktop mode — You're going to use desktop mode more than you're going to use Modern UI, no matter what Microsoft wants. Few Modern UI apps exist yet.
- Touch on a non-touch PC sucks — a touch pad can't substitute for a touch screen.
Now, don't get me wrong, Windows 8 doesn't completely suck. It's fast and stable, but Modern UI leaves a lot to be desired. This is one of the reasons why I was hoping Windows Blue might correct things and get back into the existing computing paradigm. It doesn't. Windows Blue further refines Modern UI. It isn't a UI redesign.
According to my good friend Paul Thurrott of The Windows Supersite, the release of Windows Blue sheds a great deal of light on the strategic direction Microsoft is taking Windows in; and it involves the complete elimination of the classic Windows desktop.
To quote Paul, "Microsoft still sees the touch-centric Metro environment as the future of mainstream computing."
So, Microsoft wants to eliminate the desktop. It sees this as a serious goal, and one that it wants to begin accomplishing with Windows 8 and Windows Blue. The problem is that there are literally millions of desktop apps that would need to be converted to Modern UI. That's not going to happen quickly, and right now, the Windows 8 software store is comparatively empty when you look at competing ecosystems. The apps that are available there aren't very good and don't provide the value that legacy desktop mode apps do.
BYTE Editorial Director Larry Seltzer doesn't buy into this "death of the desktop" stuff. Click here for his take.
The recent update to some of the Windows Essentials apps -- Mail/Calendar/People, Messages, Travel -- initially was made available March 26. If you haven't already, you can grab these "Blue-level" updates now through the Windows Store App, ahead of the full Windows Blue release, scheduled for later this summer. However, you need to be aware of something there, too:
- PIM apps lose functionality — Google is removing the ability to create new Google Sync connections on free accounts. (Don't assume it will stop there.) This means that non-Android users will have to switch from the robust Exchange ActiveSync to IMAP (for email), CalDAV (for calendar) and CardDAV (for contacts). These protocols aren't as rich and users will get inferior service, but this is more Google's fault than Microsoft's.
- Enhancements reinforce Modern UI — but this shouldn't be a big surprise. Microsoft wants everyone to spend more time here, so it's trying to make it more appealing. I don't have problems with the apps or the functionality -- I just don't like the flat, retro UI. It's not "modern" at all, really.
The improvements to Windows Blue, which include enhancements to Modern UI beyond the apps such as better Settings, Charms, etc., tighten the interface, certainly, but the hope that some of us had that Microsoft had done another about-face with Windows 8, as it did with Office 2013 licensing, isn't going to happen. It appears as though Modern UI is here to stay, and that Microsoft will continue to muddle the tablet and desktop interfaces together until the desktop can completely be phased out and either replaced with Modern UI or something else.
Unfortunately, this has me feeling blue -- but not for the reasons Microsoft was hoping for.