Software // Operating Systems
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8/18/2014
08:06 AM
Jeff Bertolucci
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Windows 8.1: 8 Things I Hate About You

Latest version of Windows 8.1 beats its predecessors, but oh those grating quirks.
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Is Microsoft's Windows 8 experiment drawing to a close? Recent reports claim the next major release of Windows, code-named "Threshold" and expected to arrive as early as next spring, may bring good news to those who hate the colorful, tile-laden Modern interface, the operating system's most notable and controversial feature since arriving in 2012. In fact, the Modern UI may go away altogether, at least on conventional desktop and laptop PCs without touchscreens.

Win 8's touch-oriented Modern UI, which Microsoft bolted on top of a crippled edition of the venerable Windows desktop, has never caught on with Redmond's enterprise clients, many of whom are either sticking with Windows 7 or are still in the process of upgrading from Windows XP. In a recent blog post, Gartner analyst Stephen Kleynhans wrote that his research firm expects most organizations to bypass Windows 8 altogether, leapfrogging from Windows 7 to a "future version of Windows (perhaps Windows Threshold or even a release after that)."

To be fair, Microsoft has improved Windows 8 over the past 18 months. Windows 8.1, for instance, brought back a less-capable version of the Start button. It was missing from the original version of Win 8, much to the consternation of befuddled upgraders who couldn't seem to find their apps on the new Start screen. A second Windows 8.1 upgrade soon followed. Released just four months ago, it offered more interface tweaks designed to make the OS a bit more palatable to the mouse-and-keyboard crowd.

But even with these changes -- some of them quite good, in fact -- Windows 8's inherent clunkiness shows through. It seemed an ambitious, if misguided, attempt to build a single UI for touch tablets, conventional PCs, and hybrid devices.

If the rumors of Threshold are true, it appears that even Microsoft realizes it's time to pull the plug on Window 8's dual-interface design, or at least relegate it to a niche market and give PC users what they've wanted all along: a faster, better, more secure version of Windows 7.

For some time now, critics have derided Windows 8 as Microsoft's "New Coke," a snarky reference to Coca-Cola's ill-fated 1985 decision to change its cola recipe. Public backlash was so great that Coca-Cola executives soon backpedaled, reintroducing "old" Coke, and eventually dropped New Coke altogether.

But Windows 8 isn't New Coke. It's pretty good, actually, but only on a tablet where its touch-oriented design shines. With a keyboard and mouse, however, it blows. Microsoft shouldn't junk the Modern UI, but rather relegate it to mobile devices where it belongs.

That said, here are eight notable annoyances of Windows 8.1.

Jeff Bertolucci is a technology journalist in Los Angeles who writes mostly for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, The Saturday Evening Post, and InformationWeek. View Full Bio

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OldITGuy
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OldITGuy,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2014 | 3:42:48 PM
Windows 8
Doesn't Microsoft have a history of alternating good and bad releases?   NT got replaced by 2000 which was not well received.   2000 got replaced by XP which was (is) very successful.   Vista replaced XP and flopped.   Windows 7 successfully replaced Vista, so Microsoft was due to release a dud.   Perhaps Threshold will continue the trend and be an excellent OS.
cafzali
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cafzali,
User Rank: Moderator
8/18/2014 | 3:22:23 PM
Re: the wisdom of a single interface
@OldNHMan I completely agree about testing and it's not like Microsoft doesn't do it, which makes some of their choices ever the more baffling. 
OldNHMan
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OldNHMan,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2014 | 3:07:22 PM
Re: the wisdom of a single interface
@cafzali, While my comments were targeted primarily at Microsoft, my experience with UI's covers a wide range of equipment.

One of my company's biggest competitors came out with a new version of a piece of test equipment that performed better than anything we or other competitors had at the time, but it didn't sell because the UI was so poorly designed it was difficult to use. A user shouldn't have to open the user manual just to figure out how to turn it on, should they?

While our equipment didn't meet or beat its performance by any means, it was easy to use because the UI was designed to make it so. A novice could get the equipment up and running in a few minutes and start testing shortly after that without the need to break out the user's manual.

Our competitor finally figured out its UI was terrible and fixed it, though it still wasn't as user friendly as it might have been. After that they started selling units, though overcoming the stigma of being difficult to use still stung them for quite a while.


Any OS or piece of equipment or whatever should always have been "usability tested", meaning give the new UI to both experienced users and newbies. If it's a struggle for either group it needs to be fixed. If it's a struggle for both, it needs to be scrapped and started from scratch.
cafzali
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cafzali,
User Rank: Moderator
8/18/2014 | 2:48:57 PM
Re: the wisdom of a single interface
@OldNHMan I completely agree with the sentiment of your post. Only thing I would add is that Microsoft isn't the only company that does this. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's rampant in the technology industry. 

Apple thinks of itself as the king of design, yet there have been many aspects to their products that I've personally not found intuitive. That's because, in my opinion, they go overboard in thinking about design and don't think enough about intuitive design. It's almost as if they've gotten people to proudly wear this badge of courage once they figure out how to use their products. 

Now, in terms of functionality and reliability, Apple products are great. 
OldNHMan
IW Pick
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OldNHMan,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2014 | 2:29:36 PM
Re: the wisdom of a single interface
The biggest problem Microsoft has is they they don't really understand human nature, particulaly in regards to some conventions when it comes to user interfaces.

I deal with UI's in my job as a design engineer and it never ceases to amaze me just how bad some of them are. Oh, they look pretty but the learning curve for using them can be steep, even with experienced users. That sours the user experience with otherwise great equipment and it doesn't sell well. And so it is with Microsoft.

The first inkling that major changes in their UI came with Office 2007/2010. Users with years of experience with previous versions of Office had to spend a lot of time trying to figure out where functions they used on a regular basis had been moved to or whose functionality had been changed. If experienced users have trouble using something with a "New and Improved!" user interface, then the new UI is a failure. A Ui us supposed to make things easier, not harder.


When Windows 8 came out my first thought was "Why are they using a tablet interface on a PC?" Nothing was easy to do or easy to find. It was such a major shift in UI that many abandoned it and went to using Win 7. If you're going to change an interface, make changes that ease use of an already good interface. Add some functionality, make other tasks easier, and include some customization. Small changes are easier to deal with, particularly with experienced users. Over time the shift can be made to a 'new' interface.


Just because some coder or techie somwhere thinks an entirely redesigned UI is great doesn't mean the other 99.99% of users will agree. More often than not they won't. Changing a UI for change's sake is never a good idea. Change them to correct a deficiency or to add some function that didn't exist before. Don't change it because "It's cool!"
JohnReagan
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JohnReagan,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2014 | 2:16:08 PM
Re: What Microsoft doesn't get.
Presuming you don't have an Android Phone, which allows for desktop folderrs. I find 5 screens of Apps sufficient for cellular use anyway.
Mark532010
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Mark532010,
User Rank: Strategist
8/18/2014 | 1:39:11 PM
Re: the wisdom of a single interface
Most of the problems are anoyances but really do annoy.

The review doesn't even mention non-UI related things, like the removal of backup, the inability to fully uninstall apps (they only uninstall for the current person, to actually uninstall you have to use powershell) or the inability of TileWorld apps to access network drives.

One UI thing not mentioned is the dissapearance of the UI when in "TileWorld" (great name!) My wife recently accidentally started a full screen app and had to wait for me to come home to figure out how to get out of it. I showed her how if she ran the mouse up to the upper right corner and waited for a couple of seconds a "close X" would appear or a desktop tile in the upper left, she said "how would I have ever known that an invisible thing would appear? am I supposed to run my mouse around the screen randomly hoping something nonsensical would happen?"

As for the start screen...In my case, by constant (and manual) pruning, I have got the start screen to the point where I can use it..but what a waste! Microsoft really wanted to force people to dump desktop - no way to add desktop apps easily, there are no tools for managing the tiles - how hard would it have been to make a wizard that adds the primary .exe to the main start screen and all the readme's/uninstallers/etc. to the "full apps" screen...there is not even a converter for the details and multi-select items in the games-explorer - In their drive to try and capture some of the "iPad market" it really seemed like Microsoft just wanted to ignore the rest of us completely.

 
Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
8/18/2014 | 1:38:28 PM
Re: What Microsoft doesn't get.
And I still miss Windows 3.1 program groups, especially on my smartphone.
JohnReagan
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JohnReagan,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2014 | 1:28:32 PM
What Microsoft doesn't get.
What Microsoft doesn't understand is that the operating system is supposed to be a 'flawless' means of finding and running programs..It isn't supposed to be an artform that exists to be pretty and flashy...Just an interface, nothing more. ...Gee, I miss DOS.
wfmkelly
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wfmkelly,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2014 | 1:12:03 PM
Windows 8 and Skype
Another Huge Problem with Win8 - if you're a skype user whether business or personal - FORGET IT!!

 

When will they get their act together......
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