Three Killer Problems That Threaten Windows 8

Brad Wardell, president and CEO of software company Stardock, recently said that the upcoming Windows 8 operating system is so severely flawed that it will hurt the PC experience and, therefore, PC gaming. How bad does he think Windows 8 is?

Since he’s using the preview version and runs a successful PC software company that also publishes some great games, we figure he’s a qualified expert. We asked him to explain. He obliged.

Here’s Brad:

Windows 8 has a lot of features to recommend it. It’s smaller. It’s faster. It’s smoother. However, it has three flaws that worry me a great deal.

#1 It’s schizophrenic. Is it a tablet OR a desktop OS? It tries to be both… and neither.

Let’s say you’re on the desktop and you want to load up Mass Effect 3 or Microsoft Word. You are expected to move your mouse to the bottom left, wait for a tile to be displayed, click on the tile. That action whisks you away from the desktop to the Metro environment where you can then look for those programs.

The Windows 8 experience involves jumping back and forth between the tablet environment (Metro) and the desktop. They have nothing in common. Metro’s task list won’t list desktop apps and the desktop won’t list recently active Metro apps. They’re separate and yet you have to use both.

#2 Forcing apps to be full screen is obnoxious. Imagine Notepad running full-screen with no border, no title bar, and no menu bar on a 21-inch monitor. That’s what a Metro text editor would be like to use.

Metro apps want to be full-screen. Always.

You can snap them to use 1/3rd or 2/3rd of the screen, vertically, but that makes usability even worse in most cases. Take your most common apps and resize them vertically as mentioned and tell us what you think of that.

Try getting any serious work done like this.

#3 It’s a usability nightmare. Let’s assume you can accept/adapt to items one and two. You’re adaptable. What’s the problem? Answer: The rest of the user base.

Less savvy users are in for some serious grief.

Nothing is visually discoverable. There are no visual cues. It’s all based on touch, which means for most users, moving the mouse moving around the screen until it finds an invisible hotspot.

There’s no Start button or Start menu on the desktop (unless you use a third-party utility like Start8 which is not going to be acceptable for corporate customers).

Multi-monitor user? Forget it. Metro doesn’t support multiple monitors, at least presently. Additional monitors can be the Windows desktop but Metro always reserves one monitor for itself.

Why are they doing this? I can’t think of any reason why they would do this — except for the hypothesis that they are obsessed with some group of users who would be better off with a tablet.

Take a look at Microsoft’s own promotional video. This isn’t a “one in a series” video. This is THE video promoting Windows 8 right now. What does that video tell you about Windows 8?

Other than three seconds at the tail end showing someone on the desktop, it’s all about using it as a tablet OS. I don’t mind Metro being included. I mind being forced to jump between it and the desktop to get anything done.

Move your mouse to the top left and swipe down. You get this list of things that are running.

This is the Metro version of Internet Explorer. How do you create another tab? No idea. Does it support tabs? No idea. Windows 8 also includes a traditional Internet Explorer too but you can’t easily switch between the two.

This is what one of Microsoft’s included Metro apps actually looks like when you first run it. That back button does nothing.

This is what Metro looks like on a system running a typical screen resolution.


Microsoft: You Can’t Party Like 1999 Anymore.

I’ve seen Windows 8 advocates say that if you don’t have a tablet you should just stick with Windows 7. I think a lot of people may do that.

But here’s the problem for Microsoft: This isn’t 1999 where they could ship a Windows ME type product and users had no real alternatives. 2012 is the year in which millions of users are using an iOS or Android device.

By the time Windows 8 is released, it’s going to be facing a market where displays are going start including AirPlay and/or Intel WiDi. That means mobile devices will be able to stream their output to large screens. Connect a Bluetooth keyboard, mouse, gamepad and suddenly that mobile device could become a real threat.

I’m a PC developer. I want Windows 8 to succeed. I have Windows games and software in development with releases dates far in the future. It’s a pretty big deal to us that Windows 8 not fail.

Lest you think I’m yelling about falling skies or preaching doom, let me say that I have great faith that between now and the time Windows 8 ships that someone at Microsoft will realise the peril they’re putting their flagship OS in.

Microsoft can fix these issues before Windows 8 ships. Don’t force users to jump around between Metro and the desktop. Allow users to live within a single, consistent environment if they so choose. All we need is for Microsoft to release a solid, non-crazy version of Windows 8.

Brad Wardell is president and CEO of Stardock. He’s been previewing Windows 8 for some time. Stardock is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. The company is the world’s largest Windows desktop customisation software provider with products like WindowBlinds, the Object Desktop suite, Object Dock, Fences and more. They also publish the hit strategy game Sins of a Solar Empire.

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