Saturday, January 31, 2015

Windows 10: Re-Crappifying Windows 8

Lukas Mathis:

Windows 8 was a bold attempt to fix this, and to throw out much of that accumulated debris. And, surprisingly, it has worked to a pretty respectable degree. Windows 8, particularly when running Metro apps, is an operating systems that is much simpler than any other desktop OS. And Windows 8, unlike iOS, has managed to achieve this without losing much, if any, of the power of a traditional desktop operating system.


Windows 10 shows that Microsoft has lost that courage, pummelled into submission by the same kinds of vocal users who, back in the 80s, decried Windows itself, and demanded that people keep using DOS. In hindsight, I doubt anyone still thinks that this would have been a good idea.


But instead of fixing the things that are genuinely wrong with Windows 8, and providing some additional amenities for people who came from earlier versions of Windows, and improving the experience on mouse-driven systems, Microsoft took away many of the things that made Windows 8 work, and brought back Windows 7’s UI clutter wholesale.

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I find myself generally agreeing with most of Lukas' writing, but thought this one might miss the point. (A caveat is that I speak as a mostly non-Windows user, who only very occasionally fires up W7 in VMWare.)

Lukas is writing from a touch-screen user perspective, and seemingly most of the change he objects is an attempt to re-make things better for keyboard/mouse users.

He tries to get around that by arguing that there are better ways to make the same things work for both sets of users, but given his orientation to the topic, I have my doubts. (But, again, remember my caveat and take what I'm saying with a grain of salt.)

As someone who’s had to support Windows 8 on traditional keyboard-and-mouse PCs which use essentially no “Metro” apps, my biggest issues with Windows 8 are mainly things where you have to leave “classic Windows” go into “Metro” to do/find/change something. (Otherwise, you can almost get away with pretending that Windows 8 is just another regular old Windows version, if you're using a keyboard-and-mouse PC and no “Metro” apps.) These “missing” things are always harder to find and less powerful/useful in Win 8 “Metro” than they were in Windows pre-8.

Take, for example, joining a wireless network. You can look for networks through the traditional wireless network discovery UI, and start the connection process, but if you want to set options (like auto-join and something else I can't remember right now), you have to switch over to “Metro” or fall all the way down to the command line. (Windows 8.1—yes, the supposed suck-less-bug-fix-point-release—*removed* the ability to connect to WPA networks from the UI, and, in my experience, deleted all existing remembered wireless networks, and, every few months, it deletes them all again. So I have to use the command line network setup tool to add the networks back, set the encryption type, etc. Luckily, there’s a somewhat arcane option to export and restore configurations, so I’ve only had to re-do the entire setup from the command line twice.)

So from my perspective, the Windows 10 changes that Lukas discusses fix none of the issues that are problematic to a “classic Windows” use-case; they're not restoring anything to the “classic Windows” environment, and, as he argues, they do seem only to clunk up the Metro side of things. The “charms” changes in particular seem crazy, since that takes the one key new behavior that everyone (both “Metro” and non-“Metro” Win8 users) learned and throws it away and ”hides” the key functionality that was in the “charms” in various new places across the “Metro” environment. I’m not a fan of “Metro” on PCs (just as I’d hate to use iOS on a Mac), but the changes Lukas discusses Microsoft making don't seem like they’ll improve classic Windows *or* “Metro” on Windows 10, and either Microsoft isn’t very good at figuring out what its critics/customers actually need, or the company had decided it’s going to drag all the “classic Windows” people kicking and screaming into “Metro”, and this gumming up of “Metro” is the beginning of that effort.

I’d argue the first step in fixing the Windows 8 problem is admitting you actually have two OSes (or at least two UI layers), not continuing to pretend that there’s only one. (Maybe this is why I use a Mac :-P )

(It’s late, and this is long, and I can’t keep proofing it, so I hope my comment makes sense and doesn’t just ramble and go in circles—apologies!)

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