Will the much anticipated Windows Blue (8.1) fix the many issues of the disappointing interface of Windows 8? Don't get your hopes up...
When talking with my colleagues and friends, I’m not aware of a single person that personally likes Windows 8 over Windows 7. Unfortunately for Microsoft, it’s not just me and my acquaintances that aren’t happy with the new flagship OS. Microsoft’s sales numbers for Windows 8 are dismal. According to NetMarketShare, as of July, 2013 Windows 7 still accounts for a little over 44% of all desktop operating systems. Nearly a year after release, Windows 8 only recently surpassed usage of the much loved Windows Vista. I’m kidding about Vista being a loved OS.
Windows 8 is slowing increasing its market share but that’s primarily because Windows 7 is much harder to find now that computer manufacturers are installing Windows 8 by default. It’s going to take a long time at this rate for Windows 8 to catch up.
What Went Wrong?
Three words. Modern. User. Interface. The much touted touch-friendly Modern UI (aka Metro UI) was a radical shift towards touch based computing. Microsoft did a nice job with the Modern UI on touch enabled devices but they forgot that most of the PCs running Windows are not touch enabled devices!
Instead of having a simple desktop with your icons and file shortcuts right where you want them, the Modern UI hides the desktop with a tile based menu system. The tiles are bight, colorful and big but are only that way because people need to be able to touch them. Microsoft just figured that anyone using a keyboard and mouse wouldn’t mind clicking on the huge tiles. It’s incredibly inefficient for mouse users and switching between the classic desktop and new Start Menu was jarring.
Microsoft’s other main issue is that they took away the Start menu. When running in desktop mode, clicking the Start button would take you back to the Modern UI ‘Start Menu’. Any time you want to open an application like Word from the Desktop you’d have to click the Start button, navigate the Modern UI Start Menu, click on the app tile and then return to the Desktop. Ouch.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate Windows 8. I just don’t like being forced to use a new interface on a non-touch enabled device with no option of going back. If you remember back when XP was introduced it revamped the Start Menu. It took people a bit to get used to the new feeling of the menu, but Microsoft understood this and gave people a way to use the ‘classical’ look of Windows 2000. I ended up using the classic menu system for several years – until Windows 7 came out. I know some people took to the new system sooner, but for me I was used to the simple efficient menu I had been using for years.
Microsoft listened to customers for Windows 8.1 - the Start Button is back! But…Don’t get too excited. Although everyone using Windows 8 on a non-tablet device has been yearning for the classic Start Button, Microsoft felt it was good enough to introduce a button that simply gave you shortcuts back to the Modern UI. Although it is easier to shut down or reboot your machine using the new Start Button, you still can’t launch applications directly from it. I would recommend picking out a 3rd party tool to restore the classic Start Menu functionality.
One thing Microsoft did do right is the ability to boot directly to the Desktop – just like in Windows 7. A simple checkbox will let you decide if you want to boot to Desktop or the Modern UI. I think this is a great first step.
There are other performance and app improvements but many of these ‘features’ are simply improvements to bring applications up speed with where they were feature-wise in Windows 7. As a quick example, the Modern UI version of Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8 lacked many basic features such as bookmarks and lacked the ability to open more than ten tabs concurrently. Internet Explorer 11 in Windows 8.1 introduces these ‘features’.
Should You Make the Switch?
So – should you make the switch to Windows 8.1? I think it depends. Do you already have Windows 8 installed? If so, yes, you should install Windows 8.1. It’s free, improves stability and speed and makes some much needed improvements to the base version of Windows 8.
If you haven’t upgraded to Windows 8 yet, I’d probably hold off – especially if you don’t have a touch enabled device. The changes are not significant enough to warrant an upgrade and you’ll only become frustrated using the Modern UI on a non-touch device.
Hopefully Windows 8.2 will continue where Microsoft left off on 8.1. One can hope.