Skip to comments.Charge of the Metro brigade: Did Microsoft execs plan to take a hit?
Posted on 03/15/2012 10:22:26 AM PDT by ShadowAce
It's fair to say that the typical reaction of pundits and analysts to Windows 8 is quite different to yours or mine. Our misgivings are shared, I have discovered, by many Microsoft employees.
In a nutshell, Microsoft is changing Windows 8. In addition to many welcome and uncontroversial improvements, it is adding a widget layer for touch users. This is fine, in itself. The problem is the way it's done. The widget layer drastically interferes with the daily workflow of a user and his or her Windows applications. Familiar parts of Windows have been stripped out or hidden, replaced with non-functional equivalents, or not replaced at all. The replacement for the Start Menu (for example) ejects you into this immature and non-functional fullscreen widget layer. And then, because it can't do very much, in the next moment, you're back again. This goes on all day until you turn the computer off.
It's a rather an elaborate kind of torture.
So why isn't this a major story? Well, you must remember that almost all the analysts and journalists you have read enthusing over Windows 8 have been shown the Consumer Preview running on tablets, or on an overhead projector, in a carefully-choreographed demonstration environment. My experience differs slightly. I installed it one evening on my regular Windows machine, and the next day set about attempting to do a full day's El Reg work, just as if I were on a Mac or PC. (My main machine is a Mac, but I use a Thinkpad for writing longer pieces, and I have it set up so everything works seamlessly regardless of which machine I'm on. This is a "production environment", not a "demonstration environment".)
The Windows 8 problem is really quite simple. The "benefits" will be seen by nobody, but the disadvantages will be felt by almost everybody. Every user who must access the machine primarily (or exclusively) with a keyboard and mouse will register a net inconvenience. And that isn't going to change in a hurry.
In 10 years' time, perhaps, a much larger proportion of the market will be touchscreen tablets, and perhaps sooner than that the Metro desktop may have matured a bit. Metro might even have a full set of Common Dialog Boxes by then who knows? But even then it won't be as productive for many of us as Windows 7 is today. We want computers to get out of the way. Those other 50 per cent will still be using the traditional rich GUI desktop to get anything done.
Here's how one reader expressed it:
The Metro interface without touch is painful and annoying. Like you, I'd love to see the clan in Redmond figure out that if a touch screen is detected at time of install, the Metro interface is default, whereas if no touch interface is present, it would give you the choice of interface/desktop to use. It's not rocket science, really. I also agreed that the gains made in Win 8 speed and responsiveness were great. Like you said, we just need to put a bag on the Metro team and get them to realise that the majority of Windows users will still be deploying to desktop/laptop devices that are not touch-enabled.
But Microsoft sources tell me that it's non-negotiable. They also shed light on the strange, twisty logic that is impelling Microsoft to its fate.
The strategic thinking goes like this: Microsoft needs brute force to coerce a touch-based "ecosystem" into existence, and it's using Windows as the battering ram. Microsoft fears that if it loses "touch" to the iPad and iPhone and Android, then it loses its place in the consumer space altogether. These tablets are increasingly capable of content creation, it notes. And because of this, Microsoft is going to force-feed Windows 8 to millions of PC users on non-touch devices, for whom Metro is nothing but a hindrance, in the hope that the market provides content and applications "designed for Metro".
All this has consequences, though.
One analyst tweeted that Windows 8 will give a big benefit to Windows Phone which must be music to Microsoft's ears, for WP is currently in the doldrums and needs a lift. But this reflects the theory rather than the reality. I see it working both ways. Users who have a bad time on Windows 8 aren't going to take a closer look at Windows Phone. The desktop experience may then act as a weird kind of aversion therapy.
If Metro 8 is not decoupled from the central non-touch Windows UX, then enterprises will simply shun the upgrade. They don't have the budgets to retrain their staff. In the days when you were moving thousands of people from DOS to Windows, you could argue for a bigger training budget. But the cost/benefit advantage just isn't there in Windows 8. Microsoft doesn't have the power to move its market in the way Apple can the market would prefer to shun the upgrade, as it did with Vista.
Paul Thurrott of WinSuperSite goes further:
"Inside Microsoft, there is a related fixation on whether Windows 8 will succeed and, yes, there is a contingent of people stuck in a paradoxical position: They understand that the success of Microsoft is inexorably linked to Windows, and thus that Windows 8 must succeed. But they desperately want Steven Sinofsky, and thus Windows 8, to fail. That both can't happen is of course the unresolvable issue," he writes.
I haven't found that sentiment. Nobody I've spoken to wants Windows 8 to fail. But everyone expects it to fail in the enterprise, and fail so badly that it will make Vista look like a gentle hiccup. (Not tho' the soldier knew/Someone had blunder'd):
This is all quite puzzling. We must assume the Metro-centric core of Microsoft executives is thinking rationally. We must assume they have done some maths. Which means Microsoft is at least prepared to forgo the revenue that comes from one enterprise Windows upgrade cycle, just to jam Metro into the public consciousness in the long term.
Perhaps Microsoft has justified this with the thought that the mere $4.74bn in quarterly revenues that the Windows division brings in is fairly inelastic it won't vary much whether Windows is a hit or a flop - and that OEMs have to keep building and buying PCs. So it must have also reckoned that it can afford to take a hit in the short term to preserve Microsoft's relevance in the long term. Perhaps this isn't so crazy. Microsoft's Entertainment division (led by Xbox) now makes almost as much money as Windows.
This, then, appears to be Microsoft's gamble. I just wonder if it has revealed all this to the shareholders? Perhaps it should.
Meanwhile the Metro boat sails steadily on to its fate. Better get the popcorn in. ®
The Windows 8 Experience: “Wait...what? Why did you do that? Why would someone even think to do that? What the hell is going on?”
Microsoft - Where Quality is Job 8.4-revA
I’m thinking that, if there are those that want Sinofsky to fail, they are probably from the old guard.
What one must consider is that Windows tried a windows experience already, on the Windows Ce phones and failed miserably.
Windows 8 = Chevy Volt.
If this doesn't sound like what's going on with "oil" and "healthcare", I don't know what does. I'm getting awfully tired of being told to forego the present in favor the future.
Win 7 until this mess is straightened out.
Take it from a grizzled old computer warrior....never switch systems until Service Pack 2 is out.
I think they should keep the start button, in some form.
I don’t think it would be hard to have it invisible, but appears if you touch the lower left hand corner or something.
Let me point out that Andrew Orlowski also predicted that Android would not pose a threat to RIM or Apple in October of 2010.
Let me point out that Andrew Orlowski has never written a positive article about Android or Windows, but multiple positive articles about Apple.
Put all that aside, I know many people who have tried the Windows 8 CP. They all hated it at first, until they learned how to access the familiar things they were looking for in Windows.
Therefore, there is a learning curve with an entirely new OS.
Lastly, MS has said that they non-touch users will have a way to have a Windows 7-like experience.
Microsoft has turned into a large bureaucracy (much like the US federal govt.) who can’t see the forest for the trees.
Oh, one other thing.....I suppose in Win8 they’ve changed the names on all the apps in Control Panel again, giving the illusion of something new, when it’s actually the same old, same old.
Win XP until this mess is straightened out.
I don’t think it will be a bad experience. I’m going to buy a Lumia 710 to learn about it, so when Apollo comes out, I can then go get a really nice Windows phone.
it seems every good report about any windows product is met with hysterical hyperbole from a mac worshiper. (not to be confused with consumers who just like the pretty apple)
Heck, I’m still using XP at home. I have 7 at work and it drives me nuts with the dumbed down interface. The Office ribbons really drive me nuts. I don’t think that making a tasks take 5 to 7 clicks is a functional improvement over 1 or 2 clicks.
One thing I can hardly wait for is cleaning fingerprints off my 21” monitor as often as I have to clean them off my 3” iPod.