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Windows 8 Beta: Upcoming MS Disaster

As I've done with Windows 7 and Vista previously, I like to get my hands on the public betas or release candidates of upcoming Windows releases to have a bit of a play.

Right now I'm having a play of Windows 8, and to be frank I'm still trying to comprehend what's sitting in front of me. Some would say this beta is a revolution in Windows interface design, others would say it's a catastrophe. I'm more inclined to the latter. But before I get into it, here's the obligatory screenshots.

Win 8 logon screen Win 8 Start Screen Win 8 task manager

With Windows 8, Microsoft is attempting to develop an operating system that will work well on both touch-screen tablets as well as traditional computers. They're keen not to let the tablet market get away from them towards Apple's iPad iOS and Google's Android.

With this in mind they have made some pretty drastic changes. The most obvious and jarring change is the scrapping of the Start Menu, and replacing it with the Start Screen as part of what MS calls 'Metro UI'. Starting Windows 8 for the first time, you're presented with this new interface without so much as a tooltip or explanation as to how this 'Start Screen' works or how to navigate around it.

Even more baffling is the complete reliance both in 'Metro UI' as well as the traditional 'desktop interface' of hovering over unmarked corners of the screen to switch between the two interfaces, as well as just to do basic operations like searching, adjusting volume, or even shutting the computer down.

As opposed to regular buttons, I am a big opponent of 'hovering' options in user interfaces (especially with unmarked areas), and even more so for such critical uses as they've implemented them for in Windows 8. Added to that, it is insanely difficult to use these unmarked corner 'hover areas' in windowed environments like using a virtual machine (which I am using to try Win8 ) or remote desktop, as there is usually a seamless edge for the cursor to go in and out of the guest/client computer.

Another thing is that Metro UI seems very bland and dull. What you see in my screenshots for the homescreen is the limit of personalisation at the moment. You can pick from a set list of colours and patterns, and that's it. No background images, or custom colours, nada. They don't even have any standard set of user account pictures (for previous Windows betas/RCs at least had a standard collection to choose from).

One thing about Windows 8 that I did love though: the new task manager. It really is an overdue overhaul, and the amount of information there for diagnostics and troubleshooting is fantastically good.

There is a lot more I can go through regarding the changes (especially in regards to the Metro UI), and without even going into those details and other major unintuitive intricacies, I really can't see how this is going to turn out well for Microsoft. As a tablet OS, the Metro UI seems pretty decent, but not fantastic. It's slick, simple and geared well to touch-based input. However as a PC OS with a keyboard and mouse, it's a nightmare to use and look at. From the 'desktop' mode to have to go constantly go back and forth to the Start Screen just to do basic functions like starting a program is a jarring, unpleasant, and unfriendly experience, and the whole Start Screen is mostly obtrusive and unfriendly with a keyboard and mouse.

For regular keyboard and mouse users, Metro UI just adds an unnecessary layer of complication and hassle without any benefit at all. What was wrong with the Windows 7 Start Menu, and conversely how is the Windows 8 Start Screen an improvement for keyboard and mouse users doing basic PC functions like internet browsing or word-processing work? (for some fun, google for videos of people putting their mostly computer-literate older parents in front of Windows 8 and seeing them struggle in how to use it)

In my opinion, for Microsoft to win in a Windows release they have to convince professionals that it's good to roll-out in an office or corporate environment, where most of Microsoft's money is made. That's what didn't happen for Vista and was a crucial part in why it failed. Conversely, that's what they got right for Windows 7. I can't imagine any situation administering a corporate network where I'd be rolling Windows 8 to end-users on regular PCs.

It really is so frustrating to see how Microsoft could get it almost so right with Windows 7, yet seemingly be heading towards screwing it so badly with Windows 8. Yes this is only a beta, but fundamental things like the interface should be pretty much final at this point. Short of Microsoft reinstating the Start Menu and implementing an option for 'PC or Tablet' use, even for my home use there's no way i'd be upgrading to this on a keyboard and mouse computer.

Microsoft is trying to simultaneously go after the PC and tablet market with Windows 8, but I fear that they will capture neither market with this OS which seems to be stuck in between serving both but not satisfying either.

But the biggest criminal change in Windows 8 I haven't even mentioned yet: in Windows 8 they have not included Minesweeper. Unforgivable.

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