Windows 8 - The Desktop Destroyer
Written by Mike James   
Friday, 12 April 2013

Windows 8 is a disaster and while Microsoft has had disasters before this one is different because the times are different. The miscalculation of Windows 8 isn't just a train wreck, it is in danger of bringing the whole railroad down.

It is, at last, time to admit that Windows 8 isn't setting the world on fire and any hopes that remain are pinned on Microsoft creating a really great decimal point upgrade in the form of Windows Blue or Windows 8.1.


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At the present time this seems unlikely. It seems unlikely that the bluecoats are going to sweep down the hill and save the day - simply because there is no sign that Microsoft is about to back peddle on the basic concept of Windows 8. If anything what we are looking at is a polishing. Microsoft seems to be of the opinion that Windows 8 is fundamentally sounds and just needs some improvements and then the ignorant users will suddenly wake up and smell the WinRT.

Windows 8 was a brave attempt at reimagining Windows but it failed to take into account that a large part of Windows didn't actually need reimagining.

After a long development process, the desktop version of Windows had got a long way towards where it needed to be. From a crude and clunky GUI interface with cooperative multitasking, it dragged itself up from the primordial slime to become an graphically sophisticated pre-emptive multitasking operating system that had a lot in its favor.

It also developed its own programming infrastructure that was enviable. The .NET system was an improvement on Java and in conjunction with Visual Studio it was a very productive environment. Its success tended to sideline C++ and the systems side of things, but for productive applications development this was probably the right way to go.

Not perfect but good enough for a lot of jobs. 

With Windows 7 Microsoft could put behind it the fiasco of Windows Vista and look forward to period of stable prosperity.

Instead it start thinking about the fiasco that would be Windows 8. The initial idea was sort of good. To take Windows and create a compatible touch-based operating system is a very obvious thing to do.

Unfortunately the conclusion was that to do this the guts had to be ripped out and the whole thing started over again. WinRT isn't really anything much to do with Windows and as such its creation marks a sort of year zero for Windows. A fresh start with a return to the true religion of native code, COM and C++. The .NET languages have been dragged along for the ride and even JavaScript has been give a place at the new table.  

Out with the old and in with the new Windows for touch. 

Microsoft didn't really believe that a new operating system could have any impact in the current market so it decided that the only way to get the new OS into users hands was to insert it into the old Windows. The idea seems to have been that if it is called Windows people will continue to buy it and the transition from the old to the new will happen without anyone really noticing.

Is this a Trojan horse or some other strategy? 

For a small transition this might have worked. It might even have been true if the transition had been made optional or at least minimizable. But no. WinRT and the Start Screen were made mandatory and the desktop OS was crippled for no good reason. 

Now at this point you might be on the other side of the fence and saying that WinRT is the best thing to happen and the Start Screen is wonderful and the people who are complaining are just wimps because they don't want to learn anything new. My response is to remind everyone of the old motto - if it aint broke don't fix it. Perhaps in this case the we should change this to if it aint broke don't break it. 


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As a desktop user I can state that Windows 8 has produced nothing by way of a change to the user interface that I needed or asked for. 

If anything I can only say that it just gets in the way and yes I have found ways of doing the old things in the new way but they are nearly always less efficient or are clunky in some other way. And yes this is a subjective observation and you can disagree with me, but the sales figures for Windows 8 don't show it to be a run away success. 

The sad part is that Windows 8 hasn't exactly had much impact in the tablet world either. The Surface may be selling well according to Microsoft's brave face, but compared to other alternatives to the desktop machine it might as well not exist. The Surface has done little for Windows and Windows programmers except to provide a rationale for breaking the desktop.

I am not alone in giving Windows 8 a try and then finally upgrading to Windows 7.

Now consider the plight of Windows XP users. Next year Microsoft will stop supporting XP. This doesn't mean that XP will disappear in a puff of smoke, but it does mean that security updates will stop and this is important for many business users. 

Now consider the upgrade options. 

  • Upgrade to Vista - too silly to contemplate. 

  • Upgrade to Windows 7 - but this isn't the latest Windows so another upgrade is on the cards very soon.

  • Upgrade to Windows 8 and relearn everything you ever knew. 

Difficult choice isn't it.

Even Microsoft is advising business users not to move entirely to Windows 8, but to take a more gentle approach of using Windows 7 on desktop machines and allowing users access to Windows 8 touch devices. However, a recent promotion cuts 15% off Windows 8 and Office 2013 for small to medium businesses. If anyone takes the bait it will cost a lot more than the 15% saved to retrain all the users.

My guess is that many users will simply leave their Windows XP machines in place until something comes along to solve the Windows 8 upgrade dilemma - after all it's what happened when Vista was the problem. 

Only this time it isn't just a rerun of the Vista problem. This time there are many non-Microsoft alternatives.

Users have discovered that there is a huge part of their computer use that doesn't really need a desktop machine. You can browse the web, read your email etc using a mobile phone or better a tablet running iOS or Android. 

With Vista the users simply waited until Windows 7 came along and then bought new PCs. There will be many fewer PC users by the time Windows 9 comes along, assuming it solves the problem. 

Put simply the desktop machine is under attack from iOS, Android and Windows 8!

The recent, much lower than expected, PC sales figures have been blamed directly on Windows 8 making the new PC option look less than attractive.

And as the desktop PC dies, so does its development environment. Programmers are already diverted by iOS and Android and now by WinRT. If you want to create a new app what do you write it for and what language do you use? If you choose WinRT then you are accepting big limitations on what you can do - single tasking, single windowing and lots and lots of missing features. If you write for the desktop then you are committing to a platform with its best days in the past. 

So we all move to the web and create applications in the cloud and help the desktop die even quicker. 

By making the desktop less attractive Windows 8 has made it more attractive for us to move, not to WinRT, but to the cloud and a combination of serverside and clientside technologies. 

And what technologies do we choose?

Not Microsoft's, because there is no advantage over open source tools like PHP, Ruby, Python and, of course JavaScript. And by not choosing C#, VB and classic forms based ASP.NET we again twist the knife in the back of the desktop environment because ASP.NET forms was designed to make web programming like desktop programming. 

Windows 8's failure is more than a single train wreck. It is a slowly accumulating pileup of wreckage from all sorts of different but interconnected technologies. As the future of the desktop looks uncertain the unpalatable Windows 8 makes it even more attractive to jump ship early. 

Far from allowing Microsoft to batter its way into the tablet and mobile market on the coat-tails of the Windows brand, Windows 8 is actually killing the market for the desktop PC and the desktop app. 

 

 
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