4 out of 5

It seems that someone finally kicked Microsoft in the behind and told them it was time to get back to innovating, as opposed to just rehashing the same thing over and over.  While change can be a good thing, it is also something that humans are diametrically opposed to as a general rule.  There is no doubt that Windows 8 is bringing a lot to the table, but one has to wonder if it might not just be too much.

There is a lot to celebrate in Windows 8, but most of what I see people getting excited about sounds like very consumer-driven aspects.  The ability to email an image from multiple apps for ease?  Syncing all your cloud services together?  These are almost entirely consumer-driven changes.  Microsoft has made its bread and butter in the world of business, and everything about Windows 8 just screams to me that they are forgetting this fact.  Every new feature I hear about, I can hear my friends in IT offices groaning in the back of my head about what a security nightmare it will be for them.

With all that in mind, I have to say that I think Microsoft may have gone too far with the changes it is implementing in Windows 8.

Before you start throwing stones at me, hear me out.  I’m not just some Apple fanboy who just dismisses everything Microsoft does out of hand.  I’ve been using their products since the days of DOS and owned at least one computer with every version of Windows with the exception of Vista (even I had my limits), so I know my way around the landscape and its history.

There is a reason why Microsoft is the dominant operating system in the business world, a fact that also allowed them to take over the home market: Everyone understood it.  If you sat down at any PC running any version of the OS since Windows 95, chances are you would have a pretty good grasp of how to do the most basic of tasks.  You would know how to get to your favorite programs, you would know how to use the toolbars and a multitude of smaller tasks and you would even probably know one or two advanced tricks.  Now you’ll be faced with big colorful tiles.  I can almost hear your standard office worker with no computer savvy sitting down at a Windows 8 machine for the first time and immediately going, “Where’s Word?”  “How do I get to my TPS reports?”  “Where’s Minesweeper?!?”

It’s easy to say that a lot of the changes in Windows 8 are visual, and you would be correct.  However, you are radically changing the visual representation of something that has essentially been the same for 16 years at this point, and that is sure to be a shock to the system for a number of people.

If you think I’m just being a curmudgeon, you may be right, but there is historical data to back up the concept that people fight big changes in Microsoft products.  Why do you think Internet Explorer 6 is still in use to this day?  Businesses built tools around that system, and no matter how much it may be a horrible browser, none of them wish to change it because it would mean having to rewrite their code, something that will cost them time and resources they don’t wish to do when it already works.

Windows XP ended up being officially supported for 11 years not just because Vista took so long to develop, but also because people loved it and they hated Vista.  Are we ready to see Windows 7 have a similarly long run?  Think about it, they are radically changing the coding of how programs – excuse me, “apps” – will work in the next iteration of the operating system.  This is going to be great for people who release commercial programs, and an absolute nightmare for companies who have written bucket loads of task-specific software.  While it may seem simple to say, “Well, they’ll just have to rewrite it,” software development in the corporate sector moves much differently in the private sector when you need to get approval for budgets, resource dedication and so on.  It’s hard to imagine that the business world is going to flock to Windows 8 in droves.

Windows 8 photos

Windows 8 is looking a lot like Windows Phone 7, and with good reason: They meant it to.  However, what should have happened as opposed to going straight from Windows 7 to Windows 8 is that there should have been a bridge version.  Get the Metro UI on to more phones and some tablets, and let Windows 8 have some of the features, but not all of them, or allow people to switch between the the classic and the new.  Then in Windows 9 you bring the Metro UI to the table as the only option once people have gotten more acclimated to the concept.

Having played around with Windows Phone 7, I have to say it’s a great concept for a mobile operating system:  It’s easy to manage, it takes some of the stress out of navigating around when you’re on a small screen and it seems very easy and breezy.  It is essentially built around everything your desktop isn’t.  Don’t believe me that bringing mobile aspects to the desktop isn’t the greatest of ideas?  What are some of the biggest complaints we’re hearing about Max OS X Lion?  People aren’t exactly in love with the iOS touches that appeared, and that should tell everyone that perhaps consumers just aren’t ready to merge the two experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m honestly excited for Windows 8, and I can’t wait to pick up a system using it down the road a ways, but I’m thinking of the office workers I see in my county assessors office, at the license bureau, in restaurants and just about every other setting you can think of.  The current user interface of Windows has permeated every corner of our world, and while that shouldn’t be a hindrance to advances in technology, it actually has to be to keep everything from falling apart.

We’re still a ways away from Windows 8 being out in the consumer landscape, but here’s hoping that Microsoft hasn’t totally gone off the deep end and forgotten about who it is that brought them to the party.