How Microsoft can salvage Windows 8 before it's too late

Summary: Here's what Microsoft should do if it wants to prevent Windows 8 from going down in history as a Vista-like flop.

By Adrian Kingsley-Hughes for Hardware 2.0 |    July 18, 2012 -- Updated 19:11 GMT (12:11 PDT)

A regular Hardware 2.0 commentator challenges me to do something that may well be impossible -- fix Windows 8.

You've spilled a lot of pixels telling us what's wrong with Windows 8.  Your mission, should you decide to accept it, it to come up with a concise way that Microsoft could salvage the operating system before it's released.

This is a tough challenge, given that Windows 8 is only a few months away from release. There's not a lot that Microsoft can do in this time. However, given that the Redmond giant has already gone on the record to say that the UI that we see in the Windows 8 Release Preview is not what will be in the final release, it's safe to say that things are in a certain state of flux.

As I've said on numerous occasions, the biggest problem with Windows 8 is the way that the dumbed-down Metro UI has been unceremoniously bolted onto the mature and well-refined "Classic" user interface. While there's no doubt that the existing UI is flawed, bolting on a UI designed for touch devices is not the answer.

OK, you asked me to keep this concise, so here it is. Here's how I think Microsoft should tweak Windows 8 before it's released:

Reinstate the Start Menu.

Scrolling through the Metro UI Start Screen is no better than scrolling through the Start menu, so why add change for the sake of change? While I'm sure some people will take to the Start Screen, for those that don't want it -- perhaps because they don't have a touch system, or just want to keep their old workflow -- then bring back the Start Menu.

Desktop-centric Windows.

Make it so it's possible to make the desktop the central focus of the operating system. Booting into the Windows Desktop is infinitely more useful for those on a traditional PC than booting to the Metro UI Start Screen. Unless you're driving Windows 8 via a touchscreened device, that Metro UI start Screen is about as useful as a fire alarm that plays a lullaby.

Bring back the Start orb.

There's enough mystery meat navigation elements in Windows 8 already without adding more. I can understand why Microsoft pulled the Start orb -- because none of the other on-screen cursor hotspots that Microsoft has added have a visual element attached -- but the Start orb is so iconic that removing it is likely to cause no end of confusion.

Rename Windows RT

Windows RT is a wishy-washy name for a platform that doesn't give the consumer a clue as to what to expect. Even adding the word 'Tablet" somewhere would help. Come on Microsoft, give people a clue here somewhere.

Integration between the two versions of Internet Explorer

Windows 8 has two different versions of Internet Explorer. A "Classic" version and a "Metro" version. This introduced all the problems associated with running two browsers. While both versions share a common history file, that's about it.

Let me give you an example of what's wrong. If I'm working with both a "Classic" application and a "Metro" app, and I need the browser open in both screens -- sounds complicated, but this comes in handy when you're researching something -- there's no way to have both Internet Explorers synced so they show the same content. 

Use Windows 8 SP1 as an opportunity to refine both UIs

We know that it will take about a year from when Windows 8 is released before we see Service Pack 1. That gives Microsoft a chance to listen to user feedback -- and by users here I mean regular users, not people who've bothered to download and install the previews -- and configure the two UIs into what users want rather than what Microsoft thinks they want.

There's a palpable fear that Windows 8 will stumble out of the door. I'm hearing this from people within Microsoft, from the OEMs and vendors, and from others in and around the industry. The OEMs and vendors feel especially vulnerable, and if Windows 8 does become 'another Vista' then there will be an industry-wide bloodbath. Analysts are already cutting price targets on Dell and HP, and Windows 8 is still months away.

My predictions are that after the initial fanfare following the release, things will play out as follows:

Enterprise will continue to demand Windows 7, because to roll out Windows 8 'properly' the costs will rocket due to mass purchase of touch-enabled hardware and additional user interface training;

OEMs will sell Windows 7 PCs alongside Windows 8 systems because they will find it almost impossible to present the benefits of Windows 8 on desktop systems;

Microsoft will once again find itself in a position where it has to offer longer-term support for the older operating system;

Windows 9 will look significantly different to Windows 8, and likely switch back to the 'traditional' Windows interface;

Depending on how Windows RT tablets sell, Metro could well be on life-support come Windows 9.


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