As other posts of mine have shown, I like Apple products. I like them a lot. I hate Windows and virtually everything Microsoft does. There are many reasons for this. The biggest reason is that I consider Microsoft to be an “80%” company. In other words, they give you 80% of what you need, and then call it a day. The other 20% either doesn’t work, or isn’t there, and that’s the stuff that actually takes time to do. Remember the 80/20 rule – the first 80% of a job usually takes 20% of the time… it is the remaining 20% that takes 80% of the time. Microsoft has never seemed like a company that wants to spend time on that other 80%.
So, what happens when a company that only delivers on 80% of a software design in order to get it out there takes on a touch operating system, especially when that operating system has to meet the flawed goals of being both a PC and a tablet? The results are not good.
Warning: Snarky pro-Apple comments contained…
I’m going to just talk about the basics of what Microsoft did here. Some nerd (and I are one, so I can call them that), will come forward talking about some registry key setting or some mod software from a shareware site in Russia that can undo the things I’m critical of. Yes, I know that. Modding, for the purpose of this review, is irrelevant.
The Starting Point – Simplify Until It Looks Like it Was Created with MSPaint
One of the things Microsoft had added to Windows Vista (and carried on into Windows 7) was a feature called “Aero Glass”. This was the feature that allowed you to make your task bar and window borders semi-transparent where the content underneath would look blurred (as if you were looking at it through thick “glass”).
I never understood this. It took a massive amount of GPU (graphics) power to do well (and GPU power == less battery life). I remember seeing a demo where a Microsoft guy showed me how, under the thick border of Windows Media Player, you could still see windows underneath it. The first thought in my head was “or, you can just make the border thinner so that you aren’t blurring anything!” But I digress.
Apple doesn’t do anything this stupid. The dock is transparent, sure, but things underneath it aren’t blurred. You can make a terminal window semi-transparent which is nice for some things, but again, content underneath isn’t blurred. Apple spent their time not doing blurry transparency, but rather gradients. Lots and Lots of gradients. This has changed over time as their hardware has changed, because the purpose of the chrome they chose was to match their hardware design.
But the point is, gradients don’t take much horsepower to do. Additionally, they also did something I consider neat with “wait” indicators. Rather than a bar that scrolls across an area (like what Microsoft does with a green progress bar that fades out to clear and moves across the screen), they have a simple round logo that looks like it spins. But it doesn’t spin – it is a simple image that is rotated by about 22 degrees every second. So, they aren’t dynamically drawing anything – they are simply taking an image and rotating it, which again, doesn’t take much horsepower.
OK, that’s enough of that. What did Microsoft do in Windows 8? Well, in Vista/7 they swung the pendulum massively far to the “use the GPU for everything” to, in Windows 8, “try not to make the GPU do much of anything”. Aero, that hateful blurry thing, is gone now. But, they kept pushing the pendulum to simplification. There isn’t even really any transparency anymore. And, there are no gradients. And, there are no rounded corners. Everything is a hard, square box of a single color.
The result is the desktop looks childish. It looks just about as bad as Windows 3.1 which was in the early 1990s, before there were graphics processors. It’s just this blocky, box of 16-color Crayola Crayon mess. In other words, they took it too far. It is simply ugly. You can argue that you really shouldn’t care – after all, it’s just the presentation – what you are really interested in is, say the application you are running. But, I’m sorry… this stuff matters. Microsoft is presenting something to you like they hate you. It’s like they said, “Hey, please give us hundreds of dollars to run something we designed on a napkin over lunch”.
I’m not asking for the world here, but as Walter Isaacson said about Steve Jobs when he was building the first Mac in 1984, rounded rectangles are everywhere. In the story, a programmer on the Mac came to Jobs to show him the routine he created that allowed rectangles (for windows) to be drawn with very little memory. The problem was they were all sharp angles. Jobs wanted them rounded, and the guy said, “rectangles aren’t rounded”. Steve took him all around the office building – tables had rounded corners, doors are even rounded. He took him outside – showed him all the corners on street signs… rounded. Eventually the guy gave in and said fine, and after another 24 hours had rounded rectangles with the same memory and CPU horsepower footprint.
The point of this story is, in the real world, we deal with things that are rounded. There aren’t these sharp, 90-degree angles that come to a hard point. The natural world is smooth. You should try to mimic that whenever possible, because your brain does notice it.
This, then, refers to my earlier 80/20 point. It took 20% of the time to make things a simple rectangle, with basic colors and no transparency or gradient. To Microsoft, that’s enough. They don’t care about that final 20% to make it aesthetically pleasing, because that takes 80% of the time.
Think about that when you see that a new version of Mac OS costs $19, has beautiful gradients and rounded corners, and Windows 8 costs, in many cases, over $100, and is this boxy, Crayola colored blocky junk.
The Start Button: “There Is No Spoon”
Microsoft, which spent a gagillion dollars once upon a time to get rights to the Rolling Stones “start me up” to highlight their start button, just killed the start button. It is gone. They don’t want you using it anymore.
Instead of having a start button, you have to go back to a home screen of tiles, reminiscent of the tiles they use on the Windows Phone (more on tiles later). As has been written on my other blogs and in the press, removing the start button has been met with either derision or grudging acceptance or, for those that are probably paid by Microsoft, the best thing to ever happen in the history of computing.
The reasoning behind doing this is because they want you to think of this OS as not just a PC, but also as “tablet”, and tablets have to be touch thingies with big icons. If you are trying to build a thing that is both a laptop and a tablet, maybe you can see the justification for this. But the thing is, most people aren’t going to do this. They are going to have a regular laptop or a desktop, and so, having this touch oriented interface being the default interface is… really, really dumb.
Apple, by the way, has implemented something like this. It is called “LaunchPad”, and when you use it (by doing a 4 finger pinch on the trackpad, which would be the same way you get to the home screen on an iPad), brings up a list of big icons that are on multiple pages (like an iPad). Unlike what Microsoft did, however, it is not the default interface. The default interface (with the Apple logo in the upper left, spotlight in the upper right, etc.) is as it always has been.
When you look through Google to talk to Apple users about LaunchPad, you basically get a “meh” response. Some people use it as an extension of using the dock, but most people don’t use it at all. And this should tell you something about putting such an interface on a PC. If the Mac crowd, which is constantly berated as being a bunch of sheep bowing at the altar of Jobs won’t use this, maybe it’s a dumb idea. Mac users more than likely also have an iPhone or an iPad, so they are familiar with the icon home screen concept, yet very few want to duplicate this on their PC. The existing PC interface of menus is fine… more than fine in fact… preferred.
Yet, here is Microsoft, saying no to that. Saying that you have to have the same interface as the phone. It is, in fact, better for you that it is this way. Maybe they are right this time, but remember, this is the same company who said during Vista that Aero Glass was awesome. So, excuse me for being skeptical.
You Made It Even MORE Cumbersome to Shut Down? Jeezus…
Before I get into a lot of the other features of the new home screen you have to use now that there is no start button, let’s talk about shutting down. It was always kind of a joke about Microsoft that you had to hit “start” in order to “stop” (shut down). And, shutting down was kind of cumbersome, though we all got used to it.
To recap, in Windows 7, you hit the start button, then move to the button that had shut-down. If this wasn’t the default choice (usually it is sleep), you had to then bring up a menu of options, and then click OK. So, a 3-step process (If shut-down was the default choice, it is a 2-step process).
In Windows 8, this is, believe it or not, longer. In tablet mode, you have to swipe from the right of the screen to bring up the “charms”. (With a mouse, you have to move the mouse to the right corner of the screen to bring up charms), then tap “settings” then tap “power”, and then choose which one to do (shutdown, sleep, restart). This is a 4-step process. They seriously made it more steps. How is this even possible?
Let me ask that again… HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?!?!?! It has got to be the stupidest thing in the world. You couldn’t have a power button as a charm – it had to be buried?!? You couldn’t have separate buttons for power/sleep/restart to tap, that had to be a menu?!? You couldn’t even do something simple (like the Mac) of having a power button on the keyboard itself?!?! Ugh.
This is what happens when a company has no leaders. The fact that shutting down on Windows has been a multi-step process has always been laughed at. It is a simple thing to fix. You just need a leader to come in a fix it. But there are no leaders. I could imagine that where to place the “power off” feature had to go through several committees and be signed off by several managers at different levels of the organization. Like a game of “telephone”, the initial message was “we need to get the power button off of ‘start’ – it is too many steps”. After all the translation, the message turned into “put power as a sub-choice of ‘settings’ instead of ‘start’.”
Gestures Because I Can, Not Because I Should
One of the neat features of tablets, which Apple has then gone to duplicate on trackpads for the Mac, has been multi-finger gestures. Rather than just having a finger to tap, you can have a finger swipe take an action (such as a scroll), and can use multiple-fingers to do more interesting actions. (pinch to zoom, etc.)
Apple has gone really far with this. A four-finger pinch on an iPad brings up the home screen, for example. When you are on the home screen a swipe left or right moves to the next page of icons. When you have an app open, a four-finger swipe left or right is an “alt-tab”. A four-finger swipe up brings up all running apps that you can scroll through.
Windows 8 has done strange things with gestures. Things that are so strange as to be, well, really strange. There is a two-finger pinch-to-zoom. OK, great. That’s kind of a “duh”. But they don’t have a lot of multi-finger options. Pinch-to-zoom is the only one I found on the device I was playing with. Then there are gestures that are just annoying.
Menu – If There Is One, And We Won’t Tell You
There is a gesture where you use a single finger, and swipe down from off the top of the screen. This is supposed to bring up an app’s “menu” (if it has one). Two problems – if an app doesn’t have a menu, obviously one won’t come up. But there is no indication of that. Typically, when you try to do a gesture on an iOS device and there is nothing to do, you get a “bounce” effect. For example, on an iPhone, if you try to swipe past the last available page of icons, the page looks like it is going to swipe, but bounces back. This lets you know “yeah, I registered your gesture, but there was nothing to do.” Windows 8 doesn’t do this. So, you typically try it a couple of times before you go, “well, OK, guess there is no menu”.
The second problem is that this gesture doesn’t mean “swipe down to see a menu pull down from the top”. It just means “do something with menus”. In the Maps app, for example, a swipe down from the top causes a menu to swipe up from the bottom (a menu to let you show traffic, change map style, etc.). That’s right… a downward swipe causes an upward screen motion. Um…. Huh?
Charms – A Shortcut That Seems OK
Another gesture is swiping from the right hand side of the screen. This brings up the “charms”, which are a series of buttons. The charm buttons are “search”, “share”, “start” “devices”, and “settings”. Basically, global options. Oh, also, bringing up the charms brings up the time and date in the left (more on this later). I have no problem with this charms menu, until we get to a different swipe operation… the “alt-tab”.
Left Swipe – Because We Already Did Top and Right, So Why Not
The “alt-tab”, is a swipe from the left hand side of the screen. What this does is bring up other running apps. A fast swipe just causes the next app in the list to come up. A slow swipe and “stop” causes an app to come up in a “pinned” fashion (so that two apps are running side by side). Finally, a slow swipe where you start swiping back (I think) causes a list of all the running apps to show up as screen shots so you can choose.
There are several issues with this. First, the fast swipe – this can only go one way. If you have 5 apps running, for example, you swipe to app 2, but can’t swipe back to app 1. This is because that would be a rightward swipe from the right side, but that’s taken up with a “charm” menu. So, the only way to get back to app is to keep swiping. OR, you do the slow swipe then back to see the full list. That’s dumb. On iOS, for example, four fingers from left to right brings up the next app in the list, but a four finger swipe from right to left brings up the previous app in the list. In other words, the gesture makes friggin’ sense. The gesture is “four fingers” and means “go between apps”, and the direction tells you which way to go.
Microsoft must feel that the swipe in from left then back slightly left is a way to compensate for this. But again, it’s a big compromise. Because they forced a single gesture from the right to be one thing, they had to hack up a gesture from the left to deal with something missing.
The final piece – the swipe slow to pin a second app, seems utterly pointless. The second app doesn’t take up half the screen. The second app either takes up ¼ of the screen, or you can move the slider so it takes up ¾ of the screen. Which means one app is very tiny, and the other app is not as big as it wants to be (¾ of the screen). While you might not think of this as a big deal, one of the pinning I did is “pin the desktop app (i.e. legacy windows) into ¼ of the screen”. It was, needless to say, useless. I also did that with the maps. Again, useless. I then did it with the “Games” app. When in ¼ screen mode, it was a simple green rectangle that had a button saying “discover and browse games”. When you tapped it, that expanded the games app to ¾ of the screen. Basically, the message is “you can’t pin the games app to ¼ of the screen.”
So…. What the hell is the point of pinning two apps side by side? Maybe there are a couple of apps this makes sense for, but for the most part, it seems utterly pointless. It is a “look, ma, I recognized gestures and can multi-task.” There is no rhyme or reason for this to exist… at all.
Bottom Swipe – No, Because We Said So
So, there is a swipe from the top, which may or may not do anything and you won’t know unless you try a couple of times, there is a swipe-from-right which does a system level thing one of which is “go home”, which is what a button on the device already does, there is a confusing-as-hell swipe from left that is overloaded, cumbersome, and does something (pinning) that seems pointless.
So, there must be a “swipe from the bottom”, right? Well, no. There isn’t. Why? Who knows. Maybe they felt that this swipe would be too close to a keyboard that exists or something. But remember, this is supposed to be a tablet OS as well, and a tablet may not ever have a keyboard. So, they should enable a swipe there, but they don’t.
Live Tiles, Because You are Never On The Home Screen
The next bit of nuttiness in the Windows 8 experience is “live tiles”. What is a live tile? Well, on the home screen, every app is represented by a bigger than necessary square called a tile (or a rectangle, more on this later). A program can make the tile “live”, meaning it can display something other than an icon – a news app can have news headlines, a stock app could have stock quotes you follow, etc.
On the Windows Phone, this can actually be somewhat interesting. It has, in fact, been a selling point for Windows Phones – the ad where people not using a Windows Phone run into doors or fall down stairs because they are walking and trying to look at all their apps for basic information.
So, the concept of a “live” tile seems, well, interesting. But this is a desktop/laptop we are talking about. You aren’t pulling a device out of your pocket to casually looking to see some latest info. You are actively doing work (or playing a game). In short, you are most likely never on this home screen. So, the concept of a live tile is kind of silly.
Additionally, the live tile you can see are only a page of tiles at a time. At most, you can have 24 apps visible on the home screen (if each of them is a square instead of a rectangle If they are all rectangles, you can have 12). So, when you go to the home screen, you might not be looking at the screen that has the live tile you want info out of anyway. You are already scrolling to find that tile.
And here is the worst part of the live tiles… the things that make the most sense to have as live tiles are things that are getting info from the internet – friend posts, stock quotes, news articles, etc. If you aren’t connected to the Internet, there is, actually, nothing “live”. However, the live tiles will be more than happy to keep showing you the same stale stuff over and over, scrolling between them. Basically, the live tile is doing work, keeping the CPU awake (and burning battery), and providing you with nothing of value because you aren’t connected. Oy.
The live tiles, though, was most likely inevitable. Once Microsoft made the decision that the phone look and feel had to be the desktop look and feel, and the phone look and feel had live tiles, then dammit, the desktop has to have it too. Although, I have to make one comment here – guess what, the phone and desktop look and feel are… DIFFERENT. The phone is set up so you can scroll left and right as well as up and down. The desktop? It’s right and left only. So, it isn’t even the same, though they made it mostly the same. Remember the 80/20 thing? Yeah, evident here, too.
Scrolling Between Apps – Pages? We Don’t Need No Stinking Pages!
So, another brief Apple aside. On iOS, you essentially have “pages” of icons. You have a page that can have up to 16 icons plus 4 in a dock (iPhone 4) or 20 icons plus 4 in a dock (iPhone 5). You can do a swipe to another page, which has another 16/20 icons plus the 4 that were in the dock. You scroll between these pages.
Windows 8 has something that looks similar. You put your icons into groups, and there is a spacer in between groups. The spacer between the groups allows you to create a new group. Again, a group can have between 12 and 24 tiles (based upon the number of rectangle vs. square tiles).
However, these gaps don’t represent a page (although a set of 24 square tiles takes up the whole screen). So, there is no scrolling between “pages”. Rather, the scrolling is “freeform”. If you do a right/left swipe, it’s like you are scrolling “forever”. There is no snapping to another “page”. I personally found myself scrolling past where I wanted to go. I would know an app was in the 3rd group, but that’s not two swipes away from the first group (to the third page). It’s just a swipe and hope you stop or “swipe and then press again to stop”. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Resizing and Moving Tiles – Oh God, Just Kill Me
Again, in iOS, this is pretty simple. It seems like it would be really hard to f*ck this up, but trust me, Microsoft has. In iOS, you simply tap and hold an icon until you see all the icons wiggling. The “wiggling” lets you know you can move tiles. An “x” appears in the upper left also letting you now you can delete an app. Once in this mode, you can still swipe between pages, and you can move an icon to another page, let it go, and then move it again. It’s very, very simple. (You can also put icons in folders, but since Microsoft doesn’t have something like this, I won’t talk about that feature).
While I’ve never used a Windows Phone, my understanding of moving tiles is somewhat similar, but somebody would have to point that out.
In Windows desktop, they managed to make something simple so god-forsakenly complex that you just want to drop kick the machine, or if you don’t want to go that far, to just say “I’m never moving any tile ever.”
In order to move a tile, you have to tap and hold the tile, and pull down and “over” (left/right) slightly (but just slightly). This tells the OS (oh, you want to move this thing), and then it spreads out the icons. You are basically doing this slight motion to break some imaginary “rubber band”. You don’t know when the rubber band will break, or how far you have to move the app. It’s incredibly annoying. It’s especially annoying because by the time Microsoft realizes what to do, your finger may no longer be on top of the tile anymore – it might be slightly to the left or the right. It is so damned annoying that after a while you just don’t want to organize anything. It’s like – wherever it lands, that’s where it stays.
Now, this isn’t the end of the story. While you are trying to do this tap/hold/drag slightly so you will recognize it you damned OS, you will see that a little white checkmark appears on top of the app you’ve started to drag down. What is this checkmark? Well, that is a thing that lets you resize the tile. As mentioned earlier, tiles can be squares or rectangles. In order to resize the tile, you have to tap, hold, drag down until the checkmark goes from gray to white, and then let the tile go.
When you do this, the tile will have a blue outline around it with the white checkmark in a blue triangle in the upper right, and a whole new blue bar appears at the bottom. This blue bar has icons on it to make an icon larger/smaller, to delete it, to “unpin from start” (I have no idea what that does… I guess launch at boot?), and to turn the live tile on or off.
Now, here’s what’s absolutely hilarious about that. You can only do one of those four options. As soon as you do one, the bar disappears, and the tile is no longer highlighted. So, if you want to both turn on live tile and resize it, you have to do this tap/hold/drag twice. TWICE! For crying out loud, Microsoft. Also, let’s say you make the tile larger, but decided against it – you don’t get to try making it larger, because the act of making it larger caused this menu to exit. You have to tap/hold/drag again to undo it.
All this is so painful that you just don’t want to fart with it. If the app installed and was a live tile, and it was a square, then just leave it. Because if you want to move it, then make it a rectangle, and turn off the live tile, that is, at a minimum, 3 different drag operations. Goddamn that is idiotic. You actually have to try to do something this stupid.
Other Crap I Couldn’t Figure Out and Stopped Caring to Try
The tiles the machine I was playing with had a couple of groups called “Samsung apps”. So, apparently, your groups can have a title. How did this title get there, how do you change it, and how do you remove it? No… Friggin… Clue… It wasn’t at all obvious, and I wasn’t going to look it up. I don’t know why you want a title to begin with, but regardless, there was no obvious way to change it.
Apparently, When I Come to the Home Screen I Always Want to Be at the Beginning
In iOS, you could be on, say, page 3 of the pages of icons and launch an app. When you hit the home button to exit the app, you are back on page 3 of the pages of icons. Seems pretty obvious.
Microsoft, apparently, doesn’t think things should work this way. When you run an app, regardless of where you were in the list of tiles when you launched it, when you go back “home”, dammit, you are going back to the very first group of tiles. Sure, your tile may have been over to the right a bit, with a bunch of other tiles that were related to each other, and yeah, sure, you might want to run an app right next to the one you were at, because after all, this is why you spent the 18 hours of grueling taps/hold/resize/live to put them together, but sorry, you have to just scroll over there again.
This is the ultimate in laziness, Microsoft. I swear, they hate their users.
Why Do You Want Status, Mr. Nosy Parker?
One of the hallmarks of every graphical operating system is the concept of status. Apple had this in the first mac with a bar at the top of the screen. Windows introduced this with the task bar in 1995.
These status bars are useful. They tell you things like if you are connected to the internet, how much battery power you have left, what time it is, sometimes the date, and since the advent of smart phones, things like the cellular signal and Bluetooth on/off.
This is very basic stuff. It’s common. It’s obvious. You should have it.
Microsoft on Windows 8, though, said “nah, screw that”. There is no status bar… not anywhere. On the home screen, it will put a big text block that says “Start” (in case you didn’t know you were on the home screen) and an icon of who the user is (in case you got amnesia and forgot who you were), but you really don’t need to know the time or internet status.
If you want to know the time/date, you must bring up charms (or run the desktop app and have date/time in the task bar). If you want to know if you are connected or not, well, bring up an app that requires an Internet connection, or go again to charms and click on the “available” icon. Other than that, screw you.
I cannot believe this. It is more than asinine. It, again, is a message from Microsoft that says, “we hate our users.”
Internet Explorer Here, Internet Explorer There, But Never the Two Shall Meet
So, get this. Microsoft uses Internet Explorer as its browser. I know, I know, not shocking. But, did you know that Microsoft uses 2 internet explorer browsers? Two, completely independent Internet Explorers? It’s true.
That’s right, there is an Internet Explorer that runs as part of the tablet mode tile, which is full screen and with disappearing status and address bars, just like on a mobile OS. But there is a second Internet Explorer that runs on the desktop. And that Internet Explorer looks just like the Internet Explorer you have used on Windows forever.
Wait, surely they are the same Microsoft Internet Explorer, just two different looks – they really aren’t different? Yes, yes they are different. And don’t call me Shirley.
Microsoft, on Windows 8, really has implemented two different Internet Explorers. If you are on the tablet and navigate to a page, that page is only in the tablet IE. If you go to the desktop? That IE knows nothing about that page. You have to navigate there all over again.
Now there are two ways to look at this. One is that this is the dumbest thing in the history of computing (my interpretation). But another way is to say, “wow, I get two browsers for free!”
I don’t know how much more needs to be said out this. This thing is a terrible joke. Microsoft has created an OS that borrows things from the phone, ostensibly to make the look and feel the same (even though there is no reason they have to be), yet changed it from the phone so it isn’t the same. They force you to use this new interface and removed the start button. They hacked the user interface to hell to remove any nice things like gradients and soft corners because…. I dunno.
Microsoft changed their logo recently, from the wavy squares that looked like a flapping flag to simple squares (to highlight the new tile look of the company). Personally, I think they should have just changed their logo to a guy holding up a middle finger and a cash register. It represents the two facets of the company: (1) we don’t care about you, and (2) pay me.