My accountant the other day said she’s in the market for a new PC and asked if she and her family should upgrade to Windows 8. Having covered PC technology for many years, she thought I might have some insight into into the new operating system.
I told her Windows 8 sports a brand new user interface and there could be a steep learning curve. Windows 8, I’ve read, is also more geared for touchscreens and tablets than traditional mouse and keyboard driven PCs. I don’t have any hands-on experience yet with Windows 8.
After I read Hiawatha Bray’s review in Thursday’s Boston Globe, I was stunned. Bray described the relearning experience as an “exhausting” and “frustrating….unspectacular….a chore.” He made a basic but important point: computers are supposed be labor-saving devices and Windows 8 trends in the opposite direction. The underlying message was stay away at least for now.
Many of the regular tech insiders were more positive. The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg acknowledged “potential for confusion,” but said it’s a “bold move” and that it’s tile-based interface is “a welcome step” from the familiar iconic metaphor we’re used to seeing. Other industry insiders acknowledge the difficulty of a Windows without the familiar “start” button, but have been neutral to somewhat positive from what I’ve read.
Sometimes, I wonder if insiders in the form of the trade press and those tight with Microsoft are simply not objective enough to offer guidance to everyday users like my my accountant. If Hiawatha Bray struggles using Windows 8, what’s my accountant to do? Actually, she’s buying a PC for her son who’s headed to college to study engineering. He could probably figure it out quickly, but average PC users – namely the rest of us – would replicate Hiawatha’s experience or worse (do not use Windows 8 near an open window).
One former colleague who has covered Microsoft for years is Mary Jo Foley. Writing for ZDnet.com, she has always refused to be sucked in by Microsoft and as such was not given a Surface tablet review unit by Microsoft – odd, given her large following. Like me, she reviewed the reviews.
She charges Microsoft carefully selected the reviewers….read between the lines (I can proudly say I helped Mary Jo her on her career path, persuading her to take the Microsoft beat in mid-90s when we both at PC Week. She’s a great reporter and analyst – knows Microsoft as well as anybody.)
I suspect Hiawatha did not get a review unit, either. By the way, the Microsoft Surface tablet runs a variant of Windows 8 for PCs called Windows RT. They are virtually the same except RT will not run any but an handful of older Windows applications. Windows 8 will.
A commentator on Public Radio yesterday extolled Microsoft’s move away from skeumorphism, which is the term to describe the use of familiar icons that Apple still uses. You know, click on a phone icon and you activate your phone. A letter is mail etc.
The commentator argued that rejection of skeumorphism, a `word’ only a software developer could love, indicates Microsoft is ahead of Apple in software design. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. Apple’s success is deeply rooted in making computers – and software – easy to use. It’s in the company’s genes just as world domination in software is in Microsoft’s genes.
Do user’s really care about inside baseball like skeumorphism? Hell, no.
I am willing to allow that maybe the billion or so PC users might get through learning process and find a rainbow on the other side. After all, using a PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet is matter of finding what you want. We’ll see.
I sent my accountant the link to Hiawatha’s review. She’d already read it. My guess is she’ll look for a Windows 7 PC.
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