Opinion: Five things Microsoft should fix in Windows 8 to prevent another 'Vista'

Windows 8 has a lot of innovative features, but it also has a few fatal flaws.

Windows 8 marches on toward its inevitable release--not yet confirmed, but expected sometime in early fall. Judging by the Windows 8 Consumer Preview release, though, the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system has some fatal flaws that could turn it into another “Windows Vista” scenario, and cause users to cling to Windows 7 as they’ve clung to Windows XP.

As a Microsoft MVP, a fan of Microsoft in general, and a lover of Windows 7, I have looked forward to Windows 8 with great anticipation. But, the more time goes on, the more concerned I am about just how successful the launch of this OS will be, and I’m not alone. There are many bloggers, analysts, and experts out there who have Microsoft’s best interests at heart, and feel that Windows 8 as it stands today is not ready for prime time.

Of course, the Windows 8 Consumer Preview we’re using today is a pre-release version that isn’t intended for prime time. But, there’s also a reason Microsoft isn’t calling it a “beta”. Microsoft is still making tweaks and adjustments, but in general the belief is that the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is essentially “feature complete”, and the final version will not be much different than what we have now.

That could be a serious problem. Here is a list of the top five things Microsoft should change or fix in Windows 8 before the official release if it doesn’t want to have another Vista-style debacle:

1. Default to Desktop

The Metro interface is awesome. It’s a unique and innovative approach to interacting with Windows… on a tablet or smartphone. On a desktop or laptop, however, it is just awkward and tedious. Windows 8 should default to the desktop mode when installed on a desktop or laptop, or at least offer the option during installation to let the user choose which interface to default to.

The Metro interface can still be there as an option, but desktops and laptops use mice and trackpads and keyboards for navigation, not touch. Wes Miller of GetWired.com says, “Personally, I believe that Microsoft needs to significantly strengthen the capabilities of the OS for mouse-bound users. The current user interface that we’ve seen from the DP [Developer Preview] through the CP [Consumer Preview] has been touch-first.”

The majority of applications I open and tasks I perform in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview forces it into desktop mode anyway. Microsoft should cut out the cutesy layer and extra steps and just let desktop and laptop users experience Windows the way that works best for those hardware platforms.

2. Allow Tiles to Be Grouped

When it comes to the Metro interface, Microsoft should enable users to group tiles together in “folders”. If you add the Administrator Tools to your Start menu, or install Office 2010, you end up with a whole slew of new tiles. My Windows 8 Consumer Preview Metro interface is currently at three pages of tiles, and I haven’t installed that many applications.

It would make more sense if all of the Administrator Tools were grouped together inside a tile called “Admin Tools”, and if all of the Microsoft Office programs and utilities were merged together within a tile called “Office 2010.” Microsoft should add the ability to just create a “folder” tile by dragging a tile and dropping it on another one a’ la iOS.

3. Limit the Tiles

While we’re on the subject of tiles in the Metro interface, Microsoft needs to pare down the tile collection. The default Windows 8 installation adds a little over a page worth of tiles. Onuora Amobi, editor of Windows8Update.com, stresses, “Make sure the number of introductory tiles in Metro aren't more than one page wide. If I want to add more, I will.”

I agree. It would be much cleaner, and aesthetically pleasing if Windows 8 started with just one page of tiles out of the box. Windows 8 should exemplify simplicity on the initial install, and leave it to the user to introduce the level of complexity they’re comfortable with.

4. Enable WOA to Join Domain

Microsoft has already stated that Windows on ARM (WOA) tablets are intended for “unmanaged” environments—Microsoft speak for “won’t attach to a Microsoft Windows network domain.”

We’ll have to wait and see what vendors come up with for Windows tablets, but that puts a huge burden on tablets built on the traditional Intel/AMD architecture. Tablets like the Apple iPad, and Samsung Galaxy Tab are built on ARM hardware and provide better performance and longer battery life.

WOA tablets will be the most direct competitors with the existing tablets that dominate the market. But, having a Windows 8 tablet that isn’t capable of joining the Windows domain and being managed by IT with the rest of the environment will take away the primary advantage of Windows 8 tablets.

5. Bring Back the Start Button

When the Windows 8 Consumer Preview drops into desktop mode, it basically looks and feels like Windows 7…except the Start button is gone. To get to Start you have to sort of hover in the lower left corned where the button is normally found until a thumbnail of the Metro Start menu pops up.

Removing the Start button from the desktop view seems like one of those changes Microsoft is often accused of--moving things for the sake of moving them just so it seems “new”. I don’t generally subscribe to that theory. I assume Microsoft does what it does with intent, and as a result of testing and user feedback.

But, if I’m desktop and laptop users are going to spend most of their time in Windows 8 within the desktop view, and it looks and acts like Windows 7, what harm is there is leaving the Start button, and access to the functions on the Start Menu where users are used to finding them?

There you have it. I think Windows 8 is already on a mostly pre-determined development schedule, and I believe Microsoft has no intention of making any major changes, so I won’t hold my breath. But, if Microsoft would make these changes it would make Windows 8 a much better OS, and greatly reduce the possibility that it might flop when launched.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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