Crisis in Microsoft land: what next after the mixed reception for Windows 8 Consumer Preview?

Microsoft will have expected some users to find the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 8 challenging, but I doubt it was ready for the reaction from its own community that it is receiving for Windows 8 Consumer Preview.


The best place to start is the comments on Building Windows blog here and here – at the time of writing, around 1300 comments, most from users who have downloaded and tried the Consumer Preview. It is worth browsing through them if this is something you care about; some are knee-jerk negative reactions, but some others are thoughtful and wanting Microsoft to succeed.

Overall, the message is: don’t make us use Metro, let us stay in the desktop if we choose.

I’m still waiting for an explanation as to why my 30" desktop screen has to look like a smartphone, that’s what my smartphone is for.

My users range from tech savvy to plant workers and truck drivers. Like all of us, the start button is baked into our DNA … How can I make the desktop the default UI?  I’m not going to deploy metro desktop to my users as the default screen. I would rather deploy a slew of ipads and I’m no ipad fan that is for sure.

In 17 years of using Windows I have never used the Windows key. Interestingly I’ve never seen any user of a computer use the Windows key. I don’t want to learn and remember key combinations to do things that I can currently do trivially using the start menu.

Let me tell you something, I always have a gazillion webbrowser instances and tabs open (rarely less than 50 browser tabs and as much as 100) – I often run 5-10 Visual Studio instances simultaneously (and I know your usage statistics says average is 1, so you won’t make it easier to distinguish between them, but this is a different matter..) – usually have 10+ explorer windows – and I absolutely love working this way, I am productive this way and that’s what counts for me. I run 2 big screens with 2560×1440 resolutions to give me as much working space as possible, so I can easily switch between a lot of my open applications, browser tabs and explorer windows. Even if I had a use for some Metro UI application, I would be looking for a desktop alternative, so I could have it running side-by-side with my other applications – let’s be honest, one application at a time might be great for the average joe, but it’s a horrible solution for professional users.

Part of the problem here is that the Metro UI Windows 8 is more about solving a problem Microsoft has – how to compete with the iPad – than a problem its users face. It has been clear since Windows 8 was first previewed that the tablet UI and new Windows Runtime was Microsoft’s main focus, and that desktop users would get less value than they might normally expect from a major release. The reaction to the Consumer Preview though is more serious than that: many users are saying that Windows 8 is, for them, a substantial step backwards.

I am writing this in Windows 8 on a desktop and it is not that bad. Apps are easy to launch once you get the hang of Windows Key – Search, and there are workarounds for the annoyances. There is no doubt though: if you are working mainly in the desktop – which is inevitable for most users upgrading – the “immersive UI” does get in the way at times. Since it must run full screen, a Metro app obliterates the taskbar and handy features like the time and date which shows bottom right in the notification area. If there were an option to run Metro apps in a window, I would grab it.

The irony here is that the name “Windows” refers to the ability to run multiple apps in windows, as opposed to the single application UI offered by DOS.

Another issue is that if you switch between Metro and Desktop, you have to learn two ways to do common tasks. For example, I tend to use the taskbar previews to find browser tabs, since if you have numerous tabs open it is the quickest way to find the one you want. If you are in the Metro browser though, you have to right-click to show the tabs. Right-click by mistake in the desktop browser, and you get a context menu. Add to favourites? Different. History? Different. All friction if you just want to get your work done.

If you have multiple monitors, Microsoft’s “Move the mouse to the corner” idea for raising the Charms does not work well. The “Corner” is on the primary display, but if you have multiple displays it is not a corner but the border between two screens. You have to position the pointer just so to make it work.

There is more; but it is not my intention to iterate through every annoyance. I am more interested in the reaction overall and in what Microsoft will do next.

I will add that I admire what Microsoft has done from a technical standpoint in the Windows Runtime and that Windows 8 on a touch device with the right screen size has great promise as a new tablet operating system. It is my first choice for travelling; iPad and Android tablets are too limited, and I am more than ready to leave the bulky, awkward laptop at home.

Needless to say, few of those commenting will have tried such a device, for reasons I have described before. Windows 8 in a virtual machine is a worst case, and it is a shame that so many (for good reasons) are trying it that way.

What next for Windows 8?

It seems to me that Microsoft now has, broadly, three options for Windows 8.

1. Plough on regardless. This, I imagine, is the plan as it stands currently. Microsoft has deliberately made Metro unavoidable in Windows 8, I presume to ensure that it will not be ignored. There will be some refinements in the final release, improved discoverability of features users are struggling to find, but no fundamental change to the design approach. The plan as stated last month is that there will be no further beta, and the next public release will be the release candidate.

The question: can Microsoft do enough tweaking to win over a majority of its own community? Right now my sense is probably not. A negative reaction on release will be costly for the company and for all those third-parties who depend on its platform; yes, Windows 7 will have a prolonged life, but there will be loss of momentum for the platform overall.

2. Delay Windows 8 for further refinement. Go through the reactions to this broad public beta test, and work out how to fix the issues without losing the vision behind this “reimagined” Windows. Delay would be painful, of course, but less bad than a failed release.

The quick version of this would be to do what many are asking for: make the Metro-style personality in Windows 8 optional. Would that be such a disaster?

3. Release Windows on ARM (WOA) ahead of the full Windows 8. Most of the objections users have to Windows 8 do not apply to WOA, where Metro is primary, where all devices are touch tablets, and where those desktop applications (mainly Office) and utilities that are included are there to fill the gaps which Metro cannot yet fill. As for x86, users are still happy with Windows 7. When Vista was the current version, users could not wait for the next release, but there is no such pressure with Windows 7.

60 thoughts on “Crisis in Microsoft land: what next after the mixed reception for Windows 8 Consumer Preview?”

  1. It’s really very simple: A desktop PC is not a tablet or a mobile phone, so why is Microsoft trying to make them the same? It makes no sense, and their tiled launcher is both literally and figuratively a gigantic WASTE OF SPACE (around 40% of the screen wasted in fact).

    I run 4 monitors on my main development system, and Windows 8 refuses to play properly with them due entirely to piss-poor design and development on Microsoft’s part.

    Been using Windows since 1.0 (was a DOS user prior to that for many years), but unless Microsoft scrap this crap and go back to the drawing board, I’m dropping Windows forever (and taking my clients with me).

    Windows 8 is an absolute ABORTION, and Microsoft should be ashamed of themselves for ever listening to whatever moron suggested it!

  2. Simons complains that the tiled launcher wastes 40% of screen real estate. I don’t understand why this is a problem. What are you doing with that 40% of screen real estate that is being wasted? When you’re trying to launch a program, why do you need to see the programs that you already have open?

    It’s like the Backstage view on Office 2010. Takes over the whole window. Sounds like a waste of space compared to a simple drop-down menu — but when you actually use it, you realize that you don’t actually need to see the document window when you’re opening a file, or saving, or even printing. Indeed, Print is much improved precisely because Backstage takes over the whole window — and the same is true of Recent files, or document Info.

    I’d also be interested in hearing what problems you’re having with a four-monitor setup. I use a three-monitor setup myself, and I haven’t run into any substantial problems with Windows 8 (other than the hot corners problem that Tim mentioned — which can be worked around by using the Windows key).

    Besides, I wouldn’t call it a crisis unless profits go down. Microsoft is a business. If they lose some desktop users, then that’s fine so long as they make it back in tablets and the app store.

  3. Microsoft should not make metro the default access system. I seriously hope they reconsider. They should add a key combo for it, like CTRL + ESC, so if you want to use your PC via remote or as a presentation system – then that would be easy. But just think of the millions of users who have payed money for learning to use “normal” windows? Older people, secretaries that only know office etc. — all of these will have to learn a new way of working. Windows + Start button + native apps is the bread and butter of the IT world, and microsoft will be shooting themselves in the proverbial foot if they release this “as is”.

  4. Keeping the Windows 7 desktop unchanged is simple, obvious, and presumably what Windows 8 development started with. The pushing of Metro into the desktop is clearly deliberate, not just an unfortunate accident, so Tim’s option #1 is likely the one Microsoft will take.

    Which means that Microsoft will offer its professional desktop users an upgrade they don’t want. Nobody can offer a good reason why they should change their minds, either. Even Metro defenders admit it’s, at best, no improvement on a desktop.

    So Microsoft is apparently set on exchanging a dominant position in the professional desktop market for whatever scraps the iPad leaves them in the consumer tablet market. Good luck with that. Killing the Windows monopoly rent is the one thing that could actually destroy Microsoft, and Sinofsky seems hell-bent on doing just that.

  5. Microsoft is looking like they’re burning their bridges, boats and old homes. The strength of Windows was in its multi-tasking, desktop capability, combined with legacy support.

    Metro -> throws away multi-tasking and desktop capability
    WOA, WinRT -> throws away legacy support

    Basically it looks like they’re going for a gambit, clean break and start from scratch approach, but doing so, Windows stays Windows just in name, and they lose the advantages they had over the competition, just to gain colorful square tiles. Okay, their choice.

    Anyway Win7 is stable and can serve as a new XP, and Apple/Google have strong mobile platforms, so it’s not like there will be much loss to end-users if Win8 falls flat, and Microsoft has enough cash to swallow another Vista.

  6. All that ease thing with the metro UI has always been in the normal desktop ui with start menu.

    But, many other things which seemed to so easy in the older version (Windows 7) are suddenly much more complicated in the Metro UI.

    In simple words, Windows 8 will reduce the performance of PC users.

  7. The problem with Windows 8 isn’t the UI, the real problem is that it will still be saddled with drive letters.

  8. great article. This whole windows 8 direction is flawed and based around chasing a share of the tablet market that they’ve missed out on previously. I can’t understand why anyone working on this project thinks that what they are doing is a good thing? all those years of UX refining and desktop tweaking thrown in the bin for an ill fitting simplified monkey interface? are they insane? …sure, looks like it will be fantastic on a tablet. Thing is, i don’t have a tablet as they don’t meet my requirements. I certainly cant do my day job on a tablet/pc mashup. Heads need to roll at Microsoft before they steer windows onto the path of windows mobile, windows tablets and windows ME. I’ll give them some credit here, they definitely know how to get things wrong in spectacular style.

  9. @Chris: The professional desktop market is not worth that much. Even the graphics industry is starting to get antsy with Apple — and that really is like hell freezing over. The thing is — unless you go upgrade to a higher SKU (Professional or Ultimate), Microsoft makes the same amount of money on you whether you use it to the max or just use it to play Solitaire.

    Or perhaps you meant the office desktop market. That will stay with Microsoft so long as Active Directory and Group Policy have no equal. Subscription licensing also mitigates the impact on Microsoft if enterprises stay with Windows 7 — which lowers the risk of this bet.

    @Eric, Anup, zombiefly: So don’t use Metro if you don’t like it. I don’t use Metro for anything except Weather and Mail, and I use Desktop for everything else. (Ironically, it actually makes me *more* productive to shove Mail off in Metro-land, so that my Desktop can be dedicated to Visual Studio. I don’t think that’s what they designed Metro to do!)

    @Lawrence: So don’t use drive letters if you don’t like them. Mount all your drives into NTFS folders.

    Real criticisms, people, not hypotheticals. Use Windows 8 as your primary OS for a couple of weeks, and see what the real impact on your workflow is. It really is minimal — and the multimon taskbars alone make up for it. Third-party taskbars tried to reproduce the taskbar exactly, but only real taskbar code can do that.

    Remember that Microsoft has seen this level of criticism before, with the Office ribbon. Office sales subsequently increased. So they are willing to test it in the marketplace.

  10. >the real problem is that it will still be saddled with drive letters.
    MS removed letters in Vista betas, but people like you and other people in this thread were outraged and forced MS to bring the drive letters back.

  11. I alway thought Windows 8 should be a new product as its goal is to answer new mobile devices. They could call it Metro 😉

    I believe Microsoft is trying to go slightly to fast and converge all devices at the

  12. Rocky Lhotka with some reasons why the “birthing pain” of Win8 will hopefully be worth it:

    Tim said in part: “…iPad and Android tablets are too limited…”: Hence a reason for some (slight) optimism by those of us in the Windows tribe. Despite the huge success of the iPad, and the fact that it is the driver behind MS’s push towards Win8, Apple hasn’t “retired the trophy” quite yet.


  13. @tom: The bread and butter of m$ is it’s desktop users. You have to remember that while active directory etc. is complex, its is simply a means to an end. The millions of people that use mail and office every day to run their businesses couldnt care less about the technical stuff. A large chunk of them have taken some course in how to use windows and office, and will stick to that knowledge. When you suddenly alter how you interact with your applications – you risk people avoiding the upgrade and thus they repeat the winXP/Vista scenario all over again.

    Metro has no place on the desktop with the exception of a “media system”. OS X comes with a remote controller and you can use your mac as a media station if you like. This is where metro and boxed-menu’s come into their own.
    Metro is also a good idea for pads and phones, but altering a 15+ year old recipy just for play the innovation card is .. well, “if it aint broken dont fix it”

  14. It’s really simple!

    Steven Sinofosky believes he’s a mini Steve Jobs, and that he knows what we need, and we’re going to get it no matter what we think.

    The unfortunate part of that theory is that he’s not as smart as Steve Jobs, and every move he’s made lately shows that he doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of this community.

    BTW, he may want to smell that finger, I suspect…

  15. It seems pretty clear that, like UAC in Vista forced developers to write non-admin-mode code, the Windows 8 gambit is designed to apply massive pressure to developers to write Metro apps.

  16. So, just to expand on my last comment: the user pain doesn’t really factor into it. And to a certain extent it is probably deliberate. Microsoft wants their army of desktop developers writing Metro apps. These Metro apps must be distributed through Microsoft’s own store and must be tablet compatible. The last thing they want is their desktop developers to keep writing desktop apps, leaving Metro tablets appless and useless.

  17. I’m absolutely sure, if MS doesn’t come back to life and leave all those metro stuff to a separate tablet OS (Metro OS), they are going to have another Vista/XP-like collapse or even something worse

  18. I’m finding W8 run-time to be vastly superior to W7. Everything runs faster, W8 loads faster or resumes faster. Disk activity is less and battery consumption is less. For me it’s worth putting up with jumping through the metro to desktop. Once there it’s peace and light – apart from the start button of course. Just use more icons.

  19. My clients are still using XP on roughly 80%-90% of their desktops. Only new machines run Seven, without great problems I have to say and I’ve practically never seen Vista. These are all small to relatively large businesses, whose employees have to run efficiently 1) business apps 2) office 3) a mail client and an internet browser. After almost two decades of Windows, a majority of those employees DO HAVE the ability to generally move a mouse and push keys on a keyboard in a relatively sensible manner. Sometimes you can event tell them to run teamviewer and set a remote session up in less than 10 minutes.

    Should I, and my clients, throw all this away because Microsoft is afraid of the silly iPad? NO WAY. They’re going to keep XP and Seven well into the roaring 30’s if there will be no simple & official way to force a recognizabile UI on the desktop.

  20. I love Windows 8, but people who are not techys do not have a clue what is going on, they should have the ability to switch between a regular desktop and the Metro Interface. I been pushing it to my friends as it has gone through various phases…now they just do not understand it, this is something that Microsoft must heed or there will be a big failure here, worse than Vista. Because of the dual layer, a virtual machine running in a Windows environment they must make the option to boot to regular Windows Desktop, complete with the standard start menu!

  21. For myself I am pretty sure I can get used to and use Windows 8, but even on its very first screenshot appearance it seemed to me that Microsoft was trying to force a phone (or tablet) paradigm on a device that can do much more and I posted a short blurb and video link about it here.

    The real problem I see is for people like my parents who are really non-technical users. If they upgrade to Windows 8 they will literally be in tears of frustration trying to make it work. That won’t be good for Microsoft. What was the big problem with Vista for users? Well there were a few but the UAC definitely is on the top of the list. That relatively minor thing caused a huge groundswell of anti-Vista sentiment which eventually resulted in mostly untrue Vista propaganda. This time it’s going to be much worse.

  22. I like Win 8. I like the idea of such a well-designed OS that it can scale from ARM processors to multiprocessor X64 servers.

    However, MS over the past several years appears to be growing more and more tone-deaf. Common sense would have led the Win8 program manager to ensure that:
    – If the computer doesn’t have a touch screen, and fully functional
    desktop UI would be the default.
    – Changing to a default Metro (or desktop if one has a touch screen)
    would be easy to find and simple.
    – Finding the tools we used to easily find in Control Panel and
    Administrative Tools should still be easy and familiar.
    – The Windows Feedback Program for Windows 8 would be compiled on
    .NET 4.5, not .NET 3.5. The instructions on how to “turn on”
    .NET 3.5 in the setup program for feedback are not correct.
    Still haven’t found that in Windows 8.

    Microsoft program managers, who I assume are responsible for the direction of products at MS, really need to take the blinders off and get a clue about their current customers and the potential customers in the marketplace. As just one example, the Office Ribbon is a great example of a poor UI design that users eventually were forced to accept if they were going to use Office. But being forced to accept things like that just add to an underlying, and growing, consumer dissatisfaction with Microsoft. MS needs program managers who not only understand technology, but also understand business.

    Send some PMs, “Undercover Boss” style to work, for a week, in non-techie offices that use MS software, outside the West Coast (in the real America), and let them learn first hand.

    Unlike some folks, I like MS, and I have liked their products for years, going back to the 80s. But I am not thrilled with the direction MS has been going the last several years. IMHO, they have lost the “leadership” mentality, and fallen into a stodgy, tone-deaf “managership” mentality.

  23. The real discussion is how to proceed with a post Microsoft world. The writing is on the wall, Microsft cannot compete. The engineers cannot design, neither can the designers. When Windows revenue declines, the other products will suffer. We already see an expansion of product breakage and support decline. Where do folks go after Windows 7 support is dropped because of the inevitable failures of Windows 8 and other prior revenue generators? This is a real problem for this countries competitiveness and I think people aren’t really realising the long term ramifications of a failed Microsoft given its previously central roll in enterprise computing.

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