Geek Vs Geek: Is Windows 8 Dead?

eHow Tech Blog

In the first few months that Microsoft has been selling Windows 8, the company claims it has sold 40 million licenses for the highly controversial operating system. Should you step up to Windows 8 or hang onto what you have for dear life?

Once a month, eHow Tech editor Dave Johnson faces off against Rick Broida, who writes about technology for CNET, PC World, and Wired. Follow along as they tackle this question from opposing corners.

Rick: Microsoft’s new operating system represents a pretty radical departure from the Windows of old, and I give the company credit for trying something different and forward-thinking. Unfortunately, the stark reality is that Windows 8 doesn’t work, at least as a desktop OS. It’s unintuitive to the point of being user-hostile, and it will go down in history as a bigger failure than Windows Vista.

Dave: Really, a total failure? Unintuitively user-hostile? How can you say that when there are so few substantive changes from Windows 7? Honestly, if you mainly plan to keep using the old desktop programs you already know and love, you have essentially one thing to learn: That clicking where the Start button used to be takes you to the new Start Screen. Which is functionally the same as the old Start menu, in that you find a program you want to run and click on it. There, I’ve now made Windows 8 intuitive for you. That’ll be $50.

Rick: Windows 8 boots to a totally unfamiliar menu–with no option to boot into the more familiar desktop, mind you. Also unfamiliar: No Start button. No obvious way to close an open app. No obvious way to shut down the computer. (Seriously, you have to click your way into Settings? If you can find it, that is.) Assuming a user did eventually make his way to the old desktop, there’s still no Start button. So how do you do…anything? I’m not saying people can’t learn their way around, simply that Microsoft forced these changes on users, with no discernible benefits.

Dave: Honestly, I think you’re overreacting. There’s a little animation that describes the new interface the first time you start Windows 8 (or did you ignore that video and now you’re whining about it?), and most of what you describe are little more than one-time annoyances. There are plenty of places you can learn how to do all those things–heck, you can watch my How to Use Windows 8 videos to learn how to close “modern” apps. There’s a learning curve with any new software. Why is this so cataclysmic for you?

Rick: Look, I’m a reasonably tech-savvy guy. And I’m fond of shiny new things, which the Windows 8 Metro interface definitely is. But it doesn’t improve my computing experience one iota. Quite the opposite: It makes me scroll through inconveniently organized thumbnails to find what I’m after. Sure, I can always drop down to the traditional Windows Desktop–in which case, why exactly do I need Windows 8 again? Oh, right, so I can try to get my work done without the benefit of a Start button. It’s ridiculous! I don’t mind learning new things when it makes sense to do so. But unless I’m using a tablet, Windows 8 makes no sense.

Dave: Okay, here’s a place that I think we can both agree. You mentioned the tiles in the new Metro Start screen, and it’s clear to me that they’re an unmitigated disaster. Instead of visually unique icons with clear text labels, tiles are undifferentiated blocks of photos which are all but unpossible to tell apart. It’s a frustrating challenge to find programs in the new Start Screen. Not because it’s somehow scary and different (which you seem to believe) but because all the apps look exactly alike, cast adrift in a Sea of Sameness.

Rick: Exactly right. And because you’re finally seeing the Sea for the Sameness, I’ll acknowledge that Windows 8 does offer a few perks, including faster boot times, the Pandora-ish Xbox Music, solid SkyDrive cloud-storage integration, and a terrific refresh/reset option for combatting Windows. Are they enough to make me want to upgrade? They are not. Especially considering that Microsoft now makes you pay extra for Windows Media Center, a feature I’ve loved for years. It used to be included with the OS; now there’s a charge for it. Why, Microsoft, why?

Dave: So now that you’re a little more rational, let’s talk about the upgrade proposition. I’ve been running Windows 8 on my home PC for months now. Granted, I got Windows 8 when it cost just $15, but you can still buy it somewhat cheaply. It boots a lot faster–supernaturally fast. I like the fact that I can password protect my computer with a 4 digit PIN, which is both secure and convenient. Multi-monitor support is dramatically better than in any previous version of Windows. There’s a lot to like in Windows 8, even if you don’t use the new Metro apps (which I rarely do). So I’d still recommend it as an upgrade. Why the hate when it’s so easy to adapt?

Rick: You’re wrong on two counts. First, the Windows 8 upgrade now sells for $119–a ludicrously high price, in my humble opinion. Second, I disagree that it’s “easy to adapt,” for all the reasons I cited above. Anyone familiar with earlier versions of Windows will face a steep, jarring learning curve. And if no one uses the Metro apps (as you yourself just admitted), which are arguably Windows 8’s biggest selling point (they’re the focal point of every marketing effort), why bother upgrading? Trust me: There’s going to be a huge “black market” for Windows 7 licenses.

Dave: Well, I think you’re missing the point of all this anyway. Sure, Microsoft released this as a desktop OS for now, but they have their eyes on the future. It won’t be long before tablets supplant laptop sales, and they want Windows 8 to be there. So the real question is: Does Windows 8 work on tablets, or would you still rather just use an iPad? Here’s my 3 cents: Windows 8 works better on tablets than iOS does. But it’s kinda academic today because there aren’t any decent apps anyone would want to use.

Rick: I’ll agree that the future looks better for Windows 8 than the present. In a couple years, we might all be using tablets, or at least touchscreen-enabled laptops, at which point Windows 8 might seem less onerous. But I remain steadfast in believing that as a desktop OS, one navigated by a mouse and keyboard, Windows 8 is best avoided. Can you live with it? Adapt to it? Maybe even like it? Sure. But should you have to? Definitely not. If Microsoft really cared about customer satisfaction, it would offer a choice of operating system for those who want it.

Dave: I’ve heard that old saw so many times, but what you suggest is simply ridiculous. Microsoft should no more offer you a choice of operating system than Ford should continue to sell previous model years of its cars, on the off chance that you prefer the 2008 version of the Focus rather than the 2013 edition. It doesn’t mean that Microsoft doesn’t care about customers; the company is simply trying to evolve so it doesn’t go the way of the rotary phone or the Pog (look it up, kids). Is Windows 8 perfect? Of course not. But it’s not nearly as bad as you claim. You spend a lot of time complaining about the lack of a Start button (attention readers: I don’t mean just here in this debate; Rick’s favorite topics when chatting with me are this, and donuts). So bottom line: There’s no Start button; get over it, and don’t condemn all of Windows for this one flaw.

Who won? We’d love to hear from you. Weigh in with your opinion in the comments, or tweet @davejoh.

And what other tech topics would you like to see Dave and Rick discuss? Send your ideas to Dave via Twitter @davejoh.

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