Over the past week and a half, I’ve been writing about Windows 8 from a first-hand point of view. I still intend to use Windows 8 in a production capacity, though my primary system has been restored and is now back on Windows 7.
I began my adventure with Windows 8 during the Developer Preview, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Moving to the Consumer Preview came along with an abundance of interesting additions that both improved and expanded upon the changes introduced in the Developer Preview. One of the biggest changes: There didn’t appear to be any visual indication that the Start menu still existed at all, as the placeholder button present in the Developer Preview — which took users to the Start screen — had vanished.
The idea behind updating the UI to meet the needs of a growing mobile computer market that has been widely predicted to all-but replace the existing desktop computing world in the coming decade makes perfect sense. Where Windows 8 would appear to be suffering its biggest failings at this point is user experience.
Regardless of whether or not it can work on everything from a smartphone to the high-end desktop, the problem facing Microsoft is making sure that every user enjoys an experience that feels as though it caters to their individual needs and expectations. If Windows 8 fails to deliver on those early expectations, the user will undoubtedly be quick to seek alternatives, revert back to a previous version of Windows, or simply abandon the OS for an alternative.
That said, there are several reasons why I’ve decided to make the switch back to Windows 7 — at least for the time being. Keep in mind while reading this that I’m writing about the Consumer Preview as it currently stands, not about what I expect the final product to be like.
Regular People Probably Won’t Enjoy It
It’s difficult as a tech enthusiast and blogger to live and breathe the latest gadgets and gizmos without losing site of what it’s like for the average user. We can drone on and on about the benefits of X Y and Z application over the competition, but if the average user can’t figure out how to take advantage of these features without reading help files or our articles, it’s not good enough.
Chris Pirillo, LockerGnome’s founder and long-time consumer experience advocate, decided to put Windows 8 to the test by giving his father a go at it. Joe Pirillo, a long-time user of Windows XP, found some things he liked about the new operating system, and some things he didn’t. It took a while to figure out how to get to various places in the new interface, and searching for menus along the top of the screen where they almost always are proved fruitless as Microsoft moved these menus to the right side of the screen for Metro apps.
Additionally, another member of the LocerkGnome community had his father take a look at the latest offering from Microsoft. The two impressions appeared almost identical, with the basic response being that the new dual-interface experience wasn’t as intuitive as Micorosft had intended it to be.
Bottom line: Microsoft has a giant hurdle to overcome in user experience. Where Windows 7 improved on the ideas behind Windows Vista, Windows 8 introduces a whole new set of challenges that Microsoft must overcome if it is to be a success.
Windows 8 Consumer Preview is Beta Software
I enjoy running as many things in beta as possible. That’s part of my job as a technology writer, and a great way to gain an understanding of what is to come before the general public does. That said, Windows 8 is in beta, and with that comes a whole set of challenges that you have to overcome as a user.
Driver issues, usability problems, bugs, and various other setbacks are part of the experience of using a beta product. Any time you agree to beta test something, you’re agreeing to help the developer locate bugs and issues that need to be resolved prior to shipping. This is no different with Windows 8, so setbacks are part of the game.
When it comes to using this product in a production environment, where deadlines have to be met and tools need to work at a moment’s notice, running a beta operating system as your primary option is generally ill advised.
Drivers Are an Issue Again
When Windows Vista first came out, the biggest issue users faced when first attempting to set up their systems came in the form of driver incompatibilities. Hardware manufacturers toil tirelessly to make sure their products work with as many operating system versions as possible, but this takes time and money that many of these companies don’t have to support older or otherwise outdated products.
With Windows 8, I experienced driver issues with a USB-driven monitor and a gaming headset. Neither of these products would install correctly, with one of them flat telling me the drivers wouldn’t work. I tried running the installation files in compatibility mode with no success.
Regular users don’t always have the latest and greatest equipment. Those printers, scanners, headsets, webcams, and other peripherals may be falling out of support by the manufacturers or simply don’t have updated drivers yet. While Windows 8 is in beta, it’s a low priority.
After all, would you dedicate your company’s resources to supporting a beta operating system that may (or may not) change between today and the day it launches, or to problems and innovations that have an impact on your larger user base?
There is No Compelling Reason to Switch
I’ve written articles over the past week explaining the benefits of Windows 8, and why it could be a success. These articles detail some fairly important changes that are sure to be a huge draw for users once it launches and third-party software developers begin building around the new platform. For now, Windows 8 has only a handful of apps that take advantage of the new UI, and many of them aren’t ready for prime time yet, either.
There is no compelling reason for any regular user to upgrade to Windows 8 Consumer Preview. As with any previous version of Windows, it’s always been one of those things that you do when you buy a new computer. Unless you’re running Windows on a touch-screen system, the benefits of Windows 8 at this point are too few to compel someone to give up what they’re currently working with to try a beta operating system with limited support.
Windows 8 has a lot going for it, but Microsoft has an even larger mountain to climb before it can truly call Windows 8 ready to ship. Estimates and rumors seem to agree that Windows 8 may ship this year. We can only hope that Microsoft has taken customer feedback to heart with the first release candidate.
The Windows 8 Consumer Preview is a great way to take a peek at the future of Windows and what may be ahead for the world of mobile computing, but it isn’t anything I would recommend to regular users. Windows 7 provides a remarkably stable and secure operating environment that is capable of running on everything from netbooks to high-end PCs, has the support of the majority of the software and hardware manufacturers out there, and will undoubtedly continue to receive support from Microsoft for several years to come.
Windows 7 isn’t going anywhere, and neither are the majority of its current users.