I was on the Microsoft campus for the MVP Summit when Windows 8 Consumer Preview was released. Everyone at the event knew how much was riding on Windows 8, so the strong sense of anticipation in the air bordered on nervousness.
I was already familiar with the Windows 8 Developer Preview, but the changes Microsoft described in the Consumer Preview sounded truly exciting. I must have been among the first to download and install the new OS.
To say that the experience was disheartening is an understatement. Those who read my Enterprise Windows blog know I'm a staunch Microsoft defender. But based on the Consumer Preview, I have a new name for Windows 8: Windows Frankenstein.
A monster in the making
Simply, the Windows 8 Consumer Preview feels stitched together. It tries and fails to smoothly integrate a new desktop Windows UI with Metro, the top-layer UI first introduced with Windows Phone 7. To mix metaphors, the combination yields an operating system with a multiple personality disorder: "I'm a tablet ... no wait, I'm a desktop ... I'm a tablet." It's horribly confused.
Arbitrary Windows desktop UI changes make matters worse: The Start button is missing. By force of habit I found myself repeatedly clicking where it used to be. Trying to open Word to write this article, I clicked what is now IE on the taskbar three times before I realized what I was doing. I simply couldn't figure out how to get to my applications. I had to go back to the Start screen and right-click to make the All Apps option appear so that I could view my applications and finally find Word. Frustrating!
Software development isn't just about engineering. You need a skin. You need to outline the user functionality. And whoever came up with Metro should be imprisoned. Metro is so hard on the eyes I can't look at it for long without getting a headache. It may work on a smartphone or a tablet, but on my desktop, it's maddening. Metro on my multimonitor 24-inch screens doesn't look right at all.
Many of the extended screen designs rely on left-to-right scrolling because people with tablets are accustomed to swiping their fingers from right to left in a "turn the page" gesture. For example, you browse the new Microsoft Market (which opened yesterday) in this manner. With a touchscreen, this is easy, but with a mouse, it isn't comfortable at all. You scroll from top to bottom with a mouse, not side to side.
These are fundamental UI problems. Everyone knew it would be a tall order to combine Metro with the Windows desktop in an elegant way. What I've seen so far is barely usable.
I've often said that every other Windows version has to take a bullet for the next release: Windows Me before XP, Windows Vista before Windows 7, and now Windows 8 before Windows 9. But I'm not sure Microsoft can afford another Vista.
How Microsoft can rescue the situation
Here's what I'd like to see Microsoft do with Windows 8: Release it as a tablet-only OS. Continue to offer Windows 7 for desktop deployments or offer a Windows 8 desktop version (with a Start menu) that allows you to turn off the Metro UI and stick with a traditional Windows 7 look.
It's not like this would hurt Microsoft sales in any way. What difference does it make if Microsoft sells Windows 7 or 8 for the desktop? The phone and tablet market is where Microsoft really needs to catch up.
Another approach would be to incorporate the best aspects of the tablet UI into the desktop, without pushing Metro in the user's face. Let users opt into tablet UI elements or touch elements as they like. It doesn't make sense to put the tablet design in the foreground if you're not using a tablet.
Windows 8 Consumer Preview is more than a disappointment -- it creates a serious situation for Microsoft. I've been so loyal to Microsoft over the years that I regularly receive nasty comments from readers accusing me of being paid by Redmond. So when I'm unhappy and willing to say it, it's time for 'Softies to listen.
There's still time between now and the RTM of Windows 8. Will anything really change between now and then? It had better.
This story, "Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 'Windows Frankenstein'," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.