Windows 8: Growing pains and marginal gains

Windows 8 isn't the disaster you've heard it is. Instead, think of it as a learning experience for Microsoft and users alike

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Very bad: Whoever at Microsoft decided that a search box you get to with a flick gesture would be better than the Start button should be legally banned from making any user interface decision ever again. Search is just fine when you know what you're searching for. But you can explore a menu.

Fortunately, you have several third-party Start button replacements to choose from, and they'll cost you just about nothing.

Very good: TIFKAM's designers recognized that some Windows users aren't, shall we say, optically youthful. For those of us whose eyeballs aren't as supple as they used to be, TIFKAM requires a lot less squinting than the alternatives.

By the way, TIFKAM seems to have had some impact outside the Microverse -- I've noticed quite a few websites that have a TIFKAM look to them.

Bad, but: Launch a TIFKAM app. Now try to close it. There's no obvious way to do this. What's that about?

Answer: TIFKAM copied iOS in that when you launch an app, there's no obvious way to close it. (Apple and Microsoft both tell us there's never a need to close an app. Don't believe them.)

In case you haven't figured it out: In iOS you first push the button thingie at the bottom twice. That brings up a row of open apps. Then you put a finger on top of one of them and hold it there. After a bit, the icons start to wiggle, and they'll have a red circle with a minus sign inside it at their upper-left corner. Tap the red button and the app closes. When you're done closing apps, push the button thingie again.

I'd say it's "elegant and intuitive, like all Apple design decisions," except that some Advice Line readers are irony-challenged.

For TIFKAM: Press <alt><F4>. It's no more intuitive, but a lot less like doing the hokey pokey.

Good, but: The Windows 8/SSD cache combination boots very quickly -- quicker, in fact, than my iPad (yes, you sometimes have to reboot an iPad). If, instead of turning off the Ultrabook, we close the cover, it goes into sleep mode a bit slower than my iPad when I close its smart cover -- but who cares? When we open the Ultrabook's cover, it wakes up just about as fast as the iPad.

The "but" is that our habit with Windows laptops is powering them down when we aren't using them. Thus far, we haven't managed to change our habit.

Windows 8 fast boot is, by the way, the one justification for an upgrade. My advice: Don't. Spend your money buying a hybrid drive and disk cloning kit instead. Your system won't boot as fast as a Windows 8 Ultrabook, but it will boot a lot faster than it does now.

Meh, part 2: Other than the missing Start button, the MOLE interface is pretty much Windows 7, minus the Aero interface niceties Microsoft borrowed from Apple. MOLE is Windows 7, only more prosaic-looking.

Seriously? MOLE is just like Windows 7 -- until it's time to shut down the Ultrabook. That now takes a right flick on the touchpad (or touchscreen) to bring up the whatchamacallit menu on the right followed by a click on the Settings icon.

But Microsoft has never made shutting down Windows intuitive -- unless you think clicking Start was ever an intuitive way to stop something.

Bottom line: Microsoft had to develop TIFKAM or something like it to compete in the smartphone, tablet, and (assuming the category takes off) laplet marketplaces.

There's little reason to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8. There's also little reason to avoid Windows 8 when you're buying a new computer, and if you're buying a laplet, you might even like it.

Think of Windows 8 as an experiment. If all goes well, Microsoft will learn from it. Office 2013 and Windows 9 will be the products that determine Microsoft's long-term future success with user-facing technologies.

This story, "Windows 8: Growing pains and marginal gains," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis' Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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