Valve Software Boss Calls Windows 8 A Catastrophe

As the public release of Windows 8 creeps nearer (October 26), the boss of Valve Software has taken a pre-emptive potshot at Microsoft’s new baby. Or rather, a bazooka – statingWindows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space”.

These comments add to a torrent of negative reviews that Windows 8 has endured before it is even launched – mostly due to its new ‘Metro’ tiled user interface.

From Betanews’ ‘Windows 8 is like a bad blind date’ to ZDNet’s ‘Windows 8: a design disaster” a common perception is that Windows 8 has been designed for tablets – not for users of PCs (PC in this sense includes laptops and netbooks).

[In the interests of balance, there have also been many positive reviews, especially from those enthusing about the touch friendly appeal of W8 and its superior speed]. Windows 8 has generated gigabytes of heated discussion – in tech blogs at least (the general public still seem largely unaware of its imminent arrival).

Predictably, most users don’t like change so every new Windows release has its fair share of haters – but the user interface (UI) changes in Windows 8 are far more radical than anything Microsoft has attempted since Windows 95. The last decade brought us Vista and Windows 7 – an evolution of XP’s UI, not a major departure.

Vista’s most obvious UI changes were the removal of ‘Start’ from the Start button and the Aero Glass theme (continued in W7 but dropped in Windows 8 – a back to the future moment). Windows 7 also played around the UI edges.

However, Windows 8 is radically different from a typical end user perspective, initially displaying a Start Screen with links to your apps – great on a phone, passable on a tablet but try finding the app you want on a large widescreen PC…

There is a text search feature, much like the Start/Search of W7, but that does kind of miss the point of having a tiled interface – and takes longer than just using the mouse. A similar lack of focus on PC end users plagues Internet Explorer 10 which appears in a confusing two guises – a Metro version (unable to run plugins like Flash Player) and a more standard desktop version.

Commenters in tech blogs often claim that Windows 8 doomsayers haven’t used the beta versions long enough to find workarounds, or haven’t bothered learning how to fully utilize the new features. Whilst that criticism may be true in some cases, it ignores the fact that visitors to tech blogs are not representative of the average computer user. Ordinary consumers do not install test Previews of Windows 8 prior to launch – nor do they willingly spend hours learning how to ‘make it do’ what it had always done before.

In my computer business I’m certainly looking forward to the tuition and ‘how to’ opportunities that Windows 8 will generate.

Many experienced techs feel the same way – all of which should be cause for alarm at Microsoft.

Microsoft Thinking

The president of Microsoft’s Windows division recently called their new Surface tablet a “tablet that’s a great PC – a PC that’s a great tablet”.

A great soundbite but fusing a tablet UI with a PC OS is a huge gamble – and the greatest threat to Windows 8 success. It also adds unnecessary backwards compatibility – for sure, Microsoft needed a tablet OS but they didn’t need to cobble together two disparate UIs.

When the boss of a major Windows-based games company calls your product a catastrophe, surely you have a problem?

Valve’s boss also claimed his company had “embraced the open-source software Linux as a hedging strategy designed to offset some of the damage Windows 8 was likely to do”.

Targeting the 1% market share of Linux to offset losses in the 92% share of Windows? Good luck with that…

Conclusion

I don’t often make tech predictions (they have a habit of biting you later) but my guess is that Windows 7 will continue to be sold as the OS of choice on PCs for at least a year or two. That would leave Windows 8 to concentrate mainly on market share in the mobile arena.

It also wouldn’t surprise me if Microsoft de-Metro’d a PC version of Windows 8 or rushed through a Windows 9 PC release to divide the UI back into two separate flavors.

So if you’re reading this article in a year’s time, feel free to laugh at my naivete as Windows 8 dominates sales and sweeps all before it – or congratulate my prescience…

What do you think? Could Windows 8 really be a catastrophe or is it a bold synergy of mobile and PC designs?

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