Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Microsoft's Windows "10" is unveiled, although hardly justifying the skipping of "9"

In October 2012, Microsoft released what was supposed to be its “last” major iteration of its “flagship” product, the Windows operating system. In this case it was Windows 8, which was supposed to combine all the elements to run on both a PC and portable “smart” devices—completely inter-operative with any product utilizing the Microsoft brand. 

Unfortunately, Windows 8 was more “useful” on phones and tablets that did not require much productive utilization. PC users accustomed to waving around a mouse or track pad were frustrated by the unintuitiveness of the new operating system. Touch screens and “Metro” app tiles are convenient on small hand-held devices, but on the PC it were only annoying and didn’t always take you to the places you expected to go. Gone was the “Start Menu,” where you only had to go to the bottom left corner, click on the Microsoft ball, and everything was conveniently lined up for instant use—including the “Shutdown” feature.

With Windows 8, you were first confronted with a cluttered display of tiles  that really didn’t seem to do anything—except those that take you to a “store” in order to pay for something else. For example, there was video tile. You would hit it and expect some video playback program to appear. That didn’t happen; just some blank screen with a video icon in the center appeared with no menu options apparent. This was supposed to be a major “advancement”? Users were forced to click on the desktop display button, and then build their own desktop collection of application shortcuts. It was all quite unnecessary and a pain in the fundament.

Where was the “Shutdown” function hidden? Where the hell was the Control Panel? How do you find any of the applications you need to use?  It was all in what Microsoft called the “charm bar.” This was “located” on the right side of the screen, except that “finding” it usually didn’t work like a “charm.” If you didn’t have a touch screen, you had to “wave” the mouse in the upper right corner, and then maybe something like a “menu” would appear. However, unlike the old Start Menu, as soon as you released the button, the bar would disappear. It proved to be somewhat difficult to hold it stable long enough to navigate down a list to find certain functions that should be far more easily accessible. 

Angry PC users clamored for a Start Menu for easier access to programs they used, and be rid of that useless default Metro display. Perhaps the creators of Windows 8 were under the impression that PCs were on the way out, and more people would do their “computing” on “smart” phones, which was an absurd supposition and demonstrated that certain people at Microsoft were too worried about gaining a “niche” in the handheld market than providing anything useful for its core PC users. Another assumption that proved incorrect (and still held by some people) is that PC users necessarily want to use a touch screen for navigation purposes. I mean, it isn’t that intuitive on a large display, and who wants to muck-up with fingerprints and perhaps even damage the display? It is actually faster to use a mouse. It’s only in the movies with those CGI effects that makes touch screens look so “intuitive.” 

Microsoft did eventually provide an “update” which they called Windows 8.1, which included something like a “Start Menu”—except that all it was a variation of its app window, merely showing the more of the same icons in same space. It was still all very unintuitive. Of course, there are a few who like the “charm bar,” but these are mainly “kids” who don’t use PCs for anything other than games or web surfing.

Because of the avalanche of complaints and poor sales of Windows 8, Microsoft has decided that Windows 8 will not be the “last word” on Windows, after all. All through September, Microsoft hinted at a beta version of Windows 9, which would include the “old style” Start Menu and be rid of the “charm bar.” The weird icons will still be present in the Start Menu, but accessing them will be similar to previous versions of Windows. The “Metro” style will still be in evidence, just not as intrusive as before. The new Windows will also include the “virtual desktop” function that is a part of Windows 7, although not as “cool” as Vista’s Flip 3D, which although it is still in Windows 7 (Win + Tab), it is much less controllable.    

The new version of Windows has now been unveiled—but not as Windows 9, but as “10.” Apparently this was an effort to ape Apple’s OS X, which hasn’t had a base numeral upgrade for over a decade. Critics of Windows, while offering faint praise in that Microsoft has finally seen the error of its ways, cannot help but to observe that this is the same old Microsoft; instead of providing major updates to software already purchased for an arm and a leg (unlike Apple, which once you spent and arm and a leg on a computer using their software, you have to pay a very nominal price for the next major operating system release), you have to spend hundreds of dollars for the next “new” operating system, or purchase a new computer that includes it. It has also been observed that Windows 10 is still very similar to Windows 8, which suggests that Microsoft is gouging those who purchased Windows 8 only a year or two after its release as the “last major” update of Windows. 

Of course, it remains to be seen how Windows 10 will function in practice once it is finally out of the beta phase, since there are reportedly “new” improvements yet to be applied. In the meantime, we can only “hope” that they get it “right” this time—even if means just returning to what worked in the past.

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