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Windows 8 review: Yes, it's that bad

Woody Leonhard | Aug. 16, 2012
A desktop OS for tablets and a tablet OS for desktops, Windows 8 is guaranteed to disappoint nearly everyone

We've been examining and dissecting beta versions of Windows 8 for almost a year. In that time, a few traits have become eminently clear. First and foremost, no matter what you think about Windows 8's design, it's a towering engineering achievement: Microsoft managed to bolt a very capable, modern, touch-friendly interface (I'll stick with calling it Metro for now) onto a stalwart (some would say stodgy) workhorse, coming up with a product that's familiar to more than a billion users, and forward-looking at the same time. That's quite an accomplishment.

But sometimes engineering achievements are appreciated only by the engineers. From the user's standpoint, Windows 8 is a failure -- an awkward mishmash that pulls the user in two directions at once. Users attracted to the new touch-friendly Metro GUI will dislike the old touch-hostile desktop underneath. By the same token, users who rely on the traditional Windows desktop will dislike having to navigate Metro to find settings and apps they intuitively locate in Windows 7. Microsoft has moved the cheese.

Now that Windows 8 has arrived (today for MSDN and TechNet subscribers, and tomorrow for Microsoft Partner Network members and Volume Licensees), the harsh analogies -- "Windows Frankenstein," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde operating system" -- may be applied conclusively. While Windows 8 inherits many of the advantages of Windows 7 -- the manageability, the security (plus integrated antivirus), and the broad compatibility with existing hardware and software -- it takes an axe to usability. The lagging, limited, often hamstrung Metro apps don't help.

In this review of the final, RTM version of Windows 8, I'm not going to reexamine what's come before; almost everything discussed in my Release Preview review and in my Consumer Preview review still stands. There's no Start button on the desktop, and the utilities that managed to graft Start onto older beta versions don't work with the final RTM Win8. The new Metro Start screen remains relentlessly two-dimensional with flipping tiles that look like LEDs on the Vegas Strip. Moving from Metro to desktop and back again, especially on a large and touch-deprived monitor, will have you reaching for the Dramamine.

I can confirm after months in the trenches and talking with many hundreds of testers that anyone who defines "real work" as typing and mousing won't like Windows 8 one little bit. Let's take that as a given and move on from there.


Big changes in appearance

In RTM, the transfer from the Vista-era Aero interface to the boxy, opaque, shadowless, glowless, and shine-free flatland style pioneered in Windows 3.1 seems complete, with one small exception: I don't know why, but the desktop taskbar still shows a bit of transparency (squint at the flower stalks in screen image below).


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