Windows 8 Customer Preview1
I couldn’t help but notice the release of Microsoft Windows 8 as a “Customer Preview” and so I went and downloaded the ISO file and installed it on a test machine at work.
It’s not really a huge surprise to any of my readers that I regard Microsoft as Satan’s Buttplug. Pretty much any blame can be fixed on them, from the expulsion from Eden all the way to the Holocaust and Global Warming. Everything that is wrong and corrupt in our world is Microsoft’s fault. It doesn’t matter to me in the end, you just assume no matter what happened, you know that Microsoft designed it and it’s bent to kill people and generally ruin your day.
So I installed Windows 8 on a test computer, as I said. The installation went along well, much like Windows 7. It lacked a lot of polish that Windows 7 has, but we cut the Beast of Redmond some slack as this is a “Customer Preview” and so I expect the fact that I can make out the fishing line holding this particular pie-plate up to not be upsetting. The OS installed quickly and in general functions well.
The biggest change has been the dissolution of the Start Menu and it’s replacement by Metro, the new program launching system built into Windows. Metro creates a space where items occupy differently colored rectangles and these respond when you click on them. Here is a tablet metaphor that comes across as half-baked in a desktop context. Metro is keyed to the Windows button on popular Windows-Button keyboards and while you don’t know how to control Metro when the system reaches an idle state, you quickly enough blunder over the Windows button and learn that it’s the go-to button for Metro.
The experience of using Metro has to be at an alpha-stage of software design. The corners are not intuitive that they should do anything and it’s only when you accidentally bump into them that you discover their functions. The sides of the screen are deaf unless you start in the corner and wiggle your way up the sides to reveal Metro’s task switcher. Again we have a fundamental break between a Desktop context and a Tablet context and it leaves you jarred and troubled.
You can, of course, always return to the “Desktop” as it’s an element of Metro that you can select. It’s just Windows 7 without the Start Button. There hasn’t been much change here at all. The only noticeable change has been the inclusion of the Ribbon metaphor that Microsoft put into Office 2010 and forward in that product line. Office has cross-pollinated with Windows and now Ribbon is part of Windows Explorer. It’s useful, but it still pales to the usefulness and human interaction standard delight of having a fixed command bar at the top of the screen like there is in a Macintosh.
It’s important for me at least to compare Windows with Macintosh OSX. Does what I see in Windows 8 interest me? I will give one small olive branch to Microsoft in that Metro helps Windows not be such an agony to navigate and use, but that’s it. What do I think of the difference between the two? Windows is still playing Golem to Macintoshes Wizard. The differences have always felt, and this new bid from Microsoft changes nothing about this, that Microsoft is always pursuing Macintosh. The better system is still Macintosh, and the better tablet will be an iPad, and the better phone will be an iPhone. The better anything will always be Apple with everyone else trying to catch up and never quite hitting that same key that Apple is singing in.
I do think that Windows and Macintosh OSX are both folding into the column of network-attached appliances. The devices mean less and less and the interface to the network is becoming everything. Dropbox, SkyDrive, and to a lesser extent iCloud are all hallmarks of this shift in focus in the broadest moves of computing today. People will eventually login with one universal identity and everything they touch will be stored on a cloud service. Computers will eventually start to fold their preference settings into these cloud services as well so that installation of the OS is a fire-and-forget process since all preferences for operation will come from clouded sources. For Windows that means the GINA, and for Macintosh OSX, launchd, will both eventually have settings for this single-sign on identity. If we are very very clever and very very lucky this structure that is to come will be based of Kerberos and the standards-compliance will render the competition between OS’s meaningless beyond end-user taste.
If the last mile problem is fully trounced and firmly buried for everyone, then eventually the OS itself may melt away and everything will be clouded. Kerberos will unify the entire world and all traffic will be SSL (or something like it) encrypted. I’d also suggest, for system designers, that while we are waiting for Kerberos to come to the mainstream, that after bundling social networking into the OS structure like Windows and Macintosh OSX are doing, that the next step be building in password management features, and someone really ought to buy 1Password and plunk them right into a core system service. It’s not something that is optional anymore, password security is arguably more important to a persons online existence than socializing. First you have to prove your identity before you can socialize.
Time will tell, but I really do think that the entire industry will bend towards everything being on the network. You’ll know the tipping point has passed you by when you stop to think about sharing files with someone else and the idea of burning a disc or a USB Memory Stick makes you chuckle. Then you will be on the other side and sliding downwards towards clouded living.