Here is my rant on Microsoft Windows 8. It may be not as detailed as possible since I no longer have a working example in front of me as I write this – of course, I would be writing it in any case on a different computer than the one with Win8, since I have found Win8 to be unusable. But the details of my travail with Win8 are still reasonably fresh in my mind, and if I have mercifully already forgotten a few, there are still enough to raise my blood pressure now, a month after I returned the damn thing.
(Note:This was not written for Daily Kos, and I do not see many if any computer diaries here, but we do see diaries on everything from birdwatching to ancient history here, and I want to see what my community has to say about this. I would appreciate any responses, even if "You're a hopeless curmudgeon", as long as you read the whole (long) diary.)
I have been using computers since 1975; my first micro was the Commodore 64, which was also the last computer I really understood completely in the sense of having practically memorized the entire kernel. I’ve owned three Amigas, four Macs, and five PCs (several of which I installed Linux on) since then, and I have had programming environments set up for most of those, writing in Pascal, C, C++, Forth, and several other languages. More recently, I have not needed to do programming, especially as the ever-changing Windows API is quite a chore to keep up with as a casual programmer. The point is, I’ve had lots of experience with quite a few operating systems.
My current computer, a Dell Inspiron 1525 running Vista, has worked well for four and a half years, but started to make some faint skritchy noises that in my experience presage hard drive failure. So I quickly made sure my backups were complete, and started to shop for a new laptop. I looked longingly at the current Macs, but decided I really didn’t want to spend that much, as well as having some legacy software that doesn’t come in Mac versions.
So my choice, in mid November, was between a Win7 and a Win8 laptop. I am sorry to say I did not do much research. My habit has been to upgrade pretty frequently, having owned (after switching from Mac) Win 98, ME, XP, and Vista machines. I’ve been happy with Vista in spite of lots of negative opinions out there. But now I thought I would skip one generation, so my Win8 machine would seem fresher longer. (Cue ominous music…)
I looked at the funny tiles of the Win8 Start screen, thought they looked interesting, and with my background was sure that upgrading would present minimal problems and little time. Bought a Win8 HP from Office Depot. Took it home and before installing all my existing software, started to play around with the so-called Metro apps on the tiles.
Right away, I found myself disappointed. OK, here is an app called Travel, it is showing me an article on Tuscany, but I do not know why it shows up first, or who selected it. There is no table of contents. There is no identification of who wrote this or what their qualifications to do so are. Is this from a magazine? Which one? Am I supposed to trust this unsourced information? OK, I see you can delete apps, so away it goes.
Next: News. Same objection, only much stronger. Where is this news coming from? I know what news sources I trust, and which I do not. I can use a web browser to go right where I want and see a list of current stories I can select from. Here, clicking on this tile takes me to a story (selected how? And by whom?) with no byline, and no indication of where it comes from. I can click and drag to the next story, but it too is randomly selected, no table of contents, no sections… is this a way anyone on Earth reads the news?? Sigh. Delete. At this point, the pattern is already clear, so I know I can safely delete Sports as well.
I did not buy this computer to play games on, but by now I’d like to at least do something familiar and pleasant on this new machine, so let’s see if we can find a solitaire game. Here’s a tile called Xbox Games. I find that confusing, because I thought Xbox referred to a toy (although I’ve had no occasion to use or even see one). But I guess Microsoft is now using the word to refer to a service as well as a piece of hardware, which is their prerogative, I suppose. I launch this, and immediately am admonished that I am not signed in to my account. What? I need an account to play a game of solitaire? Whatever for? Well, my anger is rising, but I have bought this computer, and want to get the most out of it. So, I click ‘create account’ and start to fill in fields – my date of birth?? I only give that to financial institutions, where I have financial accounts. Date of birth is a prime piece of information for identity theft, there is no way I am entering that here. So, I leave this for the time being.
Over the next several days, in exploring other Metro apps on the Start screen, it becomes apparent that to do much of anything, I need to be signed into my ‘account’. (It never says what this account is; it’s just my ‘account’) A pattern is becoming clear, this seems to be Microsoft’s attempt to rope me into an ongoing relationship with them aside from my having bought yet another version of their flagship product.
It finally occurs to me that I can go ahead with exploring these services by providing a false birth date. So I go back and finish creating an account, sign in to Xbox and look at the games on offer there. They are all cartoonish and nothing there is of the slightest interest to me. Delete this tile as well.
I’ve discovered that ‘Chess Titans’, included free in the last few versions of Windows, is no longer. I’d like to play that, at least, and by now I have figured out that the ‘Store’ is the place to go for ‘Apps’. Now, there are several suggestions made in each category of App, but seemingly there is no listing of all the Apps available in a category. I have figured out the Charms by this time, so I search for Chess. There are quite a few options, but most of them you need to pay for. Since I’ve had Chess Titans for free, I’m not inclined to pay. Over the next few hours, I sequentially select, install, try out, and delete, four of the free ones. All four are equally bad. They all make tyro blunders that make playing against them meaningless. And – what’s this? Advertising??
I’m pretty allergic to being advertised to. I know many websites pay the bills through advertising, but I go to those only when there is no good alternative. By the same token, I mostly watch PBS and only listen to NPR, because I cannot stand commercials. Advertising on software I am running on my own computer is right out. It may be that the pay programs are advertising free, as well as better chess players, but how do I know before I shell out?
Well, games can wait. Let’s install my email to this machine. First, I go to a new app called People. It promises to consolidate all information and social media updates about my contacts in one place. I am a bit dubious about this – I have lots of Facebook friends, but I prefer to ration my Facebook use to once a day, by going to Facebook on the web, rather than by having it as a separate service. And honestly, I am already finding the winking, blinking tiles to be getting distracting and annoying. The silver lining in finding the news services to be useless is to be able to delete their tiles and have that many fewer things blinking at me, trying to get my attention.
But I decide to try out People anyhow. First order of business is to import my Windows Contacts into People. And… there does not seem to be a way to do this. I have about 1000 Contacts. People helpfully suggests I add my Facebook account to itself. Yeah, no, that’s not what I need to do. Sigh. Yet another web search, followed by my incredulous discovery that Microsoft has really not provided any way to import their current Windows Contacts into the new People app. This takes me back many years to the frustrations in importing Microsoft Works documents into the new Office suite.
I have often said that Microsoft has the worst case of “not invented here” syndrome ever. It is really much worse than that. It is really “not invented here, this year”. Once again, they blithely discard billions of person-hours of work by their installed customer base. Delete the People tile.
Perhaps I can still use Mail even if I can’t use People? I go to the Mail tile, type in my email, and get a snippy message that “Mail doesn’t support POP3 email. To add this account to Mail, ask your email provider about using IMAP or EAS”. Wait a minute – my POP3 account was supported in Windows Mail under Vista! How could it suddenly become that hard to support it? What gives? Like always with Microsoft, there are no answers. Microsoft knows best, and you peasants should just learn to do things our way.
There is no way I am going to change emails, and notify 1000 people of the change, just for this bit of crankiness. I’ve already installed my preferred browser, Firefox, so now I also install Thunderbird to use email on this machine. Delete the Mail tile.
OK, all that is too bad, but time to install some productivity software and find out how it actually performs when we get down to work. And now, the real exasperation sets in. Because now I am switching frequently from the desktop to the Start screen and back again, and while I can see the desktop as a tile on the Start screen, so that is easy enough, going the other way is a complete mystery for quite a while. I rove around on the trackpad trying to find my way back. (Flash forward – ten days later, I discover in reading one of the Win8 support Forums that the Windows key can be used to switch between the two. Keyboard shortcuts – how quaint. Maybe I should print out a list of them, and tape it to my wall, like I did with AmigaDOS commands – in 1988.) After giving up, and using my other computer to look it up on the web, I find the first way to switch is to move to the lower left corner, and click.
So now about 15 days in to my ownership of this beast I have a project to complete in Excel. I open my file and proceed to move between cells using the track pad. Suddenly, and without warning, I am kicked out of Excel back to one of the Metro apps I had opened (at this point, I had not discovered how to close these, just minimize them). What? What just happened? I navigate back to Excel, try to remember what I was doing, and… it happens again! This happens about 12 times in the next hour as I am trying to get my work done. I stop trying to work on my project, and do a web search on what could be causing this. I quickly realize that Windows 8 is interpreting the move I am making on my track pad as a ‘swipe’, that is, a request to switch applications. The problem is – even though I now know WHAT is happening, that is no help. If I want to continue using Excel, there is no way to avoid this behavior. I do a web search on “turn off Windows 8 swipes”. I find a number of others with the same question I have – but no answers. (Note: subsequent to returning my laptop, I see this question has been answered. There is a way to turn off swipes, but it involves creating a textfile to edit the Registry!) And try as I might, there seems to be no way to alter my motion so as to avoid triggering the dreaded swipe. I try and try, but it keeps happening, until I am thinking more about when it will happen next than about the work I am trying to get done.
This behavior is so depressing that I lay the Win8 laptop aside for a few days, because I have to do some actual work. During this time, I reflect on the situation and realize that what Microsoft has done is to attempt to create one operating system for dissimilar categories of computing devices – traditional microcomputers, both desktop and laptop, tablets, and phones, in spite of the fact that these devices are used in radically different ways for different purposes. But in fact, what they have accomplished is to staple one OS, with one set of conventions, on top of another OS, with a different and in fact incompatible set of conventions.
(credit to Brian Boyko: http://www.youtube.com/... )
And my swipe problem is just one among many symptoms of this basic incompatibility. This is a massive, colossal failure for one of our premier technology companies.
Well, a Board meeting is coming up. I am a local elected official, and one of the things I use my laptop for is to look at the documents in our ‘Board packet’ in preparing for the meeting, and during the meeting. I don’t bother getting printed copies any more. I am able to have multiple documents open at once on the Desktop, looking at the Agenda, and say two supporting documents involving the issue at hand, all sized so I can take in at a glance the relevant parts of each document. At least, I could do that – before Windows 8. Now, when I open one .pdf file, it launches in the native Metro app .pdf reader, which takes up the whole screen, cannot be resized, and allows you to do – nothing. You can move to the next page, and you can swipe it away. That’s it. It occurs to me that Microsoft Windows is now a misnomer. They need to rename it Microsoft Window.
Yes, I know I can download Adobe Acrobat Reader, install it, then go in and change the .pdf file association to Acrobat. But how many times must I go through this routine? I’ve now spent about 50 hours struggling with Windows 8, and figuring out ways to fix things so I can do what I already could in Vista.
And so far, exactly none of the new features, either in content (the new tile apps) or in the basic behavior of the OS, is an improvement. There is literally not one thing that I can look back on and say, yes, that is kinda cool.
My last attempt to do something with the Win8 machine was to download some pictures from my nice Canon Digital Rebel XT SLR camera. This has worked seamlessly under Vista. I plug it in, the computer gives a little ‘I sense a new device’ noise, then sits there. I can’t add the camera from within the OS, attempts to do so end in the message “A driver for this device either is not needed or is not available” – which if you think about it, is a pretty nice metaphor for the cluelessness of Win8 in general. Attempts to add it from the Canon website are similarly fruitless.
By this time it has been 34 days since I bought the thing. I really am afraid that Office Depot is going to balk at my returning it. I’m turning over in my mind who I really hate that I could give it to as a Christmas present. A previous trip to the store has confirmed that they don’t have Windows 7 available anymore, and they can’t load Windows 7 onto this machine even if they did. Fortunately, the manager did not bat an eye and refunded my money, without even a restocking fee. Well, I’ve been a good customer over the years. Wonder how many Win8 returns she has had to deal with?
I still need a new computer (my Vista Dell has soldiered on, thankfully, but it must be on its last legs), and Office Max can no longer sell me a Win7 machine. The University (where I teach in the Physics Department) computer store can order a custom-built Win7 Dell. I take a long, wistful look at the lovely Macs – and give Microsoft a few more of my dollars. For the last time?