The Hidden Costs of Windows 8

12 Nov 2012Chris Fairey

Windows 8 has been out for just over 2 weeks, and has received mixed reviews from the technology industry.

Many consumers are confused by the introduction of Windows 8s new 'Start Screen', an attempt by Microsoft to make the operating system more accessible to people using touch-screen devices. However, the change to a touch-focused UI causes significant problems for people who are still interacting with Windows 8 using a keyboard and mouse.

Incompatible User Experiences

When you right-click on an item on the new Start Screen, the context-sensitive menu that would have popped up near your mouse pointer on previous versions of Windows, now appears at the bottom of the screen which, depending on the resolution of your display, and the location of the item you just clicked on, could be a long way from where your mouse is.

Now, I understand that, if you're running Windows 8 on a new Microsoft Surface, or other tablet, the decision to place the context menu at the bottom of the display, within easy reach of your fingers, is a good one, but it makes no sense if you don't have a touch screen input.

Why couldn't Microsoft have built a system into Windows 8 to determine if you even had the hardware to make use of the Start Screen as they intend you to, and only enable it if that hardware is present, if not fall back to a traditional Start Menu?

Different Application Behaviour

Launching Internet Explorer 10 from the Start Screen, will load up the IE 10 'Metro' interface, which is designed and optimised for web browsing on a tablet or other touch-screen device. However, switch to the standard Windows desktop (yes, it still exists) and load up IE 10 from there, and you get the familiar window, but any content you had loaded into the Metro interface of IE 10 is no where to be seen. The same holds true for several other Metro-enabled third-party applications as well.

If Microsoft was aiming for a seamless experience across the two distinct operating modes of Windows 8, as they claim, why wouldn't they make sure that at least their first-party applications demonstrated how best to achieve that?

Your Options

What the above boils down to, in the end are a set of circumstances in which switching to Windows 8 will actually cost businesses more money, due to increased support calls, staff re-training, and wasted productivity as current users struggle to get to grips with an operating system suffering from multiple personality disorder.

I can hear you crying it already, what's the alternative? In short, as a business you have 2 alternatives:

  1. Stick with your current version of Windows
  2. Migrate to an alternative platform

If you choose to stick with your current version of Windows, and that happens to be Windows XP, you have until 2014 before Microsoft officially ends support for Windows XP Service Pack 3. If you're running Windows 7, Windows 8 doesn't really give you any incentive to upgrade and, as highlighted already, may in fact cost you more money in the short term.

If you don't use any software that actually requires you to use Windows as a platform, and your e-mail is hosted by a third-party, it may be worth you looking at the alternative platforms that are available, including Linux, as it can be customised to closely resemble your current operating system, so users would need minimal training.

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