Windows 8: More for Microsoft’s benefit than yours

Windows 8 on Microsoft's Surface tablet
Windows 8 on Microsoft's Surface tablet
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Tech Talk: Window on a world of confusion with Microsoft’s new release. David Behrens reports.

THIS Friday sees the release of Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest attempt to drag its ageing operating system, kicking and screaming, into the 21st-century. While it would be unfair, this early, to write it off completely, the omens are not good.

You know you’re heading for trouble when even the man who created the company can’t find it in himself to like the product. Paul Allen, the multi-billionaire who was Bill Gates’s founding partner in Microsoft back in 1975, says the new version is “puzzling” and “confusing” – because of the two wholly different modes in which the system is capable of operating. Mode one, designed for desktop PCs and laptops, is a slight upgrade to the Windows we have grown to tolerate over the years. Mode two, built with touch-screen tablets in mind but also usable with a mouse and keyboard, is a radical overhaul, involving a considerable learning curve and a whole new set of “apps” – most yet to be developed – to get your work done.

The idea is that you can buy the same version of Windows no matter what type of device you’re using. The reality is that on a standard PC both modes run at once, with your web browser duplicated in each and no obvious way of switching between them. No way either of defaulting to the standard desktop view.

Mr Allen says such quirks will be “manageable by users” and that Microsoft will address them in the next release – which doesn’t make a compelling case for buying this one.

An American newspaper reported the head of processor maker Intel telling employees that Windows 8 was being released before it was fully ready.

This may explain why Microsoft has reduced the new product to only £25 for those wishing to upgrade from Windows 7. But even at that price, it’s not worth it; there’s not enough gain to offset the pain and the changes are more for Microsoft’s benefit than yours. Software is supposed to make life easier not harder, and if it comes with a learning curve the developer should be paying you £25, not vice versa.

The acid test of Windows 8’s success or failure will be the take-up of tablets running the new software, a market sector Microsoft has been uncharacteristically late to enter. Its new “Surface” models are also due out on Friday, in competition with the mighty iPad and a slew of smaller, cheaper tablets from Google and Amazon, among others.

In the face of those, will you opt for an untried system with a fraction of the number of useful apps? Me neither.