When I first saw the tiled interface of Windows 8 over two years ago, I was intrigued by its whiff of freshness. Its attractive and colourful tiles beckoned me to touch it, as if it were a bag of sweets for a six year old. It was simply irresistible.
Fifteen minutes later, I knew Microsoft had created a disaster. The "Metro" touch interface was beautiful, but like flowers that wilt, it was skin deep. For over 20 years, Windows faithfuls like myself stuck to the boring desktop interface of Windows because we were used to it. I have never even considered the more seductive looks of the Mac OSX, because of my familiarity with Windows. I don't need my PC operating system to have "sex" (appeal) as the late Apple boss Steve Jobs would put it. I just need it to work.
Windows 8 is a nightmare. Microsoft literally shoved its new Start screen - filled with the new spiffy "Modern" apps from its new Windows Store - down our throats. But I don't want the Weather app or the News app. I want to type my stories, view my photos, surf the Web on my favourite Chrome browser and play my favourite PC games. I want to get stuff done, not consume content as I would on my smartphone and tablet. The familiar Desktop interface was relegated to an app on the new Start screen, like a war veteran who has served his purpose and is now sent to a nursing home to convalesce, forever.
To get to the familiar Windows interface, I had to click on the Desktop app on the Start Screen. When I got there, I had no idea how to launch my programs. In the past, I would have simply clicked on the Start button to launch the Start menu and then clicked on the desired programme to launch it. But this time, I could only stare at the screen. Both the Start button and Start menu were gone. Windows 8 was not a brand new operating system - it was a skin overlaid on top of the Windows 7 engine to make it work in the world of touch. It was not built ground up for touch. It became an unmitigated disaster of the highest proportions.
The first round of 2-in-1 hybrids in 2012 which were supposed to work as tablet and laptop were particularly bad, and seemed hurried. The touch screens were too thick and too heavy. Adding a detachable keyboard to a Windows tablet might make it look like a laptop but the heavy topside meant that the device was unstable and easily tipped over with a slight nudge. PC vendors came up with all sorts of form factors to kickstart the new hybrids. Convertible laptops which had screens that could be folded all the way to become tablet were born. But who would want to carry a 1.2kg tablet when tablets from Apple and Samsung were just over 600g at that time?
Over the last two years, I have watched Windows touch-screens become thinner and vendors pouring out their souls to innovate to make new hybrids that would take advantage of duality of Windows 8. The best incarnation of the Windows 8 dream is probably the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. But I am still not sold on the idea of having a 2-in-1 device, not when my iPad is still the better and lighter tablet while I stay faithful to my non-touch Windows laptop.
Hardware may have improved, but apps remain the bugbear of Windows 8. The selection of these "Modern" apps on the Windows Store remain pathetic today when compared to the Apple and Google equivalents. There is, still, no official You Tube or Gmail app. Popular games such as Clash of Clans, Candy Crush and Subway Surfers are, still, not be found on the Windows app store. This hard truth has not escaped Microsoft's attention - it marketed its new Surface Pro 3 as a replacement for the Macbook Air laptop, not as a competitor to the iPad.
There are two versions of many programs - one version for the good old desktop and another for the Start Screen. For instance, there are two versions of Internet Explorer, two versions of the default photo viewer and two versions of the built-in video player. The system sets the default photo viewer as the Modern app version called Photos instead of desktop version called Windows Photo Viewer. The new Photos app is not intuitive because it does not let you navigate to the next image when you are opening a photo in a folder, like when viewing your digital camera roll. There are even two versions of the Control Panel, with the Modern version named PC Settings.
The tech titan was used to hegemony and being at the top of its game. That's the world of PC. But in the mobile arena of smartphones and tablets, it was painfully insignificant. Three years ago, Microsoft could only observe from the sidelines as the iPad and Android tablets took the world by storm. Apps and app stores were the rage, and rivals Apple and Google were earning a sweet 30 per cent cut for every app sold through their app marketplaces.
Microsoft did not even have an operating system made for tablets at that time. Its Windows Phone operating system had a low single-digit market share. It could have ported over its smartphone into the bigger screen, as rivals Apple and Google did. But it would take too long to gain traction and possibly might never catch up. Meanwhile, sales of PCs were bleeding red as consumers chose tablets over a ultra-light laptop for their second computing device. So Microsoft decided to rely on its old faithfuls of over 1 billion Windows PC users out there by making a new version of Windows that would work on both tablets and PCs. Windows 8 was the answer - or so thought Microsoft.