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In 2011 I wrote an op-ed piece (for a different website…!) about how I felt that Microsoft had moved away from being the many-tentacled corporate beast with no interest in providing a solid, working operating system and every interest in raping dollars out of customers.
I argued that after the failure of Windows Vista, Microsoft had emerged as a company in touch with its user base, listening and almost caring. A case in point was the unprecedented granting of an audience with the developers of Windows Phone to the ChevronWP7 team, whose interest in maintaining a homebrew community (a thriving developer base had formed around the old Windows Mobile platform) and offering an unlock tool was – remarkably – given consideration and accepted.
It might be one of the technology industry’s ironies that Microsoft’s best product (Windows Phone) is the one that is selling the least, but generally speaking, everything that seemed to me to be good about Microsoft 12 months ago is quickly slipping away…
A PR-Driven Façade?
Has the smiley Joe Belfiore-lead Windows Phone love-in tainted my judgement, or has Microsoft genuinely lurched from being a corporate giant with a bad reputation to a nice, happy, family-oriented provider of useful desktop, gaming and mobile operating systems (with the obvious corporate side going unspoken) and then back again in the space of 18 months?
Has it all been a PR trick, performed to protect the formative steps of Windows Phone and the Metro UI?
This certainly seems likely. In hindsight, it seems Microsoft were being extremely generous with a system that could be (and probably has been) used to run pirated software on its phones. While there are plenty of useful homebrew tools available, however, the use of the ChevronWP7 unlock has been largely limited to enthusiasts and those of us requiring screenshot tools.
But as it becomes clear that Metro is increasingly important to Windows Phone, it seems ever clearer that Microsoft was merely protecting its new UI. Subsequently Metro has appeared on Xbox 360 and will soon be gaining popularity – or, more likely, notoriety – as the main feature of Windows 8.
Caring Family Oriented Microsoft vs The Truth
You’ve probably seen those “I’m a PC” adverts, the Windows Live Essentials commercials and the fun Windows Phone promos, that all paint Microsoft in slightly different ways. A result of the Vista debacle, they centre in Windows 7.
Let’s get this straight first of all: Windows 7 is the most secure, stable and confident operating system release from Microsoft yet. Like Windows 98 SE and Windows XP Service Pack 2 it has grabbed its user base by being competent. It’s arguably better than Mac OS X, the first time that a Windows OS has been able to claim this, and its use continues to grow. The adverts have been a success.
Which is why the continued insistence by Microsoft to keep pushing forward with a single operating system UI for Windows 8 across desktop, laptop, tablet and hybrid devices seems all the more ridiculous.
Want a Touch Screen Desktop Monitor? I Thought Not…
There seems little justification in forcing users to use an uncomfortable touch screen desktop display for Windows 8 in order to get the most out of the OS, and little sense in pushing Metro as the only UI.
While business users have expressed concern over the day-to-day desktop ability of the implementation of Metro in Windows 8, Microsoft has continued to ignore the concerns of its biggest market. Redmond knows best, see?
Of course, Microsoft has an ulterior motive in ensuring that Metro survives Windows 8. In order to reduce OS development costs in future they’re planning to issue a single OS across computers, consoles and phones. But a touch screen desktop monitor? This is madness!
In the post-Kinect era, monitors with that motion capture technology built in seem more appropriate. And what is wrong with a desktop touch pad, as seen with the recent Apple computers?
The Mask Slips Towards Disaster
As Microsoft continues its march towards a single platform at all costs, I have a bad feeling about Windows 8.
It’s a brilliant UI for tablets and hybrids, but absolutely pointless for a desktop computer. Without the facility to disable Metro, this makes Windows 8 nothing more than an expensive UI overlay, something that many users – corporate and home – will have already spotted.
Many people have noticed the “alternative release” pattern of Microsoft Windows over the years. As revolutionary and impressive as Metro and Windows 8 are in context, 2012 looks set to be another bad year; it might even be worse than 2007 and the release of Vista.
Did Microsoft Ever Stop Sucking?
Looking back on 2010 and 2011, it seemed that Steve Ballmer – a character who is regularly mocked, despite his successes – had put the right people in place to help Microsoft overcome its bad press. The ChevronWP7 situation was a key example of this, as was the wonderful use of Metro UI in Windows Phone 7.
However, while high profile, these seem like mere blips. A dogged determination to disregard the concerns of the very people expected to use Windows 8 is potentially damaging. But, do you know what? I think Microsoft genuinely did stop sucking for a few months. I think they really did believe what their adverts were telling us and the company made some very good noises.
The problem is, they didn’t like the noises coming from the critics and rather than take the feedback on board with Windows 8, they’re pushing forward with an OS that no desktop user wants. And that sucks.