Exploring Windows 8: Why most tech reviewers are getting it wrong!

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Authors Note:  While the main purpose of this blog is to discuss healthcare and related issues like the economy, and political implications and drivers, I have had a long history in the PC industry going back to the dawn of what we call the modern pc era.  As such I have had more than a few people asking me what I think of the new computing trends for touch-based tablets and pcs as well as Windows 8.  Please forgive this digression to my past life.  Indirectly the trend toward individual personally centered transactions systems is key to our future healthcare needs.  Perhaps I will write an article on that as well in the near future.  Regardless, I hope most of you will appreciate this article and forgive its intrusion into the healthcare dialog.

I have been fascinated and appalled at the recent reviews of Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system.  I have been fascinated by the continuation of the journalistic trend to initially bash anything from Microsoft or, at a minimum, begin reviews with lead lines about where or how their products missed the mark.  I have been appalled at the lack of real usage of the system or any attempt to understand what this new system will mean to users before the rush to review. This is just not a system you will learn in a few hours or a weekend and get the benefits from.

As an illustration of the lack of use or understanding, one of the biggest complaints, at least one of the most consistent complaints, is how those idiots at Microsoft (italics unsaid but implied in the article’s tone) eliminated the beloved start button!  I have seen this statement in almost all of the reviews I have read.  Further, the reviewers go on at length at what a problem this has caused as they try to use the system.  This is not a true statement, and it’s wrong in its application.

The first thing you see when you load Win 8 for the first time is the start button.  Now the start button is called the start screen.  As the start button of old, it is the center point for access to any application you may want to run.  As the start button, you can show items pinned to it, and you can also hide programs you seldom use from it.  Unlike the old start button, the programs are listed as dynamic tiles that can range in size from small to large and can, at your discretion, be “live” tiles that can quickly communicate visually, changes in the application state, or information the application manages for you, in a quick visually appealing glance.  Also, unlike the start button of old, this screen is the geocentric hub for direct access to almost anything you want to do system-wise.

If you want to search, unlike the start button, you type the terms or phrase you want to search for, and voila, an interface lists every file, application, or setting that the phrase occurs in.  I think this is much quicker, and I find it much more accurate than the older search function.  Further, most Win 8 apps have direct search enabled, so from within those apps, like the ‘app-store app, you can do the same thing. Just type the term and get a search within the scope of the app.

I have found that Win 8 is a much more effective and integrated system than Windows 7, but I did not feel this the first few days I used it. Like most reviewers, I quickly had a “what the heck were they thinking?” reaction. It took some time for me to modify my practices to gain the benefits of the new system.  While the interface is an obvious and drastic change, the benefits are often very subtle but nonetheless effective.  The Windows key, situated between the control key and the alt key on most keyboards, has long seen little use; now, it will become an integral part of your efficient use of Win 8.  This long-forgotten key becomes the gateway to significant increases in your work efficiencies and speed.  What to search for something in an app that incorporates a text editor?  Well, you can’t really type on the screen, can you?  So use the Winkey “Q” combination.  Want to share this with Twitter folks, Facebook, via e-mail, or other methods? Hit Winkey “S.” Do you want to send the file to another device, like a printer, or a USB storage card, or a second screen? Use the Winkey “K” combination.  These fast key combinations are simple to remember and really increase your productivity.

As you no doubt are aware, Windows 8 is the new touch screen interface.  I have used iPhone and iPad almost from the day of both releases and found them to be two of the first implementations of portable communication and data devices that were innately functional.  While they were useable and initially a very refreshing implementation of other existing systems, over time, the novelty waned, and the realities of the limits of the platforms set in.  As is always the case with technology, fulfilling one set of expectations causes the rise of a new set.  Unfortunately, existing systems need to support legacy systems, and design criteria become somewhat fixed.  For me, the limits I know saw did not change in the subsequent releases, and in some cases, they grew, so as time went on, my satisfaction with those products waned.  While this is not the case for many, for me and some others, this is always the case with technology solutions.  We seek the next advantage.  We, so-called early adopters, are willing to change our paradigms to gain an advantage.  So as an early beta tester of Windows 8, the change to a new way of being was not as limiting; it is exciting for people like me.  I relish learning a new way to do something and will experiment and seek tips and tricks to expose different, sometimes better methods, to accomplish the same task.

Using Windows 8 on non-touch enabled devices at first glance can seem counterintuitive if you become bound by your old processor bound by the concept of touch as a key.  In the case of Windows 8, it at once was both a radical change from the old system and not radical enough.  You can use the new system for the new methods, but in the case of legacy issues, you can still use your older applications as well, with most of the old interface.  While most reviewers decry the partial old interface, as I said earlier, they are actually missing the benefits by focusing on what they wish was there!  Put another way; they adopt the position; why didn’t they leave the old interface there, so I don’t have to change anything.  The answer is, then Win 8 and what follows will never be more than Windows 7, which was bound by old Vista, bound by Windows NT, and that extends all the way back to MS-DOS.

For its entire history, Windows in its various forms has been constrained by MS-DOS. As time has gone on, much has been done to mitigate the limitations of MS-DOS, but still, the limits of backward compatibility remained.  Over time the pundits decried the limitations and implored Microsoft to more on.  They have tried a few times, and every time the same pundits decried the moves forcing them to go back again.  There have been some very remarkable withdrawals, one of the biggest happened, resulting in the pullback of some key features in Vista a few weeks before release.  What has been needed for a long time was the ability to have a major paradigm shift.  MS needed some kingpin to make such a pivot.  Touch appears to have finally become that pivot point.

As an illustration of the prior point, users of any old windows system got used to managing the number of open applications.  We had adopted the practice of closing an app when we were done with it.  That was not just good practice in the older systems. It was pragmatically required.  One common confusion for new users is there is no “X” button to close the app, nor an integral menu bar with the close or exit list item.  So how do I close an app?  Well, you do not have to.  This new, relatively unchained to the past system, deals with apps entirely differently and reportedly more efficiently.  There is a method to close your app through a finger swipe, drag and drop, or key combination.  But you can just hit the Windows key and go to your next app.  Windows will close it at some point when it needs to. I have tested this for a month, closing noting, and have not had one problem.

We all focus on the User Interface, but the benefits of Windows 8 go way beyond the UI.  Win 8 is not just a new operating system; it is an entirely new viewpoint on connecting with others, dealing with data, and transacting with the outside world.  For centuries transactions have been driven by an institutional-centric point.  The center of all of our transactions has been institutional, even if it was person to person.  The person who validated the transaction was the maker (buyer, if you will).  That point ultimately controlled the process, what data was required, and how the data was managed and interpreted.  The birth of the cloud has been one of, if not the first, truly evolutionary steps in our recent technology history.  Prior achievements have been revolutionary.

The birth of the cloud has been remarkably indefinable as to why many have moved to the cloud.  There are real benefits that the cloud brings, but if you have asked many CEOs why they needed to move to the cloud, many of the responses have been less concrete and more abstract. For some, it has been, “because we need to move to the cloud, everyone is!”  As the cloud is developing, so too is a different view of the transactional landscape.  Transactions are now moving to a model where the individual is the center point.  This is bringing many advantages.

It is not my intention to get too deep into this fairly abstract discussion, if you want to know more or discuss these ideas further just contact me.

Windows 8 is yet more evidence of this evolutionary step.  The true benefits of Win 8 lie under the hood and the ease and transparency by which the value of the cloud is incorporated into the methods that use to make these magical devices work.  From the ability to identify, gather information, sort and search for contacts ubiquitously, regardless of whether they exist in your old outlook contacts list, exist in your Twitter followers, exist as your Facebook friends, LinkedIn and I am sure many more points in the cloud; to similar redefinitions of interconnectedness inherent in other uses of the system the cloud is no longer an abstract destination based place, you and your system are now at once the destination and a destination for all devices.  This is not the only behind-the-scenes shift.  There are many more.  They all, in essence, change the user to the center-point of the cloud, and with that comes a significantly different and efficient experience. If I am the center, I am the destination.  I don’t have to go to Facebook, or LinkedIn, or to some other destination to gain much of the benefit of connectivity because the connection now is me!

Bill Gates’s vision from 20 years ago is becoming a reality.  In a meeting at the Airport Marriot Hotel outside of San Francisco, Bill Gates gave a keynote address to describe a future where people interacted with three kinds of devices: a personal interactive device, a portable interactive device, and a social interactive device.  Of course, today, he obviously meant personal computers & laptops, smartphones, and televisions.  It was not so obvious, or even believable, too many in the room at the time.  After many years and billions of investment in development, I believe Windows 8 represents the beginning of the true implementation of Gates’s vision.  I am sure that Apple users will see similarities of visions and evolutions in Apple’s products.  What I see as an old (in years, not in mind) early adopter user, who has been doing this since the beginning days of the pc industry, is that Windows 8 and Apple share similar current usability. Still, personally, I find the integration of the Windows 8 phone (in my case, a Nokia Lumia 920), my tablet (MS Surface RT), and my desktops (numerous laptops, desktops, and workstations), now have a level of easy integration that is at least one step further than any of the existing systems.
Sure there are current limitations and things that need both development and improvement.  Anyone can take a look at a newly developed system based on such a fundamental paradigm shift and find lots of things that either need to improve, have bugs, or …  Yet so far, after actually using the systems for a while, I have personally found noticeable gains in efficiencies, ease of dealing with multiple tasks and integrating data, converting data to information and linking the information to some actionable result.  In the end, this is what I look for in my technological aids.

I not only expect Windows 8 to be viewed as the beginning of a new era, I think it will reposition Microsoft as a true innovator, not just in technology but in the changing view of the position of individuals as the center point of their experiences.

I would encourage all of you to take a hard look and see for yourself.

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Tom Loker
Tom Loker

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