Windows 8 preview: you will hate it

St Mary's Church, Brome: stained glass windows (8)
St Mary's Church, Brome: stained glass windows (8)
Image © Copyright Basher Eyre and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

This title sums up what I think will be the likely response to the newest operating system from Microsoft, but let me go over a few things:

The good:  There are a lot of changes under the hood:

On the same hardware (Lenovo T420, 8GB RAM, Core i5, SSD), for me, bootup/shutdown times have been much faster.  I get an hour more battery life, which is basically worth the upgrade in and of itself.

The interface is cleaner and the whole experience feels snappier.  Basically all programs that anyone would reasonably use have proven to be 100% compatible; the only things that I use that aren't get really deep into the operating system and do things that you're not really supposed to do but that I occasionally have need of.

Hot corners are implemented better than I've ever seen them before.  If you've ever accidentally moused into the corner of someone's Mac, you know that you can make the whole screen freak out in unexpected ways if you're not used to it.  Windows 8, by contrast, merely pops up an unobtrusive UI element that can be clicked to invoke something without taking over your entire visual field.  Which is good; they'd better be implemented well because you'll be using them a lot.

Skydrive is something whose time has come, and the MS implementation of cloud sync is far, far better than Apple's.  You also get 7GB of online storage for free, a number obviously aimed at tweaking Google's nose. If you're not yet using a cloud sync service, the integration here will gently push you on board, mostly without telling you, which probably sounds annoying but is honestly much better than a default-off option.  I frankly consider this sort of thing to be a social good; legions of unsavvy folks will cease to lose their important documents and pictures when they just start popping on to the cloud.  You still need a real backup solution, but this puts you halfway there.

The bad: no Start button.  This is really going to mess with people. Navigation is all about hot corners, and getting to your applications now requires mousing to one corner or another depending whether you've got it pinned to the no-longer-named-Metro Start interface.  But notMetro isn't robust enough, so every time you go tere you will immediately click the "Desktop" tile to take yourself into real Windows, where you keep all your actual stuff.  No Start button also means no instant text launch, which my SSD-enabled self had come to depend on in 7.  As much as I hate to say it, Windows 8 could benefit from an early-XP style walkthrough of features, which it seems to lack.

The integration with social services, which should be under "the good", is instead half-hearted and Microsoft-focused. Background syncing is terrible, sloppy, and inconsistent, meaning that I'm generally better off going to the actual web app than waiting for the integrated "tile" to update.  The numbers of unread messages, tweets, etc. listed on the lock screen are always wrong.

The built-in mail app is terrible, and one of the few hideous things in the OS.  The only thing I should need to say is that you can't click-and-drag messages into folders. That's unforgivable.  For what it's worth, in the upcoming Office 2013 preview (spoiler alert) you'll find that's also gone high-contrast eye-bleaching white, so this seems to be a theme.

The built-in messaging notMetro app only integrates with MSN and Facebook, which is ridiculous and again unforgivable, especially as Google Talk uses a perfectly open platform and connecting to it is trivial.

The beautiful-but-irritating: notMetro is gorgeous, to my eyes.  I wish the tiles would work, because it's a much better method of catching and displaying all of your necessary information.  The presentation is lovely, if annoyingly tablet-focused, but the latter is almost certainly the right decision.

But it's different, and there's no clear indication of the ways that it's different.  It took me a couple of days to become comfortable navigating it, which means that I have clients who never will be.

I think this is probably purposeful, though.  The way to get people to adopt a new UX style is not to gradually change what they're used to; they'll fight you every step of the way.  The method that works is to go much too far, wait for the backlash, and then back off just enough that you seem like you're compromising.  Microsoft's partnership with Facebook is probably where they learned this technique.

Here is what will happen: Windows 8 will ship but with downgrade rights to Windows 7, at least for a year.  A few bleeding-edgers will purchase Windows 8 machines, and there will be an internet firestorm which will put everyone off of it.  Windows 7 adoption will actually accelerate, and folks will convince themselves that by downgrading they are sticking it to Microsoft.

Threeish years later, Microsoft will release Windows-whatever-9-or-something, with some moderate rollbacks to the UI changes, and it will be hailed the same way that Windows 7 was in the aftermath of Vista.  It will be rapidly adopted, especially as the Windows 7 downgrade window will have closed, and folks purchasing new machines will have to choose between 8 and 9-or-whatever.  The UX changes that Microsoft really wants implemented will become a fact of life.  Also, by this point tablet computing will have completely eclipsed desktop computing, so 9ow will make sense for the average user.  This may or may not give Microsoft a chance to dent the lead that iOS and Android will have in tablet computing by leveraging Office, which is the only truly dominant suit that Microsoft has left.

This sort of wandered out of the field of previewing and into Nostradamus, but still, you don't come here for the usual tech blog stuff, do you?