The official Windows 8 release date is set for October 26, 2012, but I am already asking myself a couple of questions about the upcoming release:
First, will Windows 8 will turn into Vista 2? And second, what song are they going to use for their launch that can replace Mick Jagger singing "Start me up" (although I doubt as many of you care as much about the second question as much as I do).
As a software developer I can marvel at some of the new features and new user experiences in Windows 8 and wonder how I can take advantage of them to build better software. As a technologist I can appreciate the vision, and as a consumer I enjoy learning and using the new features. And yet despite all of that I can't help but wonder if I am reluctant to roll Windows 8 out at my office simply because I don’t look forward to training our employees on how to use Windows 8 and having to answer questions like “How do I get back to the Start button?” by explaining that the live tiles on the desktop replace the Start button.
I’m generally one of the first in line to embrace new technologies, so if I am hesitant I have to think that many more companies will be very reluctant to roll Windows 8 out as well – especially those companies still running XP (at least until 2014 when Microsoft will officially end of life that version of Windows), but also many companies who did upgrade to Windows 7.
It can take a little getting used to hovering over a corner of the monitor for a toolbar to appear just to go the Start tiles or search for an application. Or having an Internet Explorer take over the whole screen with no visible address bar (let alone not running plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight) or when you hover over the top tabs being as big as small phone screens I've used in the past. But it is even more unnerving for me when I do go to the desktop and the familiar Start button still doesn’t appear on the task bar like it did in Windows 7.
If they kept the Start button on the desktop, so a user could still operate in “Windows Classic” mode, then it would have made me think that it would be a lot easier to transition users to the new OS since I could easily explain how to get to the Start button. That fact that I would have to install a third party app, though, to restore the Start button makes me wonder why a company that has always paid such careful attention to backward compatibility for business applications would suddenly throw such caution to the wind regarding matters of usability and end user training (or should I say retraining?).
My best guess is that they’re looking over their shoulder at Apple and Google, and are trying to compete with them in the emerging markets and with new computers and devices taking on different form factors. Using Windows 8 at home I have to admit that viewing my photographs has never looked cooler than on Windows 8, and I like reading about sports or current events online in the new format. The only thing it lacks is a better way to determine who to pick up off the waivers in my fantasy football league (but hey, I guess that's something I can work on building for next season!).
But at work I want my new users to feel that the OS is still backwardly compatible, and to still operate in the way that everyone is already used to without being retrained. And I certainly don’t want to be the person who everyone asks why I took their start button away, or have to be responsible for retraining everyone on how to use Windows so we can upgrade the OS.
So I’m still left pondering, did Microsoft forget all of the lessons of Vista? Or is there a really good reason that I’m just not grasping yet why the Desktop couldn’t have retained the Start button for more of a Windows 7-like feel to make the transition easier? In 3 years it will be a moot point as everyone will be using the new user interface, but I’m afraid that in the short term there will be a lot of reluctance to migrate and Microsoft.
Am I the only person who feels conflicted this way? Or do you also think that many companies will avoid upgrading to Windows 8 as long as they can?