Windows 8 – the end of Windows era

Live tiles? Not so lively

So the as whole array of various new iterations of MS Windows hit your screens, be it your desktop, cell phone, or laptop you may be wondering what live tiles are.

Essentially, live tiles are just graphically simplified widgets. There sn nothing ‘live’ about them; the fact that different tiles display a number of newly arrived text messages, emails, and missed calls is nothing new, better looking widgets on iOS or Android do the same thing. The so-called ‘People’ tile keeps flipping pictures of your contacts incessantly without a single purpose; no relevant information is being displayed. Microsoft wants you to think that picture flipping is somehow ‘live’ whatever that may mean. The weather hub on HTC Windows phones does not update the weather information so the ‘live’ status here is a mute one. In Windows phone 8 you can resize the tiles and move them around anyway you wish which results in your screen becoming cluttered with closely positioned flat and monochromatic boxes. The whole screen peppered with various size tiles is hard on the eyes and is difficult to find the exact tile you’re looking for or to glance at the newly arrived information. Any desire to change a theme or the wallpaper is impossible in Windows Phone 8.

I understand that after years of unsuccessful presence in the mobile market Microsoft desperately needed to come up with the new and unique OS, the one which is radically different not just from Apple’s and Google’s offerings but also from its own and antiquated Windows Mobile. The result looks radically different at a first glance but in essence what Microsoft offered were redesigned widgets. What it did however, was to ditch the entire WinMo community of users and developers, which prior to the appearance of WP7 held 12%, market share. WP7 took care of that chunk by shrinking it to a mere 3% after only two years of market presence. In a desperate and bold move, MS has decided to repeat the same mistake once again, hence Windows Phone 8, a ‘new and profoundly’ different platform which essentially locks any previous Windows Phone user from upgrading. Not to mention developers who need to redesign the already poultry app market.

It is not just mobile market that Microsoft has lost to Apple and Google, the new Chromebooks and the slew of tablets and smart phones are shaking the very foundation upon which the Microsoft empire was built; the PC market. It has become crucial for Microsoft to comes up with a system which will not only be competitive but which will also rise above the competition. For the past 30 years or so Microsoft has enjoyed an almost exclusive monopoly in the PC arena. In order to rule the market and to maintain its position Microsoft has embarked upon many lawsuits and illegal activities in order to thwart the competition. Remember Netscape? But times have changed.

With many PC makers barely surviving the onslaught of tablets and smartphones Microsoft is finally finding itself in an arena in which it doesn’t know how to play. It has become set in its monopolistic ways and any chance of real change simply becomes impossible; their products have stagnated and do not offer real customer value. In the past Microsoft has successfully thwarted any attempts by others to compete with Windows. This worked well for its coffers, heck at one point of time it was one of the biggest companies in the world, but it also created a long line of enemies who are waiting for something better and more profitable should the whole Windows 8 (in all its iterations) fail.

But back to live tiles or the Metro UI as it is known on Windows 8 desktops. They are Microsoft’s answers to Android and iOS, two mobile operating systems. The key word here is mobile. Upon closer analysis this can only be viewed as a desperate move by a software giant which is fast losing its ground. It attempts to combine mobile and desktop user experiences into one, a move that it deems will be its ‘phoenix’ a bold move into an arena where the competition is not present or is too weak. But this could also be its final mistake.

How are the sales going?

Steve Ballmer said that they moved 40 million licenses in the first month. However, he did not specify how many of them they actually sold to end users which leads us to believe that the number of sold Windows 8 licenses are far below the 40 million mark. Same thing with Windows Phone 8. You remember the headlines in 2010 when Windows phone 7 first hit the market? It was the proverbial third ecosystem that everybody was looking for and that everybody wanted. It was predicted to overtake iOS by 2014. Two years later it did not even come close to Apple clocking a mere 3% of the market share!

The history repeats itself. Once again we are witnessing the screaming headlines reminding us of how great both the Windows Phone 8 and the Windows 8 are; the all-in-one nirvana computing experience. Metro ‘dead’ tiles nonetheless.

Despite what Microsoft wants you to believe, Windows Phone 8 is NOT radically different from its previous iteration. What it doesn’t want to remind you of is the fact that Windows Phone 7 utterly failed in the market, I dare to say due to its ‘live’ tiles among other things. Rather than fixing what they launched 2 years ago MS is scraping the entire platform once again in a premise that WP8 is a different and much improved OS. It is not.

Besides changing the kernel and the size of live tiles there is not much to Windows phone 8 which would warrant lashing out a few hundred bucks once again to get the latest WP device. But that’s not all folks! In order to revive its failing mobile division Microsoft is forcing the Metro live tiles upon every desktop user, all 1 billion and plus of them.

What baffles me though is that there was no serious market research done in the last two years which would prove or disprove the popularity of so-called live tiles and the new UI. I suspect that if Microsoft has done so it would learn some valuable lessons, perhaps the fact that people get bored with it almost monochromatic UI, no themes available, no wallpapers, nothing which could personalize users experience and look of their devices. Instead, in its bullying fashion to which it has gotten used in the past three decades, Microsoft has decided to push this lackluster UI onto every single Windows users should they wish to fork out $40 for an upgrade.

Not since Windows Vista has there been an OS so widely derided as Windows 8. At first it may seem like a fun experience but that effect wears off fast. It is optimized for touch but a lot of designers of this new OS have chosen to ignore the fact that touch works in lean back motion not be lean forward (over your keyboard and mouse). Steve Jobs knew this, so instead of forcing Mac users to smudge their desktops with fingers it decided to redesign the trackpad instead and make it more touch friendly. Anybody who ever used MacBook Pro or MacBook Air knows what I am talking about. So unless you’re using a tablet this quickly becomes an exercise in frustration and arm pain. How fun pulling your hand off the keyboard to touch the screen every time you want to pick a menu in Word is?

What are your thoughts about Windows 8 UI? Do you like them or do you think they spell Microsoft’s doom?

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