Is Windows 8 the new Vista? (Redux)

Paul Thurrott has been posting recently that inside Microsoft people are referring to Windows 8/8.1 as “Vista”.  Of course many outsiders (but not me) have referred to it as being as bad as Vista ever since Windows 8 was revealed to the world.  I have a problem with the analogy, though I understand why insiders would now be using it.

The problem I have with the Windows 8 as Windows Vista analogy are the quality problems that Vista had.  It just didn’t work.  That’s not a problem Windows 8 had, so I really don’t like the comparison.  For me its a visceral thing.

Another problem Windows Vista had was that it offered little compelling user value.  Yes the security was much better, but the pain level that it forced on users was higher than the perceived benefit.  This was the result of many things, a key one being a failure to balance the benefits of the User Account Control (UAC) feature with its potential intrusiveness. A second being that UAC exposed the architectural flaws in many applications (that required them to run as administrator), and Vista took the blame for the application vendors’ tardiness in addressing them.

But the third problem is one where the Windows 8 and Windows Vista analogy does work for me.  They both exhibit an arrogance towards users that needlessly alienated them.  That is, they don’t offer enough compelling value for the majority of users compared to the pain level they extract.  They both expected users to accept change and pain just because Microsoft said it was good for them.

In Windows Vista’s case it was literally forcing change without explanation or any significant benefit.  In Windows 8’s case it was forcing desktop users to accept changes that were necessary to enter the tablet market, and that pointed to a future direction for all users, before they provided any benefit to those desktop users.  Dropping the ability to boot into the Desktop?  Totally arbitrary, unnecessary, and insulting in the eyes of most users.  Dropping the option of a cascading Start Menu?  Almost as bad, though I continue to believe that if the Start Screen had been designed a little differently it could have been accepted.  Still it’s clear that what users wanted, and Microsoft could easily have offered, was Windows 8 with a “Tablet First” mode and a “Desktop First” mode.  Then subsequent releases could have made those more nuance than reality.

The feedback on this was clear from the first appearance of the Windows 8 Developer Preview, but the Windows team’s reaction was the opposite.  The ability to turn on boot to desktop and the cascading start menu were removed after that preview and the feedback.  Power Users saw it as pure arrogance.  And while I think most were irrationally negative on the new Start Screen, and other aspects of Windows 8, the Windows team showed little sensitivity to their input.

And therein lies a key problem with Windows 8 and the development philosophy of Steven Sinofsky.  The secrecy.  The unwillingness to bounce things off customers early enough to make changes.  A worship of  schedule and process above wisdom and expertise, even if the result is the wrong thing shipped on the promised timeline.    Steven will no doubt dispute this, but this is how those outside his sphere see his way of developing software.  And in the case of Windows 8 it caught up with him, in a really big way.

And that’s why insiders are equating Windows 8 and Windows Vista.  There is no more damning thing they could do.  Steven’s leaders threw Vista in the face of anyone who criticized their decisions or the processes by which they got there.  It was Microsoft’s version of playing the “race card”.  It was almost impossible to defend a position in the face of the Vista card.  Windows 7 seemed to prove the Sinofsky way of doing things as the right way.  He became President of the Windows Division with almost free reign over Windows 8.  And the ability to win almost any battle with other divisions.  The result?  Failure by most definitions, complete failure by some.

Calling Windows 8 “Vista”, and getting ready to name a release Windows 9, is much more than an attempt to distance Windows from Windows 8.  It is the way to distance Windows, and Microsoft overall, from the Sinofsky era.  Rumors that Microsoft may discuss Windows 9 (nee, Threshold?) at Build 2014, if true, is an external acknowledgement of this.

Meanwhile “Windows 8″ has probably become the new “race card” at Microsoft.  A symbol of how process over product fails.  A symbol of how failing to listen to your customers results in product failure.  A symbol of how failing to exploit collective wisdom and experience results in product failure.  And unfortunately, as much as we can hope otherwise, a way to shut down discussion rather than pay attention to constructive criticism.

Let me be clear that Windows 8, like Windows Vista, has far more good in it than most critics (internal or external) are willing to acknowledge.  And the software engineering process focus that Sinofsky brought to Windows was a sorely needed change from the disarray that lead to Vista.  Windows 7, almost certainly the best release of Windows ever, couldn’t have happened without Windows Vista.  Windows 7 also couldn’t have happened without great development processes.    It sounds like Windows 9 will likewise build on Windows 8, and will likewise build on solid processes that have been remolded to (hopefully) merge the best of the Sinofsky-era processes with the best of the pre-Sinofsky era and subsequent learnings.

But if you want to know the real lesson from all of this it’s that the Windows team doesn’t have, and has not had since Windows 95, good processes for doing revolutionary advances of Windows.  The much beloved Windows XP and Windows 7 releases were done with completely different philosophies and processes, but were very much incremental improvements over their predecessors.  The two releases intended to revolutionize Windows, Longhorn/Vista and Windows 8, both failed largely because they didn’t have processes suitable to their scope.  In the first one could argue it was too little process discipline, and in the latter too much.  Yes there are many other factors, but the lack of having the appropriate processes for revolution rather than evolution stands out as a point of commonality.

So is Windows 8 the new Vista?  I still don’t like it, but if making the analogy helps the Windows team create a truly great Windows 9 release than I’m all for Microsoft using the analogy internally.

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24 Responses to Is Windows 8 the new Vista? (Redux)

  1. Pingback: Window 7 Tech | Is Windows 8 the new Vista? (Redux) | Hal's (Im)Perfect Vision

  2. Chris Kirby says:

    Win 8 is by far the fastest and most stable version of Windows that I’ve used to date, that alone puts it in an entirely different league than Vista. Vista basically screwed the OEM, which in turn screwed us with all of the driver compatibility craziness. However, from a public perception standpoint, its a valid comparison. Forcing me out of the desktop that I love was a huge mistake on their part…HUGE. I write software and now you’re making me hunt through big ass tiles to find the visual studio icon…really poor execution. 100% of their users were desktop users on windows 7, so 100% of us needed a better transition that booting to big ass tiles. Not to mention the api mess and total app confusion. Skype for win 8 and Skype for desktop on the same machine that don’t know each other exist and can’t communicate if they did, enough said. At this point, i’m for an iOS / OSX split. Give me my desktop x86 OS and put RT on phones and tablets. Thats what i expect to hear at BUILD this year, so I still have hope.

    • Edgar says:

      If you use a LOT visual studio, then pin to the taskbar, I rarely use start screen to launch non metro apps.

      • Chris says:

        No doubt. It’s just an example of a general start menu complaint. I actually use Start8 and now my win 8.1 experience is perfect.

  3. Chris says:

    Win 8 is by far the fastest and most stable version of Windows that I’ve used to date, that alone puts it in an entirely different league than Vista. Vista basically screwed the OEM, which in turn screwed us with all of the driver compatibility craziness. However, from a public perception standpoint, its a valid comparison. Forcing me out of the desktop that I love was a huge mistake on their part…HUGE. I write software and now your making me hunt through big ass tiles to find the visual studio icon…really poor execution. 100% of their users were desktop users on windows 7, so 100% of us needed a better transition that booting to big ass tiles. Not to mention the api mess and total app confusion. Skype for win 8 and Skype for desktop on the same machine that don’t know each other exist and can’t communicate if they did, enough said. At this point, i’m for an iOS / OSX split. Give me my desktop x86 OS and put RT on phones and tablets. Thats what i expect to hear at BUILD this year, so I still have hope.

  4. iravgupta says:

    From Microsoft’s Engineering Windows 7 blog – “While providing this touchable experience, we made sure you are getting the full Windows 7 experience and not a sub-set just for touch. We’ve been asked if we are creating a new Touch UI, or “Touch Shell” for Windows – something like Media Center that completely replaces the UI of Windows with a version that is optimized for touch. As you can see from the beta, we are focused on bringing touch through the Windows experience and delivering optimized touch interface where appropriate. A touch shell for launching only touch-specific applications would not meet customers’ needs – there would be too much switching between “touch” mode and Windows applications. Instead, we focused our efforts on augmenting the overall experience so that Windows works great with touch.”

    • waldtaube says:

      That’s why when they did revamp the UI and app model in Win8 they tried to position it as the new app model for Windows as a whole, not just for touch.

  5. iravgupta says:

    From Microsoft’s Engineering Windows 7 blog “While providing this touchable experience, we made sure you are getting the full Windows 7 experience and not a sub-set just for touch. We’ve been asked if we are creating a new Touch UI, or “Touch Shell” for Windows – something like Media Center that completely replaces the UI of Windows with a version that is optimized for touch. As you can see from the beta, we are focused on bringing touch through the Windows experience and delivering optimized touch interface where appropriate. A touch shell for launching only touch-specific applications would not meet customers’ needs – there would be too much switching between “touch” mode and Windows applications. Instead, we focused our efforts on augmenting the overall experience so that Windows works great with touch.”

    • Matthew says:

      Awesome quote picked. Microsoft touted much that Windows 7 was great for touch but with all Windows 7 success it failed in the touch screen market with OEMs not believing it enough to make touch screen laptops or tablets or 2-in-1s. However, the work done there made the desktop usable with touch when we got touch screens due to Windows 8 Touch UI.

  6. Info Dave says:

    The “Is Windows 8 the new Vista?” question cannot be answered. The reasons for failure are too numerous to mention. The arguments for and against will continue ad infinitum. That said, there are a lot of similarities between Vista and Windows 8.

    First, neither was a failure. Second, neither was Windows 7. In comparison to Windows 7, neither Vista or Windows 8, could be described as successful. And regardless of the reasons, both have similar acceptance in the real world. Or, at least the real world, as described by Net Applications.

    Using Net Applications data, Windows adoption can be seen at info-tran dot com/WindowsAdoption.png

  7. Edgar says:

    Then windows 7 is the new windows XP.
    As user of surface RT from more than a year, I will say confidently that that problem with windows 8 is the lack of a comprehensive and intuitive mouse and touchpad gestures.

    In tablet mode windows 8 and specially 8.1 are nearly perfect, I would like only that Microsoft include more gestures like two and three finger swipe and four finger pinch.
    However in desktop mode you cannot mimic the same gestures easily.

    For example with mouse, to access the charms you have to touch one hot corner, this is a hit or miss in most of cases, same for open apps.
    One solution is that with a right click along with the context menu at the edges of the box where “edges” that mimic the screen edges. Instead to capture the app and move the mouse all the way to the bottom, you click the top hot edge and close the app. click on left edge and access open apps, right edge and you access charms, bottom edge you access all apps.
    With track pad the solution is to mimic the gestures of the screen, I mean a swipe from the edges should have the same effect when you do that in the screen, and please OEM’s learn from Apple how to implement a good track pad.

    Then the use in desktops pc’s, most metro apps work well in tablets and small screens, but when you have a 22″ monitor a full screen metro app is just awful. The solution is to allow metro apps to behave like traditional windows apps and to run in desktop too.
    The start button is less an issue in win 8.1, my niece have some trouble with the start menu, a simple solution was to extend the desktop wallpaper to the start screen, now she see as an extension of the desktop and was more easier to understand, now she feel easier to find things in the new all apps menu than in the old start menu where you have to click then scroll, click then scroll to find a program.

    Another problem is the lack of innovation from OEM’s, may be they feel betrayed as Microsoft is now a manufacturer too, but if they want to survive they need to deliver outstanding devices. To date I cannot recall a single windows 8 device (outside surface line) that make me eager to purchase one.

  8. Brian says:

    When I hear that “Win8 is to Vista…”, I’m assuming that the next thing I’ll hear is “As Win9 is to Win7″. Chaotic development and company-strength-sapping delays aside, Vista was a necessary step in the evolution of Windows. Microsoft was just getting out the hole that it had recognized with BillG’s “Trustworthy Computing” email with WinXPsp2, and it needed to do something to push the OS to a more secure future. Vista pissed off a lot of customers by heavy-handedly implementing UAC and, in some ways, breaking the driver model. However, Win7 wouldn’t have been the success it was without Vista having sloppily broken through the bush and trampling a trail.

    Win8 is a very stable and very fast version of Windows (it took a few service packs for Vista to get to that level). With the refinements of 8.1, I think it’s the best version ever shipped, by far. Microsoft really wanted to move the world to a new app model, and the WinRT APIs were the initial step in that direction (at least it succeeded, the last go around (putting .NET in the OS in Longhorn was a FUBAR experience)). Microsoft also wanted to move into the touch/tablet space, and it was committed to a “Windows Everywhere” strategy, so much of the direction of the Windows 8 development was set.

    But, like Vista, Win8 is pretty much “next-gen v1″. Microsoft doesn’t always excel on v1 attempts (the .NET Framework is a notable exception). But, it is good at learning from it’s mistakes. That’s why I think that Win9 will be Win8’s equivalent of Vista’s Win7.

  9. dw says:

    I can’t wait to see if Sinofsky responds to this one. We know he has read and responded to Hal’s posts in the past.

  10. henbo says:

    That’s right on. I’ve come to think of Windows 8.1 as Vista when I noticed it will loose installed programs on upgrade (or refresh).

    So switching is now a disruptive operation with limited success, at best. Not a big issue for many, but prohibitive for some.

    With the lack of support for app deployment into corporate environments and for distributed applications in particular, l and too many other software developers may not be motivated to jump on the RT platform.

    This is what it shares with Vista, it gives you enough hassle to hate it and it encourages you to skip it and wait for V.Next, which may or may not be a Windows at all, if and when a tablet or other smart device offers a more preferable platform.

  11. JimmyFal says:

    With Vista I had to teach people what “not responding” meant, because there were so many times that you would try to do something and couldn’t because of performance nightmare like that one.

    With Win 8, as just one example, you have folks that are encouraged to create a MS account before even using the computer. So you create that account with your current email address, and instantly you have a non-functioning “sync” situation for POP addresses, no contacts, no calendar. And then you use a Yahoo or AOL AS your MS account and your email comes in but your contacts and calendars don’t sync, forcing you to go right back to the website to do your emailing. God forbid you go and get the Yahoo “app” that doesn’t sync contacts, or the AOL “app” that doesn’t even exist. Sure there are ways around this kind of stuff, but if anyone that doesn’t get why this would be a problem for consumers, simply does not get consumers to begin with.

    The sad part is, Win 8 is not a performance nightmare, it is a performance dream. My dream would be for all my customers to have outlook.com email addresses. Then of course everything would work as advertised right out of the box. And when the computer crashed, all there stuff would be safe in the cloud. But they all don’t, and many resent being somewhat forced into that direction even thought that is a good direction.

    They can accept this kind of change with a new device such as a tablet, but they resent it on the device they use to just get things done, the computer. I would never want them to remove Metro, I want it there as a choice. It’s a tough situation they have created. But it can all be fixed, hopefully the right folks are behind the wheel now, the pipes are great, it’s the paint job that needs rethinking. Sure we have time for Windows 9, but what can they do in the mean time. There is no way for them to insure that boxes, tablets, and laptops have 8.1 preinstalled. Another out of box nightmare to get from 8.0 to 8.1. NO average consumers can deal with that without losing patience.

    • yuhong says:

      I wonder if there is any chance that the Win8.1 OOBE can be changed to make creating a local account easier (like it was in Win8.0) in update 1.

  12. Chui Tey says:

    Hal,

    Perhaps it is not arrogance but necessity? Customer goodwill – like money – is of no use when taken to the grave.

    The best light to look at the current Win8 brouhaha is that Windows 8 comes with a giant billboard for Windows Phone/Phablet/Tablets that flashes at you at the beginning and then every 15 minutes. By 2015, when W9 is out, a large section of home users would have been trained on the new touch UI, and the touch OS is ready to be spun off to a familiar audience.

    An old friend who’s now trying to sell you his latest MLM product may be annoying, but he remains a friend and there’s still trust. Windows 8 is still essentially Windows. You haven’t been cheated of your investment. However, if the friend then steals from you, then that is no longer true. This is the real problem that MS faces.

    Microsoft used to be good at doing the difficult things, but the introduction of a brand new API in Windows and disinvestments in existing ones by DevDiv is laziness. It is MS’s job to sweat the details. Instead of wiping the slate clean, and starting anew. Creating new versions of the same products thins out the engineering brain power, increases support costs and decreases product velocity. Not to mention the marketing disaster that imposes on ISV by making porting very expensive. You can spend goodwill, but you can’t spend trust. Through working in a vacuum of secrecy, major allies have been left rudderless without any roadmap, and MS without getting feedback.

    The process was simply wrong.

    I hope the API gets unified and cleaned up in Windows 9. Here’s my wish list:

    1. Map and then communicate clearly how companies can protect and leverage their existing investments in the new environment. In particular, the Windows team now has to do the work DevDiv traditionally has been doing – introducing APIs and techniques to address developer pain points. XAML is actually quite good at rendering alternate UIs. Why not take advantage of this and support touch better? Another option is using accessibility magnifiers to enable pinch to zoom. This way, existing applications not built for touch can continue to run.

    2. Back port APIs so existing applications can take advantage of power saving features, like application suspension.

    3. Get Language Projections back into the original Windows API.

    • halberenson says:

      No, they simply refused input. I hear incredible stories of the Windows team leadership just refusing to pay any attention to input from other parts of the company. There is no necessity here, just incredible arrogance.

      • JimmyFal says:

        ” I hear incredible stories of the Windows team leadership just refusing to pay any attention to input from other parts of the company.”

        So my biggest question in this vein moving forward, has this roadblock been resolved with the new re-organization? If they are now listening, who will they be listening to, the users or the developers? I mean the lack of functionality of a Share charm on the desktop screen, should have set off someone’s freaking usability meter, big time.

        They talked a LOT about how they had all this “telemetry” of people using the new OS and that the telemetry pointed to it being the right direction. Well MY telemetry has told me that as long as people have a decent understanding of the new OS, and as long as some things about how it works have been explained to them, then they are willing to give it a go. However, most people do not get that “introduction”. They walk out of Best Buy with a new OS, get home, plug it in, and there heads explode.

        I remember Julie Larson-Green stating in recent interview, that “we didn’t do this (make all these changes), to spite you (the consumer).” Shouldn’t the fact that she had to acknowledge the level of frustration have set off all the lights needed to change things moving forward?

      • yuhong says:

        This reminds me of the fiasco with Visual C++ 2012 and Windows XP. They later added support for it in Update 1, but you need to use the Win7 SDK. This was a problem for Metro Firefox, which needs the Metro headers from the Win8 SDK, but they still wanted to support WinXP.

    • Jorge Ruano says:

      Windows 8 is just horrible. If we have bought a PC, is because we did not want a tablet. I have had to look in the Internet for things so simple like start a MS-DOS console or power off my PC.

  13. Tony Andrews says:

    Hi Hal – one small nit, and only because it’s a pet peeve of mine that I’ve seen in at least three of your posts in the last month. http://www.beedictionary.com/common-errors/lead_vs_led

    • halberenson says:

      I’m not sure if WordPress’ grammatical tools are making me use the wrong one or failing to point out I’ve used the wrong one :-) But in the future I shall look more carefully to make sure I’m using energy efficient light bulbs when referring to the past.

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