Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft Faces Old IBM OS/2 GUI Problem

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Windows 8 media attacks seem to be intensifying -- with some bloggers and journalists suggesting the Windows 8 Metro user interface will be too confusing for many customers to learn. But here's the big, ironic problem: Many members of the press have never used Windows 8 or have never even seen the operating system, which won't arrive on PCs until October. Ironically, IBM faced the same struggle with its old OS/2 operating system roughly 20 years ago...

In the 1990s, IBM over and over again tried to convince the media that OS/2's object oriented user interface was better than Windows 3.1's graphical user interface and Windows 95's Explorer interface. But IBM failed miserably, at least partly because the media -- including many members of the trade press -- had never actually used OS/2.

Today's Challenge

Fast forward to the present. Most bloggers have seen and used Google Android and Apple iOS. The user interfaces are familiar and therefore seem extremely intuitive. In stark contrast, many bloggers have never used existing Windows Phone devices and are poorly prepared for the Windows 8 Metro user interface. (Yes, Microsoft has stopped using the Metro term amid a potential legal tussle. But for the sake of this article, let's stick with Metro.)

Further complicating matters, negative Windows 8 user videos are going viral, such as this one:


How Microsoft Should Respond

What should Microsoft do?
  • Get Windows 8 Surface tablets out to top SMB channel experts as soon as possible. Folks like Harry Bbb (SMB Nation), Karl Palachuk and Arlin Sorensen (HTG Peer Groups) come to mind.
  • Actually, another wise step would be to engage all of HTG to make sure Windows 8 tablets and the Metro interface is fully understood in that group.
  • Make sure those who love Windows 8 within the SMB channel are cross-linking and socializing their experiences across blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Heck, somebody get Jay McBain from Channel Eyes on this. He knows how to whip up a social media storm.
  • Get Windows 8 ultrabooks out to those same market influencers. Here, folks like Eric Townsend of Intel can be critical toward shaping public perception of Windows 8 in the channel and in small business.
  • Publish some defendable, reliable Windows 8 usability studies -- fast. Please, no pretend praise. Real thoughts from real design experts.
  • Plus, show Windows 8 Metro applications in action in vertical markets.
Ironically, time is not on Microsoft's side. Windows 8 and the Metro interface will arrive in October. In the meantime, Microsoft is taking some heat from many outspoken journalists and bloggers. In some cases, those folks are repeating the same complaints over and over again without really exploring what's "right" with Windows 8.

The VAR Guy isn't taking sides. But Microsoft, at a minimum, needs a strategy to more forcefully combat the naysayers. The software giant can't silence negative voices. But Microsoft should empower more positive voices to be heard, in an authentic way. Otherwise, Windows 8 Metro could suffer the pains of OS/2 -- experiencing "user complaints" before those "users' have actually given the new operating system an extended test drive.

Discuss this Video 14

laz (not verified)
on Aug 23, 2012
Amid all the negative articles, many I've started taking with a pinch of salt...same old complaints, metro is 'jarring', a 'useability nightmare', blah blah blah. However, not one has put any facts up! If metro is so bad, post a test/demo that demonstrates how bad it is! Until then, it's just hyperbole. Counter to that, MS should get on it too, show some more useability studies, just like you've suggested! Intact, this is the first sensible article I've read about W8 in quite a few days now, good stuff!
on Aug 30, 2012
Jack: Apple, hopefully, will get back to basics -- great design with great marketing. Some of the latest stuff -- genius bar ads, in particular -- were painful to watch.
Jack (not verified)
on Aug 23, 2012
@Jay: The interconnection trend is already here. It's just not fully expanded yet. Reason for that is partially some poor/confusing implementations (HP had huge plans using WebOS), and equally important - hardware replacement lag. People buy a new car when they need a new car, not when the car is connected to the info grid. Same goes with loads of hardware. http://news.idg.no/cw/art.cfm?id=D1EEA49A-99ED-34C4-D4A237C35448F179 Not sure I agree with you wrt how fast Microsoft are catching up. I'm more inclined to think that they are "dozing reactive" - not creating or discovering trends. For sure, they are not proactive creating trends. What they normally do is discovering trends developed and expanded by others, fight it in every possible way, (while working on their own solution to the trend) and THEN they launch products/services. They are the tail of progress so to speak - being wagged.
Jack (not verified)
on Aug 23, 2012
Windows 8 is a transitional product but it springs out of touchscreens and small formfactors. That's indeed very notable when using it with pointing devices such as mouse/tracpoint++ It doesn't scale well upwards. Further, the traditional applications are in transition too. Canonical's Unity is suffering badly from the same problem. There are basicly two approaches: - One size (UX) fits all formfactors (Microsoft / Canonical) - Optimize taking advantage of the individual formfactors ( Apple/KDE) One size fits all is extremely difficult to achieve. Microsoft have tried this before - using XP on e.g the Thinkpad X series Tablets. They didn't respect the devices and that's why it never became a hit. The concept was always great. This time they are making huge investments in order to "get" the touchscreen/small formfactors. But they are doing the same mistake. One size just don't fit all. Apple really do respect the various formfactors - they don't release until they've nailed it. Therefore they deliver good user experiences throughout. KDE actually takes this one step further. Same functions and same code on all formfactors - functions minimalized and split/separated - and combined differently on different formfactors. User interfaces are separated and easily adaptable to "any" formfactor. Work in progress though (wait for Qt5/KDE5). In my book Apple's and KDE's conceptual approaches are way ahead of Microsoft and Canonical.
John frost (not verified)
on Aug 23, 2012
Well, I am running the preview of windows 8. So I assume other bloggers have done so to form their opinion. My impression is that it works, but personally it is too busy. I do like the full screen experience. So to write here that people blog without having seen the new interface is IMO not correct.
Jack (not verified)
on Aug 30, 2012
Yup, Microsoft is catching up in some areas. But they aren't really leading on, and never really was. They react to development by others. That's one of Microsoft's significant weaknesses, and it's in their genes. Microsoft appears to have read the writing on the wall in terms of announcing and launching products wrt to tablets ++ (W8), and they will be way way more structured now than with W7. It probably will become biggest investment in IT product marketing ever (?) That makes it likely to succeed, partially because Android still don't "get" tablets 100%. IF they fail now, there will be epic consequences. They probably won't, and then we'll see a massive increase in interconnected devices. Android is in position already, but what will Apple do?
on Aug 30, 2012
Jay: The VAR Guy is up to 6 IP devices during current red eye flight home from VMworld. Reasonably impressive? Jack: Microsoft is catching up in some areas, lagging in others. Tough to give the company an overall score in that catch-up area when they have so many different product groups at this point. -TVG
on Aug 23, 2012
Laz@1: Will you make the move to Windows 8? Or will you take wait-and-see approach? Thanks for those initial comments, BTW. John@2: Look at the mainstream media. They are all "repeating" what the trade bloggers, tech bloggers and gadget bloggers are saying. And in many cases, those mainstream media folks have zero Windows 8 experience... And in some cases, those trade/tech/gadget bloggers are Mac fanboys. The VAR Guy would like to see much clearer disclosures from media folks, indicating whether they actually have first-hand experience with Windows 8. That would provide better context for the coverage. Jack@3: Here's the irony... Microsoft copied the Mac's desktop/file/folder metaphor and won the market. Perhaps Microsoft would have been wise to do the same, copying the iOS user interface for smartphones and tablets... But, The VAR Guy is willing to give Windows 8 and Metro a chance. -TVG
Jack (not verified)
on Aug 23, 2012
@TVG: Yup they did. And eventually settled with Apple when Apple's back was almost broken. :) Regarding Metro I know "everybody" view it as revolutionary - I'm not sure it is. Desktop widgets have been around since Konfabulator arrived at macs in 2003. Since then it has been a pile of similar stuff, and I've been using it for years in KDE where widgets are known as plasmoids. The plasmoid can be sized individually and placed randomly or in grids covering the entire screen. When swapping to another screen (activity) they are dead - ie hardly consume resources at all. Got everything there from email, blogging, tweeting,browsers and so on. Sure, the metro stuff is a tad more integrated visually and so on, but in reality it's the same stuff that has been available a decade. Thing is, even though the plasmoids (or whatever they are named on different platforms) are neat, I never really use them that much. Moreover, I never see anybody else piling up widgets on their desktop either, and that is an indication of their importance. These mini programs are available in Windows 7 (and Vista) - how often do you see a W7 desktop piled up with these widgets? If ever? How often do you see them piled on a Mac? Or a KDE machine? Or HP's MiniME with their own Ubuntu based desktop (pulled from market quite early)? A lot of people use a few widgets, but I have never seen any sensible user plaster the desktop with them. I have done it for testing purposes, but it just don't make sense at all on a desktop/laptop. Doesn't make me productive. At all. So: Even if users have been able to "do a metro desktop" for years - hardly anybody do so. Microsoft have put their future on stake for this to the extent that users are restricted from opting it out, and I believe they are making a huge mistake. They have convinced themselves that Metro is brilliant (best ever/ best there is), and they'll run in that direction for a long time unable to understand why people aren't "getting it". The low sales of WP7 (which is a suitable formfactor) should have told them someting too. Some times companies falls in love with their own products and becomes "fanaticly convinced" that they have found the one and only solution. Some times they are right, but when they are wrong they are in for a bumpy ride. I believe Metro for desktop is such bumpy ride.
on Aug 23, 2012
I remember living through the OS/2 wars for the first 5 years of my IBM career. As with everything, familiarity trumps technology. If you want a good example - just watch over the next few weeks as Facebook rolls out a new messaging platform...it functions better, looks better, and will cut down on learning time for people who are already familiar with the 2 pane email standard. But alas, it is NEW so it will be generally flamed by the masses. Back to Win 8 - I think it is fantastic. The way it functions from computer to tablet to smartphone is very slick and the learning curve shouldn't be too bad. In business, we have become accustomed to dashboards - the ability to watch all of your networks and interests in one place is a game changer. This is not another Win ME, which some are likening it to. -jm
Jack (not verified)
on Aug 23, 2012
Watching networks and interests in one place is nothing new. At all. It's just a twist.
on Aug 23, 2012
Jay@6: The VAR Guy is sort of burning out on FaceBook. Perhaps the new user interface moves will actually re-engage our resident blogger. Jack@5 @7: The unique content is what keeps people coming back (hopefully...) -TVG
Jack (not verified)
on Aug 23, 2012
Roughly, anybody can get anything anywhere. Most independent services needs a wide user base, and to get that - they'll ensure availability on a wide array of platforms. The exceptions are "own stuff" that Apple/Microsoft/Google/++ regards essential to stay ahead, but more often than not - the competition has similar "stuff" that reduces the advantage. If not, they will get it fast. The big question with present hardware is how Microsoft is able to use their advantage wrt "professional applications". I fully anticipate that "the next big thing" will be Ultrabook (the term will become irrelevant - it's just laptops) with touch screens. Everything is lining up for ultrabooks with touchscreens, and I believe Microsoft has an advantage there. My tip: Q1 2013, or Q2 2013 latest - timing depending upon strategic choices. Apple won't have anything there until osXI (11.0) and Microsoft will be ahead. I presume.
on Aug 23, 2012
Jack: I have a slightly different view on the future. The next "big thing" will be pervasive computing - billions of users leveraging trillions of interconnected devices. Ultrabooks will have a place - especially with detachable iPad like screens - but so will hundreds of other form factors depending on where the user is. Think cars, fridges, large panels in every room, as well as mini-devices and sensors. Corning has done a great job visualizing this future: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Cf7IL_eZ38 - and - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZkHpNnXLB0 There are huge channel opportunities in this new world and Microsoft has always shown that they catch up quickly when the technology winds shift.
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