Diggin' technology every day

June 4, 2013

Infoworld suggests radical Windows 8 changes

Filed under: General — Tags: , — Nate @ 8:46 am

Saw this come across on slashdot, an article over at Infoworld on how Microsoft can fix Windows 8.

They suggest ripping out almost all of the new stuff (as defaults) and replacing it with a bunch of new options that users can pick from.

Perhaps I am lucky in that I’ve never used Windows 8 (I briefly held a MS Surface RT in my hands, a friend who is an MS employee got one for free(as did all employees I believe) and handed it to me to show me some pictures on it).

Some of the suggestions from Infoworld sound pretty good to me, though hard to have a firm opinion since I’ve never used the Metro UI (oh, sorry they changed the name to something else).

Windows 8 (as it stands today) certainly sounds pretty terrible from a UI standpoint. The only positives I have read on Windows 8 is people say it is faster. Which isn’t much these days, machines have been fast enough for many years(which at least in part has led to the relative stagnation of the PC market). My computers have been fast enough for years(the laptop I am typing on is almost 3 years old, I plan to keep it around for at least another year as my primary machine — I have another year of on site support so I’m covered from that angle).

It has been interesting to see, that really since XP was released, there haven’t been anything really exciting on the Windows desktop front, it’s a mature product(the results have shown, much like the economy pretty much every OS launch they’ve done has had weaker reception than the previous – Windows 7 sort of an exception from the hard core community but from a broader sense it still seemed weak). It’s come a long way from the mess many of us dealt with in the 90s (and instability in NT4 was one big driver for me to attempt Linux on my primary desktop 15 years ago and I’m still with Linux today).

I don’t use Windows enough to be able to leverage the new features. I’m still used to using the XP interface, so am not fond of many of the new UI things that MS has come up with over the years. Since I don’t use it much,  it’s not critical.

The last time I did use Windows seriously was at a few different companies I had windows as my primary desktop. But you probably wouldn’t know it if you saw it. It was customized with cygwin, and Blackbox for windows. Most recently was about three years ago (company was still on XP at the time). Most of the time my screen was filled with rxvt X terminals (there is a native Windows port for rxvt in cygwin that works wonderfully), and firefox. Sometimes had Outlook open or Visio or in rare cases IE.

Not even the helpdesk IT guy could figure my system out “Can you launch control panel for me?”. It gave it a nice Linux look & feel(I would of killed for proper virtual desktop edge flipping but I never found a solution for that) with the common windows apps.

Ironically enough I’ve purchased more copies of Windows 7 (I think I have 7 now – 2 or 3 licenses are not in use yet – stocked up so I wouldn’t have to worry about Windows 8 for a long time) than all previous MS operating systems combined. I’ve bought more Microsoft software in the past 3-4 years (Visio Pro 2010 is another one) than in the previous decade combined. As my close friends will attest I’m sure – I have not been a “hater” of Microsoft for some time now (12 years ago I threatened to quit if they upgraded from NT4 to Windows 2000 – and they didn’t at least not as long as I was there – those were the days when I was pretty hard core anti MS – I was working on getting Samba-tng and LDAP to replace NT4 – I never deployed the solution, and today of course I wouldn’t bother)

Some new Linux UIs suck too

Microsoft is not alone in crappy UIs though. Linux is right up there too (many would probably argue it always was, that very well could be true, though myself I was fine with what I have used over the years from KDE 0.x to AfterStep to GNOME 1.x/2.x). GNOME 3 (and the new Unity stuff from Ubuntu) looks at least as terrible as the new Microsoft stuff (if not more so).

I really don’t like how organizations are trying to unify the UI between mobile and PC. Well maybe if they did it right I’d like it (not knowing what “right” would be myself).

By the same notion I find it ludicrous that LG would want to put WebOS on a TV! Maybe they know something I don’t though, and they are actually going to accomplish something positive. I love WebOS (well the concept – the implementation needs a lot of work and billions of investment to make it competitive) don’t get me wrong but I just don’t see how there is any advantage to WebOS on a device like a TV. The one exception is ecosystem – if there is an ecosystem of WebOS devices that can seamlessly inter-operate with each other.  There isn’t such an ecosystem today, what’s left has been a rotting corpse for the past two years (yes I still use my HP Pre3 and Touchpad daily). There’s no sign LG has a serious interest in making such an ecosystem, and even if they did, there’s no indication they have the resources to pull it off (I’d wager they don’t).

I haven’t used Unity but last weekend I did install Debian 7 on my server at home (upgraded from 6). 99% of the time from a UI perspective this system just cycles through tens of thousands of images as a massive slide show (at some point I plan to get a 40″+ screen and hang it on my wall as a full sized digital picture frame, I downloaded thousands of nice 1080p images from interfacelift as part of the library).

I was happy to see Debian 7 included a “GNOME 2 like” option, as a moderately customized Gnome 2 is really what I am used to, and I have absolutely positively no interest to change it.

It gets mostly there, maybe 50-75% of the way. First thing I noticed was the new Gnome did not seem to import any of the previous settings. I got a stock look – stock wallpaper, stock settings, and no desktop icons(?). I tried to right click on the desktop to change the wall paper – that didn’t work either. I tried to right click on the menu bar to add some widgets, that didn’t work either. I went from 0 to very annoyed almost immediately. This was with the “compatibility” gnome desktop! Imagine if I had tried to login to regular GNOME 3, I probably would of thrown my laptop against the wall before it finished logging in! 🙂 (fortunately for my laptop’s sake I have never gotten to that point)

Eventually I found the way to restore the desktop icons and the right click on the desktop, I managed to set one of my wonderful high res NSFW desktop backgrounds. I still can’t add widgets to the menu bar I assume it is not possible. I haven’t checked if I can do virtual desktop edge flipping with brightside (or with something built in), I’d wager that doesn’t work either.

I’m not sure what I will do on my main laptop/desktop which are Ubuntu 10.04 which is now unsupported. I hear there are distros/packages out there that are continuing to maintain/upgrade the old Gnome 2 stuff (or have replaced Gnome 3’s UI with Gnome 2), so will probably have to look into that, maybe it will be easy to integrate into Debian or Ubuntu 12.04(or both).

I saw a fantastic comment on slashdot recently that so perfectly describes the typical OSS developer on this stuff


What X11 is, is old. And developers are bored with it. And they want something new and shiny and a chance to play with the hardware without abstraction throwing a wet blanket over their benchmark scores.

The benchmark of success for Wayland is that _users_ don’t actually notice that anything changed. They’ll fall short of that benchmark because too many people like using X11, and even the backward compatibility inevitably will cause headaches.

But developers will enjoy it more, and in the FOSS world those are the only consumers that matter.

(the last sentence especially)

That was in a conversation related to replacing X11 (the main GUI base for Linux) with something completely different (apparently being developed by some of the same folks that worked on X11) that has been under development for many, many years. Myself I have no issues with X11, it works fine for me. Last time I had major issues with X11 was probably 10+ years ago.

As someone who has worked closely with developers for the past 13 years now I see a lot of this first hand. Often times the outcome is good, many other times not so much.

One system I worked with was so architecturally complex that two people on my team left the company within a year of starting and their primary complaint was the application was too complicated to learn (they had been working with it almost daily for their time there). It was complex for sure(many many sleepless nights and long outages too) – though it didn’t make me want to throw my laptop against the wall like Chef does.

In the case of Microsoft, I found it really funny that one of(if not the) main managers behind Windows 8 suddenly resigned mere weeks after the Windows 8 launch.


  1. Given the difference between a stationary desktop, stationery in use laptop, and often mobile in use tablet/phone, I don’t think a unified interface makes sense…and but Apple is doing it too.

    I do think there is the potential for a better desktop interface, and better desktop software, but since mobile is “hot” right now, “everyone” is trying to make everything mobile or mobile-like (or cloud-like, but let’s not go there).

    I’m going to be sticking with Windows for my desktop system, probably Win7-64, because I have so much software and hardware I used that only runs on Windows, and frankly Windows is good enough. For embedded, on the other hand, it’ll be Linux or Android, when I get time to play.

    Comment by Tony — June 4, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  2. I liked gnome 2 a lot. Then came unity and I adopted (well, it was easy, quite macish althought it was a bit too buggy and slow – still is. I also tried gnome 3.0 or something -> felt confusing (and buggy as well?) on that time). But now I’ve been using gnome 3.6 for a month and I like. Added a few extensions (dash to dock, applications menu and taskbar, and now the user experience is much better (no need to click activities on upper left corner). And there seems to be a few more interesting extensions which might be useful as well.

    Comment by Ossi — June 13, 2013 @ 2:31 am

  3. Hi Nate!,

    just checking in to say that 8.1 is not rolled to the enterprise editions yet.

    But then I am still getting used to the whole gig, and far too much to report.

    This is not the windoze of my youth, and I am the same age almost to the day as the company.

    Shooting the breeze, because only had a couple hours on Win8 (Ent)

    – I do not really see the bother over the lack of a start menu.

    Honestly, hit the windows key and type what I am looking for, drop the cursor down the tree, hit enter, type in what I want, iterate until I have the option, tab to the settings…

    So I used the mouse not at all to config a network setting.

    Not using touchscreen either, just to be clear.

    – –

    Microsoft are a very strange outfit nowadays, IMO.

    They are doing lots of really good under the hood stuff, then botching either the way they present it e.g. the start menu or making arbitrary trade offs, like absconding with per file encryption (and much besides ) in ReFS, which otherwise is rather nifty.

    I may be biased: I let my main work install become bloated, and my start menu spans two U2711 monitors horizontally.

    But I have never been a fan of hierarchical stores of any kind, nor for that matter of strict object inheritance models of arrangement.

    What interests me, in the heated trend to using text search as access to everything – which I think of as the true benefit of the WWW as spurred on by search engines – is the probabilistic function of text matching, the semantics, the fuzzy areas as much as the grammar and semantics.

    Where we are at is heuristics affording mutable definitions of set membership.

    Closer to a file being a stochastic picture of its relationships, rather than a member of a class, a entry in a row and column, a value in a tuple or a inheritor of another’s properties in any way.

    I think it was in ’92 in UNIXWorld magazine, remember reading it on my balcony and rarely for that time geeking out to the annoyance of my GF when we were still in that honeymoon phase, or a rejoinder of that anyhow, we got a very bohemian new place . . . article suggested that colorization would indicate everything from file age, e.g. yellowing and scuffing of paper like documents, to IIRC rainbow like hints in the window frame to indicate relation ships to other media.

    Takeaways for today:

    = = Microsoft may be reinventing the command line by making the keyboard (“search”) the primary interface.

    = = There is tremendous scope in windows to create new visual interfaces which are not bling, because of the myriad ways you can look at the system through the layers of tools they present.

    = = The trend towards text search as a interface, and the concurrent move towards the “Metro” UI redux might be what is causing a cognitive dissonance, for one is “rich and the other visually anaemic of information (despite often very pretty). In that you may have reason for many complaints.

    = = I think the touch interface may actually be distractive to competitors, but only if other accessibility remains little known. I’ve entered this comment without use of a mouse.

    = = I keep thinking there’s a lucrative little market in showing regular Joes what is under the hood with windows in ways that are simply productive and not “office for dummies” and a zillion screenshots. Kinda a crash course in how not to give a darn for being confused by the ribbon of whatever graphical distraction du jour.

    = = I think Microsoft are serious about getting rid of the mouse. Heck, that one button grey beige thing from Cupertino probably still stings!

    . . .

    You I expect, but not all will have noted, HP EOL’ing VMS.

    Sad, naturally.

    But when Cutler walked with the VMS source, he probably knew he had taken a 20 year advantage with him/

    Now, my take is that MSFT have managed to make the core VMS goodness work with all the crud out there (See Raymond Chen’s blog for giggles what a lovely job it is to figure out what people do to OSs when they intend to code apps) and so now VMS is redundant. Consider the DOD and other serious customers for VMS, and even ignoring the usual 20yr maintenance requisite, I doubt they’d let a key supplier bow out for so much, if there was nobody as good in the wings.

    . . .

    I am still quite shocked to find myself a inadvertent Microsoft advocate.

    Don’t get me wrong, Visual Basic was a sweet way to make good pay for next to no effort, a super backstop to have financially.

    But otherwise in nearly 30 years of programming, suddenly I have decided not only do I like the windows stuff, but that I’d install it for a customer and be prepared to maintain it without blood money compensation.

    – – –

    Nate, I am way behind on many projects, something to do with having a personal life is my excuse, but I am soon to restart my SDN / “Home Cluster” project again. If you have noted those DELL “VirtEx / VIRTX” boxen, a try at a small office cluster, I reckon I can do way better, actually using Dell kit a lot, as happens, at same budget. Got a reservation for a Mellanox SX1012 for when they ship. (has all the SDN sugar you might want) And I’ll be throwing some fairy varied use cases at whatever I can fit in a noise dampened APC 14U rack enclosure. Spurred on lately that Dell released T1700 SFF models, so I can get off the shelf ECC for modest bucks, and fit four of those in 4U. That and – darn it, to lazy to check my specs folder – there a company cramming 6*2.5″ SSDs into a 5.25″ caddy whose kit looks finer built than I have (Stardock and SuperMicro sled adapters*) .

    * Fancy a review of those, Nate? These multi 2.5 inch caddies are very variable, and I got hosed by tolerances and poor threading screws and all sorts of gothyas. Not seen a review anywhere, be happy to do a vid also showing you (off screen but audibly) angsting about their designs!

    = = = enough of me for now, but I have this simple thought that far too many customers for NAS and DAS at the low end should not be bothering with branded kit at all, not even Windows Storage Server* but using better what they got.

    * Server 2012 does a very good NFS job. Once again, I have seen no reviews of their capability under load from *nix clients, but I am interested in that, because using HaProxy and nginx over a ‘doze backend, and other VIP bits of our stack would be netter on *nix than doze for now also.

    as always thanks for a great blog, you’re the unsung hero of spinning electrons!

    until soon ~ j

    Comment by John ( other John ) — July 12, 2013 @ 12:04 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress