In the second series of the old BBC television series, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Reggie opens a store called “Grot”. Grot sells useless things—square hoops, undrinkable wine. Much to his dismay the store catches on, both as a curiosity and as the perfect place to buy a gift for someone you despise. If Philip Greenspun is to be believed, Windows 8 would fit perfectly into Grot’s product line:
Microsoft has had since October 2008 to study Android. It has had since June 2007 to study iPhone. It seems as though they did not figure out what is good about the standard tablet operating systems.
One thing that Android and iOS do not address is how to handle the requirement of offering a legacy Xerox Alto-style mouse-and-windows environment. Microsoft here integrates the tablet and the standard Windows desktop in the most inconvenient and inconsistent possible way. Due to the desperation of the average consumer to watch television at all times on all devices, the typical computer screen is fairly wide. One would think therefore that it would be possible to use traditional applications in the left-hand two-thirds of the screen while running a tablet environment on the right-hand one-third of the screen. Windows 8 does not allow this. It is either the old Windows XP desktop or the new Android-like tablet environment. As far as I can tell they cannot be mixed except that a tablet app can be set to appear in a vertical ribbon on the left or right edge of the screen.
A reasonable user might respond to this dog’s breakfast of a user interface by trying to stick with either the familiar desktop or the new tablet. However, this is not possible. Some functions, such as “start an application” or “restart the computer” are available only from the tablet interface. Conversely, when one is comfortably ensconced in a touch/tablet application, an additional click will fire up a Web browser, thereby causing the tablet to disappear in favor of the desktop. Many of the “apps” that show up on the “all apps” menu at the bottom of the screen (accessible only if you swipe down from the top of the screen) dump you right into the desktop on the first click.
I’m quite sure that Microsoft doesn’t care. It views its user base in the hundreds of millions as captives. We’ll go along whether we like it or not.