Windows 8.1 is the perfect operating system for a divided nation. With its refresh of the widely ignored Windows 8, Microsoft (MSFT) has beautified its fictional world of touchscreen PCs and added one superfluous tweak to mouse-bound desktop reality. Windows 8.1, in it's vaguely ambitious futility, is a perfect capstone to the Ballmer era.
In his review of the original Windows 8 last October, New York Times technology columnist David Pogue said the operating system's combination of traditional Windows desktop and "TileWorld" interfaces resulted in "productivity-killing schizophrenia." By changing the OS in a way that only exacerbates the most irritating qualities of the original, Microsoft is so far off base that it makes the user wonder if the company is telling an elaborate joke but not letting the user in on it.
Pogue, whose PBS show Making Stuff launched its second series this week, gives us an updated review in the attached video. "In Windows 8.1 they've done all their work on TileWorld," he explains. TileWorld's disastrous mail and music features are now nothing short of beautiful. The desktop remains unchanged, but did add back the 'Start' button with a Twilight Zone-esque twist. Instead of bringing up the 'Start' menu, clicking 'Start' takes the user directly to TileWorld.
User complaints about the elimination of the Start button were answered by recreating the icon in trapdoor form. You click the familiar Start button, but instead of launching the menu based system, you tumble into a psychedelic world where people drag their fingers across computer screens. It's like buying tickets to see a bad symphony and ending up at a rave. Get it? Neither do users. Still, if you settle into the trip TileWorld doesn't sound so bad. In fact Pogue makes it sound vaguely magical.
"TileWorld is really great for touchscreens. No argument. It's phenomenal on a tablet. The problem is how many people do you know with a Windows tablet?" Based on Microsoft's 10-K the answer is about 1.6 million, a number that's roughly 70 million below the number of Apple (AAPL) iPads sold since the original Surface was released.
As lovely as TileWorld sounds, Microsoft will have to pry iPads and Android tablets out of users' cold, dead fingers. Pogue has a suggestion for what Microsoft can do with the weird, bipolar Windows 8.1: "What they need to do is split them up. Make TileWorld for touchscreens and Windows 8 for desktops... Everybody's happy!"
Alas, there hasn't been a sense of happy in Redmond for years. Windows 8.1 is another in the long line of products by committee that have haunted Microsoft for years.
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