Microsoft recently launched the latest version of their Windows operating system, Windows 8, and reports say they have sold an impressive 60 million copies since the October 2012 release. However, reviews of the new product have been mixed to say the least, and the response from the business world has been particularly cynical.
With Windows 8, Microsoft aimed to accommodate the increased popularity of tablets and smartphones. The design updates may look smart, but reviewers have complained that there are many usability issues. MIT Technology Review commented that although the new interface, which Microsoft has optimistically named “Modern,” is “a pleasure to use on phones and tablets,” it “fares poorly” when used on a PC.
The news of usability problems with Windows 8 has spread quickly among business users. The criticisms have damaged Microsoft’s reputation when it comes to operating systems, which is still in recovery from the negative response to 2006’s Windows Vista. Official sales figures state that only 17% of business computers shipped in December 2012 used Windows 8.
It seems that businesses perceive Windows 8 as an operating system targeted to the needs and desires of consumers, and therefore not a useful update for their PCs. Windows 8 is particularly designed to suit touch screen devices such as tablets and mobile phones. Touch screen is a major consumer trend, but for business users a more practical operating system is a priority. MIT Technology Review summarised: “The touch-based user interface is clearly designed for consuming information and having fun, rather than for doing serious work.”
Windows 8’s Modern interface looks markedly different to what users have come to know and expect from Windows. When the computer is switched on, the user is met with a screen comprising of different sized squares, where they once would have seen the familiar desktop layout, with various icons, wallpaper and a toolbar. The new interface is colourful and appealing for casual computer users, but for businesses where productivity and usability are key, the new look seems more of a gimmick than an innovation.
Windows 8 has received many criticisms for its functional problems, for example technology website The Verge said that its included apps were too basic, and Ars Technica stated that the interface was not intuitive, complaining about a lack of instructions. However, reviewers have also pointed out a number of positive improvements, which have been overshadowed by complains about the interface. The Verge were impressed by Windows 8’s updated Task Manager and the File History and Storage Space features.
With Windows 8, Microsoft has launched an ambitious new product, which has had some very well documented teething problems. For businesses, an operating system with such functionality issues is not a viable option, but in the long-run Microsoft’s bold move into new territory could give them an advantage over their rivals Google and Apple. For now, they will need to work hard to win back their business customers’ valuable loyalty, perhaps with updates or a separate business edition.