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Windows 8 Still Feels Like a Frankenproduct

After having used Windows 8 now for a while, I still find myself having mixed emotions about the product. This is, of course, the root of the problem because Windows 8 doesn’t feel like one product, it feels like a Frankenproduct, an unsophisticated mash-up of two entirely different products.

I used Windows 8 to play around with WinRT (what you see on all of the Windows 8 commercials) and overall I am very pleased with that experience. I love having live tiles on my desktop, I really like the new login and multi-user experience, and much more. There’s very little about WinRT that I dislike… on the surface (pun intended).

This morning, I clicked on the WinRT version of Internet Explorer (the fact that it feels like there’s two versions of IE really pisses me off as well) and tried to get connected to work via VPN. Turns out Java’s not installed and it won’t work. Also turns out that the page doesn’t even have permission to ask me if I want to enable the ActiveX control alternative to Java for the VPN. In short, nothing worked. Using the WinRT version of IE10, you cannot access the security settings responsible for ActiveX or Java.

I had to launch an app that I knew wasn’t a WinRT app (command prompt) because I can’t for the life of me remember the magic keystroke responsible for opening the desktop while I’m in the WinRT start screen. Once there, I launched the real version of IE and, after 20 more minutes of swearing and keyboard mashing, I was able to get my VPN to work.

You might say, “Well, that’s just Java for you.” This is true, Java is generally a pain in the ass in browsers. However, this isn’t just Java. This is just a sample of a much more systemic problem to Windows 8. I am constantly hunting around trying to figure out when I need to escape the WinRT façade to get something done or when I can get it done from within the WinRT façade. Those using a Surface (not Surface Pro) and some of the other WinRT devices coming out don’t have the ability to escape the façade – WinRT is all there is on those boxes.

Overall it just feels like a poor experience. There’s no clear reason why I can do one task in Win8 and cannot in WinRT versus being able to do the same task in both places. I hate the jarring experience of being immersed in the really nice WinRT experience and then being slammed into the desktop experience. The perfectly square windows with no gradient or decoration certainly comply with the new minimalist WinRT stylings, but even those feel out of place in the Win8 desktop view because in this view, people expect it to look like Windows, not WinRT.

I am not sure what the solution to the problem is. But right now, without a touch screen on my laptop, I feel hamstrung and crippled using Windows 8. I feel like I have two operating systems installed side-by-side and they keep switching to each other without warning like some kind of bad virtualization experience.

Folks who just have WinRT to deal with probably won’t feel this kind of frustration for a number of reasons. Firstly, they won’t be trying to do power user stuff like VPN from IE10 to their office, because for the most part they’ll be treating their WinRT devices like tablets, and won’t expect to be able to do that kind of thing. Using Chrome or Firefox doesn’t make it any better because those aren’t WinRT apps, they slam you into desktop mode anyway. That said, I wonder what the frustration level is going to be like on the crazy hybrid devices that flip, fold, collapse, and transform into 20 shapes and run Win8 … so those devices will see the jarring transition from WinRT to Win8 desktop… will the nature of the device make that transition any easier to take? I don’t know.

Windows 8 is quite honestly the first Windows operating system that I have felt disoriented by and frustrated with. I have a ridiculously high tolerance for tech level frustration, but I find that trying to do my normal daily stuff in Windows 8 just plain increases my stress level.