Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: From Microsoft, more Windows fail

Having seen Windows 8.1, I have a question I'd like to ask Microsoft: "Is that the best you could do?"

My assessment: Windows 8.1 doesn't suck as much as Windows 8. If you felt, when using Windows 8, as if you were banging your head against a brick wall, Windows 8.1 might feel as if you're banging it against a wooden wall. Much better, right? Of course, someday you might ask yourself why you need to bang your head against a wall at all.

Let's start with Start. Yes, we've all heard that Microsoft is bringing the Start button back, responding to all those users shrieking about its disappearance. So that's better, right? Not so much. All that the new Start button does is bring up the touchy-feely Metro -- uh, I mean, Modern -- no, wait, make that "Windows 8 Store apps" interface. Is it any wonder that Lenovo bundles the Pokki Start button and menu replacement software with its Windows 8.x machines?

About that interface name: Windows 8 Store apps. Really? Could it be any lamer? Tell me, is there any way Ballmer can be shoved out the door faster?

But here's the heart of the problem with Windows 8.1: It's still two operating systems in one. There's the blocky Windows 8 Store -- oh, the heck with it, I'm just calling it Metro -- and then there's the Windows desktop interface, which kind of looks like Windows 7 Aero. I don't know about you, but I always love using two interfaces to do one job.

So, you ask, is anything better in this update? Well, the Metro apps tend to be better.

Yep. That's about it.

I've yet to meet anyone who actually uses Metro apps. InfoWorld's Windows expert, Woody Leonhard, confesses that he "hates" Windows 8.1. His guide to supercharging Windows 8.1, he freely admits, is mostly about "Metro back-off." Talk about damning with faint praise!

The fact that Windows 8.1 offers no real improvements is sad, but the story is worse than that. It actually comes with all-new problems. High-end mice won't work well with it. If you wisely skipped Windows 8 but now want to "upgrade" from XP, Vista or Windows 7, you will not get any of the promotional price discounts that accompanied the Windows 8 rollout. If you're a small business owner and you updated your systems to Windows 8, the update is free, but guess what: You'll need to update each PC individually. That's right: You'll need to manually go to the Windows Store from every PC or tablet and download the 3GB Windows 8.1 file. Yes, upgrade to Windows 8.1 and relive the worst of the '90s. Here's a quote from Andre Da Costa, a Microsoft vice president and Windows peer-to-peer support forum moderator: "The Windows Store is the only way for consumers (non-enterprise, non-IT Pro) to download and install Windows 8.1. No ISOs will be made available, so each device needs to be updated individually via the Windows Store."

Let's sum up: If you hated Windows 8, you're going to hate Windows 8.1. If you're at a small business, you're going to hate Windows 8.1. If you're at a large enterprise, you still have no reason to make the move from XP or Windows 7 to 8.1.

Are any of you ready to say, "Enough already"? There are alternatives, including Google's Chrome OS, tablets using Android and iOS, and Mac and Linux desktops. I don't know where Microsoft thinks it's going -- neither does it, until it picks a new CEO -- but it's nowhere anyone who wants a good business desktop wants to go.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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