It's not even an April Fool's joke. What was Microsoft thinking?
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

Windows 8 desktop

This Windows 8 desktop is running on a PC, not an iPad-lookalike tablet. Is this how you want your PC to look? The interface is designed not for a mouse but for finger touches -- as if we're all running touch-screen PCs -- and the huge blocks give it a toy appearance. Toddlers just might love it. The rest of us will be scratching our heads or running off to the Apple Store.

Microsoft's big stumble gives Windows 8 a toy look

April 1, 2012

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard

Big companies can make big mistakes.

Despite all it knows about software and marketing, Microsoft is about to turn out a "toy" version of Windows that is almost guaranteed to fail.

What's most puzzling about the new version, called Windows 8, is the whacko nursery school interface. Unless you turn it off and keep off, the toy look in Windows 8 will haunt you every time you boot up your PC. You will be reminded every day that one of the world's largest software companies has gone positively loco.

Windows 8 is neither fish nor fowl. In a crazy way, it's both. The toy interface is called Metro and is designed for tablet computers -- the ones no one calls tablets any more, now that the iPad, with 80 percent of the market, is almost a generic name, just like "Kleenex."

Metro doesn't have icons. It has large, colored blocks. On a Windows 8 pad computer -- they're coming out along with Windows 8 this fall -- you touch these Metro blocks and move them or activate them. They're just like the wooden blocks little kids play with. Touch it here, move it there. Whee!

But you and I aren't kids, and the idea behind Metro -- dumbing down the Windows interface so it doesn't take much learning on a pad computer -- is an answer to a question nobody asked. The iPad and its host of imitators are doing just fine, thank you, with their grownup user interfaces.

But the nuttiest thing about Microsoft's Metro is that it's going to show up on actual Windows PCs -- not just on pads that you operate by touch, but on actual mouse-driven PCs. This makes no sense at all. Windows PCs don't work like tablet computers -- they don't have touch screens, for one thing -- and there's no reason I can think of why anyone would want to run dumbed-down tablet software on a Windows PC.

Yet every Windows PC you can buy starting this fall will have this two-headed monster on board. In the history of technology, no dual-purpose product has ever really been successful. I had a spork when I was in Vietnam -- that's a spoon that's also a fork -- but it never caught on with consumers. Nor did flying cars. Or umbrellas with swords inside.

Fortunately, there's a way to rid yourself of the toy look. I'll tell you how to do it later this year, before Windows 8 PCs hit the market. But I'm already wondering if some traditional Windows users will see this toy look on a friend's PC and decide they've had enough.

Two afterthoughts: This is, indeed, April 1, but I assure you I'm not writing an April Fool's column. And Windows 8, Metro and all, is the first version of Windows developed since Microsoft founder Bill Gates left the company. Maybe the company should entice him back.