Windows 8: The Worst OS

One of the nifty things about running GNOME 3.4 on Fedora 17 is that Boxes actually works for the usual case of creating a small VM for personal use, and it’s something I’d feel comfortable giving to a family member or co-worker who had been using Parallels or VirtualBox. For the sceptical members of the audience, here was what I needed to do:

  1. Download the Windows 8 Release Preview
  2. Go into Activities
  3. Start Boxes
  4. Click the New button
  5. Click on the Windows8-ReleasePreview-64bit-English.iso CD icon
  6. Watch the OS boot into the installer

Once you’ve gotten through the initial setup, it boots into the OK, and things start going wrong. Firstly, SPICE guest tools, which provide graphics drivers and clipboard integration, aren’t automatically installed. This is actually a limitation of Boxes, and it’s a disappointment. But fine, let’s work through downloading and installing them.

So we click the box labeled “Internet Explorer”, and it starts up. Right-clicking on the item puts a checkmark on it, and adds a bottom bar with some items (Uninstall, Open New Window, etc.) rather than bringing up a context menu, which is a little weird since nothing else in the OS works that way, but I’m not going to complain as long as GNOME is doing the same thing (ahem ;-)).

Fine, we’re in IE, and navigating to http://space-spice.org, to the download page, to the spice-guest-tools link (BTW, that page seriously needs a big fat download button on the front page), click the link. Windows prompts us to Run, Save, or Cancel. I click Run, and it starts downloading, gets to the end, and promptly says “Windows got in your way. Windows SmartScreen prevented you from doing that thing you were just trying to do.”

Times were I would get extremely angry at someone trying protecting me from myself in this sort of ham-fisted manner. I install updates when I’m prompted. I don’t download every poker, pornography, or weather app that is pimped at me on the Internet. I don’t run executable attachments I receive via e-mail. But I also know that I’m in a minority, and I’ve personally spent dozens of hours delousing other people’s PCs who have had this issue, and if this had been in place a decade ago, and prevented them from catching a virus, I would have gotten dozens of hours of my life back, which is a net plus, since I’m just going to click “More info”, and “Run anyway”.

And here’s where things go totally off the rails. The entire screen changes, and I’m presented with a Windows-7-alike desktop, albeit without a Start button, and prompted by the UAC (again) to be absolutely sure I want to run this exe-wrapped MSI. I’m kind of curious to find out what the people in Microsoft were thinking when they came up with this—that is, I would love to be a fly on the wall when this interaction model was being explained.

I know what the pitch must have sounded like: “Oh, we want everything to look Metro, but that’s not going to happen for a while, so we need a ‘Fallback Mode’, if you will, and that fallback mode should just be the old desktop.” Clever sorts will notice the parallel terminology to what GNOME does/did in 3.0, and cleverer still will notice how much better GNOME’s execution of that particular hack was (which is pretty much the story of Linux: however flawed and imperfect it is, whatever Microsoft churns out has always been worse).

So fine, suffer through the ugly jarring switch from your phone to your desktop, and you end up going through the SPICE tools installer only to discover that Windows 8 isn’t supported. At this point, as a user of Firefox extensions, I assume that it’s SPICE’s fault: the developer hasn’t updated it for a version check etc., etc.

But no, that’s not what happened. Windows 8 only supports the WDDM driver standard, which is the latest in a long series of display-driver frameworks from Microsoft:

  1. VxD – DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95
  2. Windows Driver Model – Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP
  3. Windows Kernel Mode Driver Framework – Windows 2000, Windows XP
  4. Windows User Mode Driver Framework – Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows XP with Windows Media Player
  5. Windows Display Driver Model – Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8

Now, it’s not entirely fair to criticize Microsoft for their graphics driver APIs. Linux has always had a lot of churn in it’s graphics infrastructure as well (mostly because it was starting from such a terrible position), and it’s likely to get worse as Wayland starts finding it’s way into distributions in the next couple years. I assume that graphics card manufacturers don’t have the option of keeping their source code integrated into the Windows X trees, which is something that authors of Linux drivers have a (theoretical, at least) ability to do. The upshot of this is that the VM doesn’t even get to use my full-screen resolution, so it has to be scaled. Which kind of sucks.

Let’s skip digressions about lack of Windows support for SPICE, and instead let’s marinate on the desktop-with-a-desktop madness for a second: Microsoft has a less compelling, less integrated out-of-the-box experience for people who want to use applications which haven’t been rewritten in the Metro style—including the version of Office you’re going to have at your company for the foreseeable future.

Think about how messed up that is.

I’m not even going to get into the weirdness of having two different versions of Internet Explorer which don’t share any bookmarks or whatnot. Seriously, why bother even having IE in the “Vista” desktop when you’ve already got it in the “Metro” desktop. But again, why do you have two desktops in the same operating system in the first place?

Hell, for that matter, why name the “Metro” interface “Windows” at all? The big step forward is that there aren’t any windows! Oops, wait, the name “Metro” doesn’t exist anymore, because a trademark search is apparently too difficult to undertake.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m just dumping on Windows 8—I think the new interface is a reasonable first-stab at making a PC work more like a phone, which I think is a quantum leap ahead of the standard desktop—but however good the new interface is, it cannot escape the fundamental problem: Windows 8 is an Operating System which has gone to war with itself.

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4 thoughts on “Windows 8: The Worst OS

  1. The automatic drivers installations is landing in git master pretty soon:

    https://bugzilla.gnome.org/review?bug=679752

    Its only for windows 7 and XP right now but I’m hopeful once thats there, adding support for windows 8 should be much more easier. We’ll also need to first add support for automatic installation of Windows 8 (hopefully Microsoft hasn’t dropped support for that).

  2. I don’t know anything of windows. I stopped using windows 1996, I’ve been using it only at school.
    Some peple are saying how wonderful OS it is, but others are cursing it.

  3. It sucks. No two aways about it. I’m an Accounatnt working at a school and even the students hate it. Back to Win 7 there. Bottom line. The PC / Laptop is for work and study. Iphone/Android is a toy for play. The two don’t mix and this is a fundamental problem for Microsoft. Even if you understand the OS who needs all the crap that comes with it. The most basic tasks now take hours instead of seconds. I work for a huge company and we are switching to open office for the same reason. There is so much drivel and very little space for actual work in Office 2010. In nutshell we are going so far ahead we are going backwards. Bottomline. Windows 7 works so why change it? GREED

    Note for MS: Actually the PC and the Laptop are not dead. Far from it. There are still millions of tasks better done on either one. If I gave my secretary a tablet she would ram it somewhere painful.

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