Please, PC Makers, Don’t Ruin Windows 8

By  |  Friday, September 16, 2011 at 1:07 am

Who says you can’t teach an old operating system new tricks? For years, Windows was the world’s most annoying piece of software. It would blithely interrupt your work to tell you that there were unused icons on your desktop. Its search feature–even in the Professional version–inexplicably involved a puppy dog. It made paying customers jump through hoops to prove they hadn’t pirated the software, and sometimes accused them of stealing it anyhow. It rebooted itself to install updates when it felt like it, regardless of what you might be doing at the moment. I get irritated just thinking about it.

With Windows 7, Microsoft took a major step in the right direction: The best thing about the upgrade was that it stayed out of your face. And now Windows 8 promises to go even further, with a new interface, Metro, that’s remarkably tasteful and pleasant. If Microsoft delivers on Win 8’s potential when it ships it next year, you might forget you’re using Windows at all.

But I’m already nervous that PC markers will sabotage Microsoft’s good work by layering on junkware that makes the operating system slower, less reliable, and more aggravating.

I own two Lenovo ThinkPads. On the first one, I installed a virgin copy of Windows 7, exactly as Microsoft shipped it. It’s a delight. The second one–a newer, more powerful machine which I bought a couple of weeks ago–has a copy of Windows 7 as “enhanced” by Lenovo. From the moment I booted it up for the first time, its preinstalled apps started demanding more of my attention than an operating system should. (It questioned my decision when I said I didn’t want it to install a demo copy of Office; its copy of Internet Explorer warned me that the Lenovo Toolbar was likely to bog down the browser unless I disabled it; it confusingly asks me whether I want to run in “Energy Saver” or “Power Saver” mode.) I’m thinking I might be happiest blowing away Lenovo’s version of Windows 7 and installing an unmodified copy of the software as Microsoft intended it.

I don’t mean to bash Lenovo more than other big PC companies: Most of them continue to tinker with Windows in ways that hurt rather than help.

When PC manufacturers see Windows 8, with its overwhelming emphasis on simplicity, will they respect it or take the same meddlesome approach they do today? Does that fact that Metro apps fill the whole screen mean that other apps can’t pelt you with pop-ups? What happens to the balloon alerts–many of them useless–that traditionally appear in the System Tray? Can apps install themselves to run whenever you boot your PC without your express permission? Will there be Metro junkware? How will Metro security programs work? Will Microsoft’s efforts to make Windows 8 run well on machines with modest specs be sabotaged by third-party bloat?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions. I’m not sure if anyone will have answers until real Windows 8 PCs you can buy start appearing next year. But I’m hoping that Windows 8 simply doesn’t allow the degree of annoyification that previous versions of Windows did, and that PC makers show newfound restraint.


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34 Comments For This Post

  1. imthepipe Says:

    The same message should be sent to software developers. So many of them insist on using outdated interface elements and/or their own ghastly buttons, dialogs and color schemes. Even with Windows 7, I frequently run into many different styles of open/save dialog boxes. Often, this is the result of lazy developers who don't want to take the time to do the right thing when it comes to their product's GUI. The result is an OS that looks amateurish and dated. Microsoft should be more insistent about this with Windows 8.

  2. Default Says:

    As a developer, I must try to set this straight. Yes, ghastly buttons appear regularly. Yes, there are many different styles of save boxes. And yes, it would be better if everything looked in line with the OS. I totally agree.

    But this is not because of lazy developers. There is nothing developers like more then using the latest & greatest tools and UI elements. I am writing an application these days that will run on the Windows 7 OS. But guess what, it needs to, it must! also run on Windows 98SE.
    And I can't even make two different versions of it, because it's important that it can be simply copied/pasted between OS versions and that it still works.

    Can I use the latest .NET framework? No
    Can I use the ribbon interface? No
    Can I make the application look really nice on Windows 7? No

    Just saying, it's not (always) because of lazy programmers.
    We don't live in a perfect world either…

  3. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    This is the same complaint with all the generic crap.

    If this is how Microsoft users feel, you should be campaigning for Microsoft to buy HP's client PC business (it is expected to sell for what Microsoft paid for Skype) and put metal where their mouth is. It has to happen at some point. The number of human lifetimes wasted installing Windows is staggering. There is just no point to selling kits today.

  4. Paul Says:

    I don't know – MS isn't really a hardware company (the Xbox being a notable exception in a different market) and I doubt that it wants to be given that they have monopoly concerns with regards to their market share. Microsoft business partners also wouldn't be too happy I imagine being forced to not only compete with, but have to license Windows (the only thing that sells their laptops).

    In an way they created this program with their early practices. With a 90% or so market share, anything that Microsoft does that sounds anti-competitive is going to raise eyebrows that MS doesn't want raised.

  5. Jared Newman Says:

    One thing that Microsoft mentioned on press day was possibility of Metro-style bloatware. That'd be a sight to see.

  6. John Baxter Says:

    Another thing for the OEMs: if your solution to a hardware problem requires bloatware to make it work, change your solution.

  7. IcyFog Says:

    Aside from your one Lenovo experience, did they ruin Windows 7?

  8. Rob Says:


    The interface depends upon a great many things. If the application is written to support multiple platforms, then it quite possibly uses a package that allows writing the code once for all targeted platforms. If that package isn’t good about honoring platform expectations, then the application looks bad. Custom coding the interface on multiple platforms is very costly and would reduce effort spent on features and fixes.

    Microsoft usually provides many different ways to do the same thing, introducing new versions that must be invoked in new ways rather than simply improving the results of using the old versions. Each fancy new approach requires new effort to learn and master, so developers often stick with what they know.

    There are, certainly, some developers that think they know better and choose to create their own interface elements, but I think they’re relatively rare.

  9. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Nothing to worry about. Just buy the OS and install in your own h/w.


  10. Harry McCracken Says:

    Maybe, but I think that Windows 8 will want to run on hardware designed for it–machines with touchscreens. I guess we might have to buy those computers, wipe them, and reinstall the software. But I hope not…

  11. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Ah yes, I see your point. I too, hope not.

  12. @rylandMatthews Says:

    Because, you know, Android tablet manufacturers (mostly the same guys who will be building Windows 8 tablets) never load their devices with crapware and other performance draining, headache inducing crap.

  13. Lazlow St. Pierre Says:

    Ah, the old "but they do it too!" defense.

  14. Christopher Knopick Says:

    I typically re-install a fresh copy of the OS on a new PC after reformatting the hard drive and making sure that I can get a hold of all of the drivers and software I need. I really think that this Metro interface is going places and may cause a resurgence of optimism toward Microsoft. It'll at least create some creative competition in an OS world that's been stagnant for a while. I've been looking for a good (somewhat) replacement for the Explorer interface, this may be it. I'm looking forward to how this works out. Good article.

  15. Info Dave Says:

    Annoyification. If there was a single word to describe my criticism of Microsoft, it would be, annoyification. And I don't think thats a word.

    You've obviously lived the experience, Harry. Demos are great, but Microsoft needs to eliminate the annoyances in Windows 8. And, OBTW, seamlessly integrate the keyboard/mouse interface of Windows with the multi-touch interface of Metro.

    Kudos to Sinofsky and Co. for the work so far, but now help the IHV's to build a product competitive with the iPad. Then, when you figure that out, come up with a phone to compete with the iPhone, and Android.

    Can we get an iSupply teardown cost of the Samsung tablet Microsoft has been giving away at Build?

  16. Will Rubin Says:

    I think this will be less of a problem with Metro if you remember Microsoft’s new view of install/uninstall. MS has stated that Metro apps will uninstall “clean” so as not to leave garbage behind nor impact the system’s performance. I suspect this will be enforced by Metro apps having to use an MS installer that knows where/how to put the various parts of the application and data so they can be easily removed. In addition, user level Metro apps are supposed to be forced to step out of the way when not active, unless they specifically request otherwise during installation (via the manifest). So, if we believe this, having these apps per-installed on your system should have no impact on its performance unless active.

    As MS has stated, a goal of Metro is to take the fear of of trying a new or demo application. If we take MS at its word on this then current day “bloatware” on new machines will hardly be a problem, can be easily removed with a few swipes, and may actually become useful. And it’s advertising, after all, … the price we pay for the ever decreasing cost of phones, tablets, laptops, etc.

  17. chrisd3 Says:

    I can answer a couple of these questions for you:

    "Does that fact that Metro apps fill the whole screen mean that other apps can’t pelt you with pop-ups?"


    "What happens to the balloon alerts–many of them useless–that traditionally appear in the System Tray?"

    They're still in the system tray, which doesn't appear in the Metro UI. You'll only see them if you switch to the Desktop.

    Win8 runs in two distinctly different modes: Metro and traditional desktop. You can switch between them at will. Apps are written either for the desktop or for Metro. Desktop apps work pretty much like they always did, but nothing they display will appear on the Metro screen.

  18. James Wallis Martin Says:

    I think they misspelled Retro. Metro, if I understand correctly is an HTML5-based screen layout. HTML-5 is currently a 4-year old UI design spec. So this means next year when Windows 8 comes out, we will all be able to bask in the glory of a 5-year old UI design with a fraction of the features and functionality of a desktop UI. Definitely it should be called Retro mode. Here is counting on improvements in the traditional desktop mode, but the fact they call it "traditional" is not filling me with confidence, but rather making it sound like a rehashed Windows 7 desktop with a 5-year old retro-based UI mode for touch tablets called Metro.

  19. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Speaking of UI's needing work, ya better have a look at your company website…

  20. Andrew Schultz Says:

    Of course Flash, a technology even older than HTML-5, is the future?

    I mean you have bet your entire website on it and haven't provided an alternate interface for the millions of devices that can't use it.

    Never mind that your flash 'design' is more horrible than anything Metro could ever dish out.

  21. simon Says:

    You make a point. I will be very surprised if what is under the hood is different from Win 7/ Vista/ XP. Once you scratch the surface it generally get ugly. Unfortunately Microsoft does like to support the past which gets in the way of something clean, they have always struggled with trying to reconcile business and home users and I dont think they have ever had one person responsible for the entire look and feel of an application. Certainly not Vista.

    however your site … oh . .that was a UI .. I thought it was an II (imposible interface) . sorry you get an F. Did like your mission statement but come on over to Africa or Bangladesh, visit some townships and you might reconsider how you are going to achieve your stated aims.

  22. gatuus Says:

    Buy a $300 touchscreen and you will be right on business

  23. CoreAn_Crack3rZ Says:

    As long as their name are marked on preinstalled softwares. That's that. 😀

  24. Peter Says:

    Has anyone done a survey of OEMs and clutterware? I recently bought a PC from a small OEM outfit (Puget Systems) and all they put on my new PC apart from Win7+updates was some wallpaper with their logo and a single feedback link icon on the desktop. Nothing else. Quite a different out-of-the-box experience to Sony or Dell.

  25. Guest Says:

    You're saying this as if manufacturers haven't been doing this since time immemorial. Shovelware is a sure thing on prebuilt machines, especially laptops. Shovelware is the reason you need 2GB to run Windows XP well, even though its minimum requirements are 64MB. Shovelware is the reason people say, "It's a netbook, what can you really do with it?" – when only five years ago, any one of us would've killed for a desktop with those specs.

    Sooner or later, Microsoft has to understand that shovelware killed the launch of Vista, and would've done the same to 7 if it weren't for the advent of multicore machines. Microsoft needs to head the fight against shovelware.

  26. simon Says:

    I will be very surprised if what is under the hood is different from Win 7/ Vista/ XP. Once you scratch the surface it generally get ugly. Unfortunately Microsoft does like to support the past which gets in the way of something clean. They have always struggled with trying to reconcile business and home users and I dont think they have ever had one person responsible for the entire look and feel of an application. Certainly not Vista. And their openness to developers and hardware manufacturers does expose them to having their operating systems look worse than they really are .. sometimes .. lets not talk about Vista.

  27. kissmybutt Says:

    windows 8 is windows 7 on the iphone dumbs you are being lied to again dumbs all they have do is take windws 7 iphone made it to run on pc and now they say they have made a new windows what a lot of lies microsoft do not pass go to not get 200 dollars go to jail for lieing again

  28. Krystigirl720 Says:

    You must be a grade school student. Since you cannot spell correctly. You can't associate products with the proper software or companies for that matter, and you have no idea what you're talking about.

    First off, your claim that Windows 8 is Windows 7, goes out the window. Look at every Windows operating system from Windows 95 up until Windows 2000. The interface looks the same. Windows XP is where Microsoft began changing things up. Vista, 7, and 8, will all introduce something new to the operating system while following a similar interface. Microsoft won't make a new interface every time they make a new version of Windows. They deliberately use the same one to keep the learning curve for older users at a minimum. (This way if your grandmother used Windows 7, she'll still be able to use Windows 8)

    Secondly, Windows 7 cannot run on an iPhone or any other "phone" device. You are thinking about Windows Phone 7 which is a completely different operating system. Furthermore, Windows Phone 7 does not work on Apple's set of mobile devices.

    Finally, Microsoft didn't make the Windows Phone 7 operating system run on a PC, they integrated it into Windows 8. There's a difference. Microsoft integrating the Windows Phone 7 interface into Windows 8 is an incredible feat. Apple hasn't done so with iOS (which in case you didn't know is the iPod, iPhone, and iPad operating system) and MacOSX. With Windows 8's Metro UI, it opens the possibility for people who have a Windows Phone to sync everything over to their PC, and see things in a larger scale, edit, modify, or even create new things, then just zap it back to their phone. I'm not sure if you have an Xbox, but if you do, you may or may not have read about Microsoft planning to update the 360's interface to a MetroUI one. This may further the possibility of cross platform content. Imagine playing a game on your Xbox. Then saving your progress, hopping on a train to go to school, or work or wherever you're going, and playing the exact same game on your phone. When you get to your campus, you whip out your laptop and continue where you left off on your phone. And at the end of the day, everything you did on your laptop and phone returns to your Xbox. Sounds like a good idea to me.

    So now that I'm done with my little college girl rant courtesy of your ignorance, any more questions?

    Oh…. two more things, it's Lying not Lieing, and corporations can't go to jail. Only their officers can, which does nothing to stop a well built corporation.

  29. Web Surfer Says:

    There are design flaws in Windows that have NOT been fixed since version 4 (aka Windows 95). And I really do not understand how in the world can someone ever think Windows Vista / Seven / Eight are the best inventions since sliced bread. It looks like, sooner or later, all software developers will become gay.

  30. jt1 Says:

    windows 8 is on the iphone dumbs it is SUCKS AND IT DOES NOT WORK RUGHT ON THE IPHONE
    i shot my iphone at the gun range and do not want any thing to do with
    windows 8 (windows iphone 7) and it istall just a link on your pc the rest of it is in the cloud have you all forget the xbox hack and more that was because the info they got was in the cloud and you can sync to your desktop but what you put in the cloud is not your any more it is microsoft only have fun and to all iphone people you are going to get screwed in jan hope you like your new bill and services hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

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  34. Video maker Says:

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