Windows 8: a touch of madness

For the last week or so I've been using Windows 8 and, for the most part it hasn't been the least bit horrid.

Yes, it forced me to restart this morning just as I sat down to get some work done and, yes, the procedure to actually turn off the computer is like a putative storyline scribbled on a napkin by Franz Kafka but later rejected for being too complicated. And yes, the way PDFs, JPEGs and a few other file types insist on opening full-screen (how many PDFs are that important?) is jarring, but still, most of my work is done in a browser these days, making the operating system in the background irrelevant most of the time.

It is, as operating systems go, perfectly fine.

There is, however, one thing. One eye-catching irritation that raises my hackles every time I see it, and the number one reason that, for all its good points, Windows 8 will still has at its heart an ill-conceived notion of what modern consumers want.

If you’re using Windows 8, try this. Find a device -- I assume any will work, but I'm using a phone -- and plug it in with a USB cable. A moment of chuntering later, and a flag fades into view in the top right of the screen. "Tap to choose what happens with this device."

Tap. It says "Tap". Whether you’re using a touchscreen or a 14in CRT that fell out of the 80s. Not "click" -- which would make sense and which any intelligent touchscreen user would assume could be interchanged with an actual prod -- but "Tap".

The first time I saw the flag I was so certain that Microsoft wouldn’t have made such a silly syntactical blunder that -- and I’m not hugely proud of this -- I reached up and tapped the screen, naively assuming that Microsoft would be smart enough to realise that not everyone owns touchscreens, and to only tell people to tap something when it was a physical possibility.

Nothing happened, of course. The computer sat there, a lonely fingerprint lingering in the top corner of the screen, and I sat scratching my head at an operating system that so flagrantly disregards the needs of the average consumer that it uses the language of an entirely niche class of desktop hardware.

You could argue, of course, that Microsoft is being forward-looking. After all, touchscreens are the future, according to Ballmer and co. But writing an entire operating system as if it's being released on hardware ten years in the future is to overlook the fact the future hasn’t actually happened yet.

Windows' enforcement of touchscreen terminology is reflective of much that’s wrong with Windows 8. It’s not the underpinning technology -- indeed, Windows 8 on the computer I'm using is both responsive and stable (barring the odd forced restart). It’s also a welcome sign that Microsoft is prepared to take risks in order to sell software to a market that’s rapidly rejecting the desktop as a way of Getting Stuff Done.

However, Microsoft’s bloody-minded misconception that every single user in the world wants -- nay, will soon have -- a touchscreen is the kind of top-down, our-way-or-the-highway approach more the preserve of Apple at its worst.

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