As a very wise grammarian named Richard Mitchell told me many a year ago: "Consider the buttonhole."
He didn't know when buttonholes were invented (as it turns out, the first ones appeared in 13th century Germany), but he knew this: They haven't changed much in a long, long time. If you try very hard, you may be able to concoct a slightly
better buttonhole, but you probably can't think of a way to make a fundamentally
Or consider the automobile. If a time-traveler from the 1940s found himself in a modern vehicle, he'd soon figure out how to drive the thing. Yes, changes have occurred -- automatic transmission, better braking -- but the basics remain unchanged.
My point is simple: Sometimes technology reaches a plateau beyond which we may do no more than offer some minor tinkering.
A "developers" version of Windows 8 has been released. I can't think of many good reasons to try it.
(Before proceeding, here's a warning for commenters: You know how annoying the knee-jerk "get a Mac" guys are? The "get linux" guys are almost as bad. Word to the wise.)Windows 8
does away with the traditional desktop and substitutes an experience similar to ones you'll find on mobile devices and touchscreens. That's because this OS is designed for...everything.
That may not be a good idea.
I'm a traditional desktop kind-o-guy and always will be. I like multiple monitors, lots of RAM, lots of power under the hood. Yes, I'm poor -- so poor that I own only one pair of pants and one pair of shoes -- but I got me eight gigs of RAM baby, and I need more more more.
You can't properly run complex software on a touchscreen -- not even free stuff like Gimp or Blender. You cannot properly multitask without lots of screen real estate and lots of overlapping windows, which is why the "snapping" feature in Windows 7 quickly becomes irritating. (Fortunately, you can shut it off.)
The new Metro interface
in Windows 8 is all about the snapping. We're supposed to be very impressed that we can run two apps at the same time
. Well, whoop-dee-freakin'-doo.
The new Metro version of Internet Explorer takes up the full screen. Do you really want to do full-screen browsing?
All of the Windows 8 apps tend to be full screen as well. Why on earth? Right now, I have a tiny sidebar gadget which reveals the weather; because the widget is permanently affixed to the left side of the left screen, the information is available simply by a slight shift in the direction of one's gaze. Why would I want to call up a weather app which takes up the entire screen?
Despite what you've heard, touchscreens are not the future of computing, at least not serious
computing. If you want to move your cursor from one point to another across 40 inches of screen acreage, you do not want to sweep your arm. You need move a mouse only two or three inches to cover the same area. Much less tiring.
While watching all of the YouTube preview videos
on Windows 8, I silently asked: "May we have one without fingers
please?" The vast majority of these videos feature touchscreens. Apparently, the new Metro interface works best for those machines -- and offers nothing useful to traditional users of "big ol' box" computers.
Yes, you can have your old Windows desktop interface back -- that interface is now considered an app. But if you go to the Start menu to call up your programs -- guess what? No Start menu. You are sent back to the Metro interface.
You'll find your programs there -- in huge ugly chunky blocks splayed across your screen. The display is not nearly as attractive as the "pop up" docket thingie on the bottom of a Mac screen -- although even that wears out its welcome pretty rapidly, in my opinion. Using Metro, you'll probably have to scroll and scroll to get to your programs, the way you do with an iPhone.
Microsoft encourages software writers to include big, beautiful Metro icons for their wares. Well, Adobe has its own development schedule -- and some of us may want to give CS6 a pass. (Or may not be able to afford it.) Besides -- the bigger the icon, the more scrolling we have to do.
Most of the time, your Metro screen will consist of big, big icons positioned on a stark green background. On the Windows 7 system that you (conceivably) are using right now, most of your screen probably features a "wallpaper" photo of something you like -- a shot of a family member or a nice landscape or Count Dracula or outer space or whatever. Something personal.
Windows 8 banishes the personal.
Fortunately, there's an easy registry hack which gets rid of Metro altogether. Hello, desktop interface! Nice to see you again. And hello, Start menu! Once more, you can use your nice, small, easily navigable list of programs.
You now have a system that looks and feels a lot like 7.
All right. So: What's the advantage in upgrading to Windows 8?
All of the "killer apps" in this new OS turn out to be a lot of crap that desktoppers don't need or want. Everyone oohs and aaahs over the quick start-up time -- eight seconds, or so they say. I will admit: That does seem useful. But a lot of folks keep their computers "always on" anyways.
Undoubtedly, there are other things "under the hood" that make Windows 8 inviting. Right now, nobody wants to humor us with details.
Windows 7 offered stability, speed, a streamlined interface, and one must-have feature: A truly workable 64 bit version, allowing power users to access more than four gigs of RAM. That was the aspect of 7 that had me thinking "gotta have it" when the Release Candidate of 7 came out. Power, baby...POWER!
And 8...? Where's the "gotta have it" factor?
I think Microsoft must admit the truth: The Windows desktop is a buttonhole. We may never be able to improve upon the fundamental design. It is the way it is because it coalesces with the way the human mind and body work. It would have made more sense for the Windows desktop to evolve out of something like Metro, rather than the other way around.
True, you may need to come up with a fundamentally different type of operating system for a fundamentally different type of computer. You probably don't want a Windows 7 desktop on a machine that you hold in your hand. But those of us who think big will need a damned good reason to use a very different OS configuration.
The buttonhole problem seems to be affecting a lot of tech these days.
Blogger came up with a new interface which "improves" upon the old one in lots of annoying ways -- including a slide-out tray that pops out when you least expect it, covering up the text one is trying to compose in order to offer unneeded options. This is like trying to type while someone keeps pushing a magazine in front of your eyes. Worse, the humble blog writer suddenly must face all sorts of screwy formatting issues when pasting in quoted text.
Alas, we are forced into using the new interface because Google's old blogger interface no longer gets along with the newer iterations of Firefox. Frankly, I would head on over to Worpress -- but there are lots of problems over there as well.
(Blogger allows complete control over the template, for one thing. My HTML may be lousy, but it's mine
I understand Facebook users are pissed off at the new changes
in their world. Well, screw 'em.
The new Yahoo mail interface is terrible. (So are the new terms of service.) I'll be switching.
Netflix has "improved" its business model so well that everyone I know has cancelled the service. (Not that I know a whole bunch of people.)
You may or may not be interested in the world of Wacom's "Cintiq" tablets, which allow artists to draw directly onto an LCD screen. These are not touchscreens; the level of control is much finer. A Cintiq is for the creation of art, not for everyday computing.
Yes, I've wanted a Cintiq for years. (If you're interested, I use a big ol' Intuos 2 tablet, which still works fine.) But in a bizarre manifestation of the buttonhole problem, Wacom has finally come up with a Cintiq that does not make me salivate
The thing is 63 pounds. Sixty three freaking pounds
The whole point of a draw-on-screen tablet is mobility
. You want to be able to turn the tablet continually, just as an artist will continually adjust the position of the piece of paper on which he draws. Your right arm (if you're a rightie) naturally swings a certain way -- southwest to northeast -- and to get control of a line, you want to position that line so that it comes close to that axis.
The easiest way to do that is to pivot your paper. Or your Cintiq.
But you won't have an easy time pivoting your new Cintiq, because the thing weighs 63 freaking pounds. Try keeping that in your lap.
Well...maybe the older versions will now go down in price.The lesson:
At some point or another, the sellers of high-tech wares have to admit that their fine product is so very fine that it has become a buttonhole. The thing is simply unimprovable -- or only marginally improvable. Companies must admit this fact and adjust their business plans accordingly.Update:
Speaking of Wacom: I HAVE SEEN THE FACE OF GOD
. If this thing does what it seems to do in the video...