Windows 8 headlines all over again.

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Reading the coverage of Windows 8 Consumer Preview is like deja vu all over again.

Reading all the coverage of Windows 8 Consumer Preview is like deja vu all over again … the same headlines with a new date stamp:

“New Windows 8 experience is confusing, confusing as hell.”

“Fantastic breakthrough from Microsoft”

“Windows 8 is make or break from Microsoft”

“Record downloads for Windows 8”

“Microsoft silences the critics”

You can replace ‘Windows 8’ with ‘Windows 7’, ‘Windows Vista’, ‘Windows XP’ and so on to find similar headlines going back more than a decade.

Of course, none of the headlines are entirely accurate.

The Metro ’tiles’ interface is confusing, especially for the majority at the moment who are running it on a standard keyboard/mouse machine. The default Windows 8 look and feel doesn’t work very well if you don’t have a touch screen.

Despite the ‘Tiles’ interface screens you’re seeing, Windows 8 has a standard Windows interface behind it – less the Start menu. So it’s not much of a breakthrough, Windows 8 has a new façade on the familiar Explorer and desktop.

Windows 8 is hardly ‘make or break’ for Microsoft. The company survived the Vista debacle with their corporate customers skipping Vista and taking up Windows 7. Microsoft has enough cash reserves to withstand such mis-steps to say nothing of their Office cash cow.

Of course the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 has record downloads. There are so many people with computers around the world, and growing each day, that it would be surprising if it wasn’t very popular.

Nothing short of a global ‘superinjunction’ would silence critics, nor should it. While the main point of the Consumer Preview is to promote the public release later in the year, a side-benefit for Microsoft is to get a lot of feedback. While most of those comments will be ignored, any significant dislikes may be addressed.

From our reading it seems the positive reviews of Windows 8 come from people using it with some touch-screen device. They seem to like the ’tiles’, though how they’ll feel in a few weeks when the novelty wears off is another matter. Reviewers on a keyboard/mouse machine seem less impressed with Windows 8.

For us the most obvious interface mistake is the dropping of the Start Menu. While it makes sense for a touch interface, the Start Menu is a better option for keyboard/mouse users.

If you’re trying to find the replacement for the Start Menu, move your pointer to the bottom left corner and click on the Start Menu tile that appears. This will display the full screen Metro interface.

The Office interface designers learned the hard and slow way about the importance of an obvious main menu. In Office 2007 the old ‘File’ menu was hidden under a round icon that many users didn’t realise was clickable, let alone the access point for an important menu. For Office 2010 early releases had a smaller but still unnamed icon before the developers finally bowed to the inevitable and put the word ‘File’ to make it clear that it was a menu.

Given that history, it’s strange to see a similar mistake being made with Windows 8 – Microsoft is hiding an important menu from the sight of users.

The Metro interface is OK for touch screens but it’s a shame that the Start Menu was dropped entirely. The Start Menu has many virtues; it takes up a lot less screen space, is more configurable, had fly-out menus to show recent documents and can show many levels of programs from common ones at first drilling down to much rarer utilities.

Microsoft seems to have become so obsessed with the need for a touch interface they’ve wilfully ignored the needs of their traditional user base.

Let’s hope the company regains some balance between the touch and non-touch interfaces before the public release of Windows 8 later in the year.

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