I had hoped to be writing about my progress on the new 16GB i7 3.5GHz quad-core PC I built, except the company I bought it from insisted on assembling it for me, so I let them. Only to find they had stuck a sticker on the back that said the warranty was void if I opened it.
Anyway, the short story is I eventually got everything up and running, using Debian Wheezy with kernel 3.6.5 I had to download, build and install, because the mobo was so new the stock 3.2 kernel had a few problems with it. That and having to build and install custom networking firmware & driver, because Gigabyte have changed the on-board network card from one supported in the kernel (I checked beforehand…) to one not supported yet (grrrr). Virtualbox installed, along with extensions, guest additions worked on an old copy of XP I had lying around, and freeBDS as well as Debian-GNU/HURD, both of which require the hardware virtualisation I built the PC to meet, both work, as well as Debian-kfreeBSD (flaky), but pcBSD still has problems installing to a virtual machine, which I’ve not figured why yet. Lots more to go, but as a diversion, I decided to buy a copy of Windows 8, stick it on a virtual machine, and see how that goes.
My first impressions of Windows 8:
The problem with it is that although I assume with all their millions, Microsoft did do some good human interface design work, but my guess is it was all based on how people would use a tablet; so, when it comes to working on a desktop, most people will be used to a different way of working. In order to use Windows 8 on the desktop, people will have to change the way they have worked for the past 25 years. This happened with the shift from applications written for terminals, early PC’s and CPM & MS.DOS (such as IBM Displaywrite, Supercalc, Harvard Graphics, WordStar, WordPerfect, etc.) to the MS & Apple windowing systems we all know and love-hate. Back then, there was a bit of resistance, but, these new metaphors were fairly intuitive and easy to use, and had the advantage that where before you really had to use key-stroke commands, you still could use key-stroke commands, but didn’t have to. There is a reason both Apple and Microsoft did so well using the windows metaphor for so long: it worked, people found it easy use, and it reflected how they worked in the world. These are key requirements of human interface design. There is a saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. So, what they have done is taken something that has worked well for many years, and replaced it with something that doesn’t (from what I can see). They have done this, not as an option, but as how you WILL work.
I am sure that this will work fine for people doing fairly ‘trivial’ tasks, like browsing and e-mail, or if they only tend to use one or two ‘serious’ applications. But anything more than that, I don’t see how more complex tasks would be achieved. I am sure it will be possible, but not sure how. For example not sure how you would have a browser, e-mail, word, and powerpoint open, and read a pdf while you edit a jpeg file and a document, draggin things between them. That was a way of working that reflected how people do things in the world. People do not tend to work by flipping between screens, carrying what they have copied with them. I may be wrong, maybe I am missing something, but without breaking the interface design in order to force it work the way I am used to, if I used Windows, I’d feel that Microsoft were forcing me to learn a new way of working.
To be honest, as much as I dislike Gnome 3.5 on linux, it does what Windows 8 is trying to do much better, and looks far more polished and professional, with much better compositing engines available. Gnome 3.5, like Unity, broke the traditional computing metaphor for some reason over a year ago (wanting to get onto tablets I suppose), but the only people who like it are the people who designed and developed it, who all tell the rest of us we are wrong for not liking it. I suspect the same is true for Windows 8. The designers and developers must like it, as do the management, and no doubt the fanboys will like it, and the sales people will have to, along with anybody would would be made to drink Kool-Aid if they dissent. I’m sure that guys for whom computing is all about downloading porn, people who venture little further than iTunes, Explorer and Mail, it will work. Maybe this heralds a shift in computing where any ‘serious’ computer users still using Windows will migrate to poper operating systems like OSX & Linux, and leave the ‘trivial’ stuff to Windows, Android & iOS. When I say trivial, I mean in terms of the types of applications you can use – I know of at least one person who runs a lot of their business via a web-browser on a tablet.
My thought about Gnome/Unity was that I couldn’t see an interface like that appealing to sysadmins, or even programmers; so, I am wondering where they will take this new metaphor when it comes to Windows Server. I cannot see this will be that acceptable for sysadmin tasks. OK, a lot will be done on the command-line, but one of the things Windows NT did introduce was the idea that you could do sysadmin using a windows manager. While you could do that with UNIX, it was never a pretty sight. So, I’ll be interested to see whether they release the next Windows Server version with Tiles, traditional Windows, or a choice.
Maybe I’m just getting old, I hear a whisper in my ear. I saw the shift from mainframes+terminals to UNIX-Servers+PC’s running MS.DOS to standalone PC’s running MS.DOS to standalone PC’s running Windows to UNIX/Windows-Servers+PC’s running Windows to Windows-Servers+Windows Thin Clients. And now this, and the smoke-and-mirrors magic of “The Clod” (no typo – lump of protocols and services that have been around in UNIX for donkey’s years, bundled together and re-branded as the “next-big-thing” ).
It seems that Apple are quite capable of supporting two forms of their OS, one on desktops/laptops, the other on tablets/phones; Linux is av aailable on the desktop, and with Gnome/Unity is aiming at tablets. Google uses linux to develop separate environments for laptops (ChromeOS) and for tablets (Android). I don’t really understand why Microsoft didn’t do Windows 8 as a fork of Windows for mobile devices, and retain the traditional desktop for those who want it; perhaps the memories of the disastrous Windows CE/PC2000/Mobile were too hard to bear – so rather than fail spectacularly at a mobile operating system again, they have teamed up with Nokia (who spectacularly failed to bring out a successful touch-screen device), and bet on the future of Windows on a successful mobile operating system, and not worrying about desktops until later. I guess we’ll have to see what the take-up is, and whether they have to backtrack and rapidly bring out Windows 9, like they did Windows 7, in order to finally get people to stop using Windows XP in 2014 (when extended support for it finally ceases).
In a year or two, will we all have taken our PC’s & laptops to charity shops and municipal tips, having traded them in for touch-screen TV’s, PC’s, notebooks & tablets? The typewriter metaphor in computing has been around for over 60 years, I learned to type on a manual, then electric, typewriter; the typewriter goes back 150 years. I remember doing data input by punching holes in cards – using a computer keyboard for data input was a huge improvement. Even on tablets, the keyboard metaphor is there for interacting in complex ways; and as an after-market accessory, a bluetooth keyboard is necessary for any substantial text-based activity. It would be naive to think that the system of working that has developed to one where we type on a keyboard, looking at what we type, copying things in from other places, all visible on our screen, will be superseded by tablets that quickly. Whereas as a mobile interface for warehouses and factories, on the road, the tablet will be revolutionary.
Now I have installed it, will I use it for my few remaining Windows applications? I don’t think so, after Windows XP, I prefer Windows 7.