Windows 8 set files control panel

How Windows 8 Is Truly Broken

Regular Tech.pinions readers know that I am not a fan of Windows 8. But an experience today brought home just how truly broken the two-operating-systems-in-one-package really is.

I have been setting up a Lenovo ThinkPad Helix–one of the new breed of convertible tablet/laptops–for evaluation. I always try to do real work on eval systems and a project I am helping with requires forms to be filled out in Adobe Acrobat Reader. So I installed Acrobat, no problem (except for Adobe sneaking in Google Chrome and the Google Toolbar in the same installation.

Installing Acrobat changed the default program for handling PDF files from Microsoft’s Reader, a Metro program, to the Desktop Acrobat. And Windows 8 file assignments are global; there is no way to specify one program for use in Metro and another for Desktop.

So once Acrobat was installed, opening up a PDF web page or mail attachment in Metro dumped me into Desktop to use Acrobat. I could manually change the assignment of PDF files back to Reader, but then opening a PDF file on the Desktop switched me to Metro. For a saved PDF file, there’s the clumsy option of windows’ Open With command.

Microsoft has turned one of the simplest and most natural of operations into a thoroughly annoying pain in the ass. And dozens of other file types, particularly audio, video, and photos, cause similar programs. One way or another, accessing them forces jumps between Desktop and Metro.

The solution to this boneheaded problem is obvious: Allow a separate file association for each mode, and ship the OS with appropriate defaults so that content opens in the right program for each mode. It’s possible that the problem will be fixed in Windows 8.1 when the preview release comes out next week. But commenters in the official Windows blog have been asking for change and Microsoft has not responded, so I’m not hopeful.

One of the many disturbing things about Windows 8 is the sense that Microsoft has stopped listening to its customers. They didn’t listen during the beta test and they haven’t listening in the nearly eight months that the software has been languishing in the marketplace.

It’s possible that the two-headed nature of Windows 8 is so conceptually flawed that it cannot be fixed. We’ll see shortly how serious Microsoft is about trying.


Published by

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

10 thoughts on “How Windows 8 Is Truly Broken”

  1. “It’s possible that the two-headed nature of Windows 8 is so conceptually flawed that it cannot be fixed. We’ll see shortly…”

    I think that what we’re seeing with Windows 8 is a strategy tax. Microsoft was very late to the tablet game. They could have just created a new operating system and attacked the tablet market but then they would be just one of many and third behind iOS and Android. They felt that the only way to win the tablet (and phone) market was to leverage their existing desktop monopoly. So, rather than create a great tablet operating system, their strategy dictated that they must create a tablet operating system that still pretended to be a desktop operating system and a desktop operating system that pretended to be a tablet operating system.

    Microsoft kept boldly proclaiming that there were no compromises when, in fact, they compromised everything in order to remain consistent with their strategy of Windows uber allles.

    1. You may be right. But the bet has clearly failed. The question now becomes: What are the consequences of that failure? Is there a path to recovery for Microsoft, or have they effectively taken themselves out of the client operating system game?

      1. Microsoft will survive and probably thrive. But Windows and Office? I think they’re both on the road to irrelevancy.

      2. Is there a path to recovery for Microsoft? My take is that they need to come up with a replacement for Windows 8 that actually serves the enterprise market, and keep selling Win 7 until then. If they don’t, I’d say Microsoft *is* out of the client operating system game.

    2. I am not sure things would be any better for Microsoft if they had released a Metro only OS for tablets. Just look at Windows phone. It has no desktop baggage and it isn’t exactly what anyone would call a raging success.

      The biggest factor is that it is difficult starting late against entrenched competitors in the OS game.
      I think every other factor is dwarfed by this. IMO the only thing Microsoft could have done to improve it’s position at this time, was not be as late to the game as they were.

      There is very little they can do at this point, other than tweak, and keep trying to grow their ecosystem. It isn’t like they are ever going to give up on this market. Someday they will likely have a solid #3 in mobile.

  2. Here’s how I characterize Microsoft.

    They’ve lost out in mobile, to the point that I think the loss is irreversible. That leaves the enterprise. I believe they’re in a pretty good position with their back-office products, so their future in that business seems okay. However the misdesign of their flagship OS is potentially lethal, and the prognosis there depends on whether the two old dogs at the head of the company can either learn new tricks or retire. If Microsoft is able to truly let go of the outdated Windows constellation and make a fresh start, they have a chance to regain their place in the front office. (They will need to keep Windows 7 alive in the interim.) If they can’t, I think they will continue declining and the public will eventually see them as a success story for the 1990s.

    1. Ballmer is reorganizing Microsoft – again. We’ll know a lot more about Microsoft’s future after the reorganization.

      I’m open-minded about it, but I’m not optimistic.

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