August 15, 2012, 10:51 AM — We've been examining and dissecting beta versions of Windows 8 for almost a year. In that time, a few traits have become eminently clear. First and foremost, no matter what you think about Windows 8's design, it's a towering engineering achievement: Microsoft managed to bolt a very capable, modern, touch-friendly interface (I'll stick with calling it Metro for now) onto a stalwart (some would say stodgy) workhorse, coming up with a product that's familiar to more than a billion users, and forward-looking at the same time. That's quite an accomplishment.
But sometimes engineering achievements are appreciated only by the engineers. From the user's standpoint, Windows 8 is a failure -- an awkward mishmash that pulls the user in two directions at once. Users attracted to the new touch-friendly Metro GUI will dislike the old touch-hostile desktop underneath. By the same token, users who rely on the traditional Windows desktop will dislike having to navigate Metro to find settings and apps they intuitively locate in Windows 7. Microsoft has moved the cheese.
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Now that Windows 8 has arrived (today for MSDN and TechNet subscribers, and tomorrow for Microsoft Partner Network members and Volume Licensees), the harsh analogies -- "Windows Frankenstein," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde operating system" -- may be applied conclusively. While Windows 8 inherits many of the advantages of Windows 7 -- the manageability, the security (plus integrated antivirus), and the broad compatibility with existing hardware and software -- it takes an axe to usability. The lagging, limited, often hamstrung Metro apps don't help.