Let’s be clear: I think that Windows 8 is in many ways a good operating system. But it is also a very polarizing one among longtime Windows users and that’s something Microsoft will ignore at its own peril. First, let’s go through Windows 8’s obvious virtues — it runs much more smoothly than earlier versions of Windows, it starts up more quickly and is generally a more stable platform than Windows 7. However, for a sizable chunk of PC users these plusses are outweighed by the giant minus of the big changes Microsoft made to the traditional Windows user interface.
Take two of my friends who recently made the upgrade to Windows 8.1 from Windows 7. Upon installing the software, one of them said that “the only way they could make it worse is if the right mouse click [would] be replaced by smashing your right thumb with a hammer.” Another one simply said that he “took my CPU back because of that crap” and switched back to Windows 7.
Of course, there’s a lot more than just my friends’ personal anecdotes to show that Windows 8 is either a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for many longtime users. Amazon customer reviews of Windows 8 have shown it to be remarkably polarizing whereas past Windows versions have either been mostly loved (Windows 7) or hated (Vista) by PC users. And then there’s usage data: We learned earlier this week that Windows 7 is still growing more quickly than Windows 8 and 8.1. And this chart from Statista shows that Windows 8’s overall adoption rate among PC users is lagging badly behind where Windows 7 was at this point in its life cycle.
There are two issues here, both of which have been rehashed to death: Many people miss the Start menu and they hate the Metro UI. Microsoft has tried to assuage these users with Windows 8.1 by giving them the option of booting up to desktop mode and by putting in a Start button in the bottom left-hand corner of the main Desktop mode screen.
The trouble with the new Start button, however, is that left-clicking on it simply returns these users to the Metro screen that they hate with all their hearts. And for a lot of users, dislike of the Metro screen has reached Dr. Seuss-like proportions: They do not like it in their homes, they do not like it on their phones; they will not click upon its tiles, they won’t use it to access files; they wish that it would go and die, they do not like Metro UI.
Now, there are certainly some important rejoinders to this: You can right-click on the new Start button to get a more traditional menu that will give you access to some, although not all, of the features of the old Start menu. You can also install a third-party applications such as Classic Shell and StartMenu8 to bring back the classic Start menu. And you can take a bunch of different steps to change your settings and make sure that you never have to see another “Live Tile” ever again.
But it seems like a lot of longtime PC users simply want the UI of Windows 7 with the speed and stability improvements of Windows 8 and they don’t want to have to do any tinkering to get it. If Microsoft really wants these people to remain loyal users in the coming years, it may have to suck it up and bring back the full traditional Start menu.