‘Christmas gift for someone you hate: Windows 8’

And the review by an MIT computer scientist only gets worse from there.

That headline runs atop a blog by MIT researcher and instructor as well as serial entrepreneur Philip Greenspun who ran Windows 8 through its paces and found it wanting in several areas.

He’s very specific and raises some good points, summing it all up with this: "Suppose that you are an expert user of Windows NT/XP/Vista/7, an expert user of an iPad, and an expert user of an Android phone...you will have no idea how to use Windows 8."

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His criticism stems from the premise that Microsoft had the time and should have examined Android and iOS for their best features, adopted them and added on from there.

Instead, he finds what he considers their best features ignored and some basic functionality lacking.

Given that Windows 8 supports both tablet and mouse-and-keyboard, it should do both at the same time on a split screen, Greenspun suggests. “But that is not the case,” he writes. “It is either the old Windows XP desktop or the new Android-like tablet environment.”

This has a practical impact on the novice Windows 8 user, he says. “Confused about how the tablet apps work and want to Google for the answer? You go to a Web browser in the desktop interface and can’t see the tablet interface that you’re getting advice on how to use,” he writes.

Greenspun found it disconcerting to unexpectedly wind up in the desktop interface directly from the tablet interface. “Many of the “apps” that show up on the 'all apps' menu at the bottom of the screen (accessible only if you swipe down from the top of the screen) dump you right into the desktop on the first click,” he blogs.

He finds the Back and Home buttons that are always on-screen in Android to be its best features that are lacking in Windows 8. The back button, when it does appear in applications, can be found in the upper left corner where Microsoft locates it or anywhere else the app developer chooses. It’s not consistent.

He likes the hardware Home button on iPads. The Windows key on Microsoft keyboards does the same thing, but that means having a keyboard. The same can be accomplished by flicking the right side of the tablet screen and choosing Start from the Charm menu, but there is no "full-time Home button."

The Windows 7 feature of right clicking on an object to elicit a menu of useful related functions was adopted to tablets by Android, in which touching and holding produces a similar menu. Windows 8 lacks the feature.

"A reasonable user might respond to this dog’s breakfast of a user interface by trying to stick with either the familiar desktop or the new tablet," he writes. "However, this is not possible. Some functions, such as 'start an application' or 'restart the computer' are available only from the tablet interface."

He says he does like the Bing Finance app in Windows 8, which, if viewed on a 27-inch screen, "is a great way to get a comprehensive picture of a lot of information quickly."

Greenspun approaches his review from the perspective of someone familiar with competing operating systems and compares Windows 8 to them. He says that perspective is lacking in reviews by many tech journalists and reviewers. "My theory is that journalists love anything new, different, and complicated. Windows 8 is all of those things," he says.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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