letter to david pogue: the windows 8 beta

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This is the best space I have for my letter about how I used to have a functioning computer, and how those days are now gone. Never fear, it’s right back to cultural criticism following this brief word from our pain & suffering.

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Dear Mr. Pogue,

Please consider updating the existing column about the Windows 8 Beta. It is a very bad idea for anyone not expert in Windows to install it.

The first release of the consumer preview worked OK on my machine, although all of Microsoft’s tile apps had problems: non-functioning Messenger, problems talking to Gmail servers in Mail, and so forth. Between the glitchy tiles and the attempts to make me path-dependent (e.g. buying videos or TV shows in the Windows Live store), I just started ignoring that screen altogether. Even the tiles that worked, like the Video app, were significantly poorer than freeware like Picasa and VLC. Messenger started working, but I never used it, because it cut out everything else. Having just one chat open made it clunky to multitask. Mail started working, but lacked basic conveniences like drag-and-drop when moving messages into folders/labels.

The first big warning sign: the install broke all of my sound drivers, which had to be completely removed and re-installed. (This for the original sound hardware included with the desktop.)

At least, I reasoned, performance was snappy and the universal search features were great.

The latest update broke the tilescreen. When I start up the computer, I now have to trick it into letting me access my old desktop. Until then, I get a blank, unresponsive screen, except for the settings menu on the right (which is how I get out of there). The search doesn’t work for apps anymore.

Microsoft doesn’t know about this problem yet; there’s no official support, and when I contacted the forums, I got rote answers. “Run troubleshoot, do a system scan.” Of course, neither did anything. Based on some Googling, it seems like I need to de-install “VM Tools,” or else up the RAM allocated them, but I don’t know how to do that.

Naturally, I’ll figure something out as far as fixing my computer goes. My point is that my computer is now far worse than it was with Windows 7, and despite being very comfortable with computers, I don’t have enough tech knowledge to fix it. No new updates have come down the pipeline since. Even before it started really acting up, I was already unable to get much benefit out of the GUI changes because the actual programs were junky. (IE 10 is fast, but it’s incompatible with a huge number of sites.)

It’s great to release a free beta, but calling the current Windows 8 a “consumer preview” drastically overstates the range of people who should even consider using it. Anyone like me — a savvy consumer, pretty good with the GUI and very good with apps, but not a tech professional — should stay far away for the time being. They’ll lose functionality and get nothing in return.

Hopefully other people can be spared the hours of fixes (and head-scratching), as well as the headache of having neither a tilescreen nor a Start menu.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Joseph Kugelmass

PS. It’s not my machine: I’ve got a new-ish Dell Inspiron, duo-core Intel chips, an upgraded video card, and 8GB of RAM. I’ve got Norton 360 running, plenty of free space on my hard drive, etc.

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