A Horrible Windows 8 Experience

Lenovo HelixWindows 8 has been on the market for nearly a year and the first significant update, Windows 8.1, is due for release in a few short weeks. Nevertheless, I can already see why Microsoft Corp. is having such trouble getting people to “get” its new platform.

My new Lenovo Helix arrived Friday afternoon. I would like to say this was an impulse buy, but it was more accidental. I’ve been spying the Helix since its announcement at CES last January. It has all the features no other convertible computer has: the convenience of a tablet, a full version of Windows, a full-sized keyboard, good battery life and the power of an Intel Core i7 processor. Most of all, it has the TrackPoint mouse controller; I’ve never adapted to the touchpad. Even at its high price, it seemed like the perfect machine to me, and many solution providers recommended it.

So why was the purchase accidental? I was on the verge of ordering a Helix when it first became available in May, but the price scared me off. I just couldn’t justify the expense when my current notebook, a Toshiba Tecra running Windows 7 Pro, was working just fine. I was snooping around Lenovo’s site and saw the ship times were running as long as 10 days. I went to to compare and saw better machines with more features at a slightly lower price were available almost immediately. I went to click on the shopping cart to see the ship options, and… volia! … my machine was ordered and set for 48-hour delivery.


Christmas in July

Opening the box is always exciting. I was like a kid at Christmas, ready to play with my new toy. Based on what everyone told me, I thought this would be an eye-opening experience — having the flexibility of the mobile and traditional worlds. I was wrong.

I’ve been a Windows devotee since Windows 3.1. I remember buying my second PC with that operating system preinstalled. It was a godsend; applications and files were easily located and accessed without having to remember and type long code strings through the DOS prompt. Windows 95 made file management simpler and more like, dare I say, the Macintosh experience. Microsoft probably did itself the biggest favor back in 1995 by modeling Windows after the Apple experience, which of course is a ripoff of the old Xerox Alto GUI, but I digress.

I was looking forward to Windows 8 long before its release. I had seen advanced versions of it for a couple of years. Microsoft staffers had told me that the tile interface, formerly known as “Metro,” was similar to the Windows Phone interface. Seems more than reasonable for an operating system that was intended to cross over the legacy PC and tablet divide.


Apple’s Wisdom Becomes Clear

So far, I can see why Apple never merged iOS and the OS X operating systems: They serve two different masters. iOS, which powers iPhones and iPads, is designed for what we used to call “applets,” or small footprint applications. OS X is a personal computer operating system, designed for large applications and more powerful machines. Windows 8 attempts to merge the two, and not very successfully. The touch interface has titles for apps (mobile) and regular software. While not necessarily a bad thing, getting from one app to the next isn’t easy. It requires toggling out of one app back to the title interface and then to the next app.

Windows 8 does allow you to go down to the conventional desktop. I can see why the omission of the “Start” button is such a problem for longtime Windows users. While it looks like Windows 7, navigating is hardly the same. You can’t easily find applications for pinning to the toolbar and you certainly don’t have an easy time using the desktop as a workspace. (Yes, I’m guilty of having a cluttered desktop.)

Microsoft’s biggest sin is limiting the ability to customize my Windows experience. The conventional “Settings” limit users to a few options for manipulating the look and feel of Windows. You really have to dig down into the Control Panel to find ways of shutting off certain applications and device controllers. I’m sure there’re ways to customize the experience; hence the reason why this was a weeklong experiment.

As far as the tablet experience goes, well, I can honestly say it’s not an iPad. Windows 8 on the Lenovo Helix feels like a bad Transformer that never made it off the Isle of Misfit Toys (see Charlie in a Box). While the 11.6-inch screen is nice and makes the Helix a seemingly reasonable PC replacement, the display settings leave much to be desired.

Compared to similar machines, such as the Acer Aspire and Samsung Series 7 ATIV, Lenovo was wise to make the Helix screen high resolution. It’s got a nice, crystal-clear look. But, Windows 8 insists the best resolution and display size is tiny. I’m going to go blind trying to read the different buttons. And hitting the control buttons, such as the X for closing windows and applications, is next to impossible without the stylus. I thought Microsoft was screwing with me by limiting my ability to change the settings of Google Chrome — my preferred browser — but I had the same trouble with Internet Explorer. The resolution and display sizes are an issue, since fat fingers are nearly useless in clicking on minute touch points, such as shrunken browser tabs. It kind of defeats the purpose of having the touch interface.


Oh, Office 365 is a Treat, Too

I started the trial version of Office 365, another Microsoft suite about which I’ve been curious. Given that there are PCs all over my house, I figured $99 a year might be worth it rather than paying $219 for single licenses. I do like how Office 2013 feels more fluid. But configuring Outlook seems practically impossible. It didn’t recognize the credentials to my hosted server, so I tried to delete the configuration and start over, but Outlook won’t let me without renaming the OST data file. Good luck finding that with the kludgy file system.

While I wanted Office on a tablet for a while, I can now see the impracticality. The Office suite is next to useless without having some sort of mouse control. Just try to manipulate an Excel spreadsheet with your fingers or stylus. Those who say the PC will make a comeback, I say I hope so. I need my hotkeys, mouse arrow and a stable interface to make my common productivity apps worthwhile.


Problems with Lenovo

If that weren’t bad enough, the Lenovo Helix turns out to be a piece of garbage. The big selling point of this machine is the high-performance architecture and the external keyboard. Well, guess what doesn’t work out of the box? The external keyboard. Lenovo’s online forums speak to this problem being related to a “fan error”; the remediation is a reset with a paperclip and a firmware update. Did both, and got it working again, but halfway through one of the above paragraphs, it stopped working… again.

This time I turned to Lenovo’s crack 24-hour support line. I had called before, but didn’t have the time to troubleshoot the problem. On both calls, neither tech had any idea what the Helix is, and it was painful explaining that I wasn’t calling about a third-party Bluetooth or USB keyboard. Unable to troubleshoot the problem, the tech gave up and ordered a replacement keyboard. That essentially means my experiment is now over until at least Tuesday.


Final Verdict: Fail

At Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference earlier this month, chief operating officer Kevin Turner implored Microsoft solution providers to get current on the latest products and technologies, most especially Windows 8. As a longtime Microsoft user and tech enthusiast, I actually felt a little guilty for not getting on the bandwagon sooner. I should have upgraded to Windows 8 earlier this year. I should have bought a Surface or other Windows 8 tablet when they became available. Instead, I waited on the sidelines.

Microsoft and its defenders might say I didn’t give Windows 8 enough of a chance. Well, I have to say that chance started the minute I hit the power button and the Windows logo appeared. Everything went down hill from there. Now that I’ve had a little experience with the Windows 8 ecosystem, I can finally say I’m ready to buy my first Mac.


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15 Responses to “A Horrible Windows 8 Experience”

  • Laz:

    Was this a touchscreen laptop? If not, why did you buy a laptop in 2013 with windows 8 and no touchscreen?
    I have a touchscreen xps12, and it’s the best laptop I’ve ever used, and I’m a technical business user (developer manager)

  • I Do agree that windows 8 experience was poor, Compared to Microsoft’s previous release.Failure happens anytime to anyone.And i guess to rectify Microsoft is trying to deliver 8.1 version as soon as the 8 release.Lets expect good experience in new release

  • Steve D:

    ‘If you know what your doing…’

    That’s my entire point. It takes a whole lot of time to figure Microsoft stuff out and they change things seemingly at random at each new release. I have a lot better use of my time, like feeding the planet or developing a new cancer drug but Microsoft would have me to spend my entire life learning how to use their complicated software.

    Why is it totally beyond software makers to think as scientists do…make things logical…so even Ph.Ds., dumb as we are can use it without heroic efforts.

  • Steve D:

    Interestingly, I’ve not heard a good review of Windows 8 so far. I’ve yet to try it. I’m worried this and other reviews may have already biased it me against it.

    ‘Going to the Mac is not the answer.’

    No Macs are great for non computer geeks like me (I’m a scientist geek)Over and over again, experts pick Windows, and non expert computer users pick Macs. Why might that be? I have a theory.

  • Steve D:

    ‘It didn’t recognize the credentials to my hosted server’

    Join the crowd. I literally spend hours upon hours fixing this problem. Outlook is a fantastic program in theory but if you can’t get it to read your email…

  • I have seen the same and any machines we have had that came with Windows 8 we back-graded rapidly!and I know many others who have done the same reporting similar experiences to yourself and not liking what MS has done. So we have a backtrack from MS on this, the Xbox and also on Prism where they are now trying to play the good guys and put their hands up to the truth having initially denied it all!

    Maybe MS should adopt Google’s corporate tagline !?

    Ian Moyse

  • Michael Gross:


    Great summary, and as always with you straight and to the point. A friend of mine played with a Windows 8 surface in Best Buy very recently. After 10 minutes, she was annoyed and frustrated – and she likes MS products.

    My own feeling, MS needs to own up to this “misstep”, and somehow make the Win 8 OS so darn easy to use and keep some kernel of familiarity so as to not totally make users feel like they’ve been dropped into the deep end of the pool without a lifeline.

    Otherwise, I think that their marketshare decline will accelerate, and business users look for alternatives, and / or further delay their upgrade cycle.

  • Brian Vistaunet:

    My advice is, stick with Surface Pro until MS 3rd party partners wake up and realize THEY are they problem. My Lenovo Yoga 13 is riddled with HORRID driver bugs that ruin the user experience for an otherwise brilliant piece of hardware. But my previous experience with ASUS using a Windows 7 laptop was equally as bad. Both brands are now on my blacklist—I won’t be buying form either again for awhile.

    Problem is, most users can get by if they’re familiar with the interface, but brand-new-OS-concept + bug-ridden-hardware = HORRID first-time user impression, and the ensuing word-of-mouth disaster we are now seeing. Given that the Yoga is supposedly the most popular Windows 8 device to date, things are not looking good.

  • Steven Hughes:

    One thing Microsoft doesn’t do with OEMs is give new owners an Owner’s manual (or at least the Windows 8 Product Guide – on the desktop to show and highlight the new features. The video Windows 8 in 3 minutes (OK really 4) should be included on every desktop and aha moments will abound. Windows 8 is a new way of doing things and abandoning what is known is scary for some aka “Who Moved My Cheese”. I thought the same thing when I first used Windows 8 and OSX, but got used to each. Somethings are different, but they way things are done have changed and there are 3rd party programs out there to get bring you back to old UX ages if you like. Give a go for a while (if it has taken you this long to start using Windows 8 then it may take a bit longer to form a solid opinion)and reassess. Thanks for sharing your 1st experiences as it echoes many.

    Note the picture you used in the article is a Lenovo Lynx not Helix. ;)

  • Josh Coy:

    ” …getting from one app to the next isn’t easy. It requires toggling out of one app back to the title interface and then to the next app.”

    You don’t have to go to the Start Screen to switch to another app. If you have multiple apps open, you can swipe your finger from the left side of the screen to switch between open apps, assuming you have a touchscreen device. With a mouse and keyboard all you do is hover your mouse in the top left corner, slightly drag it down to get your full open app list, and click on the app you want to switch to it. If you know what your doing you shouldn’t even have to look at the Start Screen unless you want to open a new app that doesn’t appear in your open app list. In that case then yes you would have to go the Start Screen to open a new app, but only one time until you close out of it.

    “You can’t easily find applications for pinning to the toolbar and you certainly don’t have an easy time using the desktop as a workspace. (Yes, I’m guilty of having a cluttered desktop.)”

    All you have to do is go to the Start Screen and start typing the name of the app or program you want to open, and it should appear in a list of narrowed down searches. Just right click on it, and it will give you the option to pin it to the taskbar or the Start Screen. A good tip to help with the cluttered Desktop space is to pin all of the programs that open in the Desktop to your Taskbar (that way you won’t have to switch back and forth between the UIs as often), and keep all of the most used Windows Store apps in the Start Screen. Also, create folders to put related files into to help free up some of the workspace (unless you have so many icons that your workspace is nothing but folders then that’s a different story.)

    It may sound just as washed up as the “No Start button” and “Can’t boot to Desktop” excuses, but a lot of people don’t really take enough time to get used to using the little functionalities of Windows 8. Instead of figuring out how to switch between apps the proper way they’ll do what you mentioned and go straight to the Start Screen and switch apps that way. It can be done that way, but that’s where a lot of the “unproductiveness” comes from. Just learning the little tips and techniques can really make a difference in the experience with Windows 8. Most people just treat it as if they were learning to ride a bike for the first time. They’ll fall once, give up on it, and want nothing to do with it ever again.

    • You know, I said the same thing when I first heard these complaints. I thought people should just take a little time to get use to it. Guess what? Windows 8 is not initiative enough. Unlike OS X, Windows doesn’t present what it wants you do do first. Hence the problem. Besides, since when is it a good idea to make the user work for what has been utterly convenient for 15 years?

      When the machine’s replacement part comes back, I’ll give it another go. But the first impression is already sour.

  • Larry,

    Great article, you hit it right on the head. I too have been messing around with Windows 8 over the last few days, so far not impressed. Let’s hope that MS can make some vast improvements with the release of 8.1.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.


  • Larry

    Going to the Mac is not the answer. That’s ok for just a blog writer but not for small business. Microsoft needs to go back to being the business is and stop trying to be a dessert topping and floor wax.

    • OK, in all honesty, the likelihood of me going Mac is slim to none. Not that I have anything against Apple products; I just don’t care for them. I much prefer Windows. I have been a longtime Microsoft critic because I want them to be better. Since 2001, I’ve written about Microsoft’s need to innovate. For a while, it looked like they were going in the right direction. But this entire notion of being all things to all people/businesses is just absurd. Apple knows its customer and market; Microsoft looks at Apple, IBM and Google with envious eyes and mistakenly chases every one of their shinny objects. To paraphrase Frederick the Great, “When you try to do everything, you do nothing.”

  • Hi Larry,

    Thank you for bringing more attention to how bad Windows 8 is; hopefully Microsoft will hear the outcry and realize that Playskool computers is not what we want.

    If I may point out a mistake: you wrote “and… volia!” – Perhaps a typo :-)

    Best regards,

    Some Guy

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