Hey, Microsoft, why did you move my cheese?

This came up in a conversation the other day and it was too good not to share.

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, MD, is one of the best-selling business books of all time. It’s sold tens of millions of copies and has been translated into 42 languages.

Originally published in 1998, it’s a very short book, written as a parable about two mice and two humans who live in a maze. An Amazon reviewer offers this nice summary:

Although more analytical and skeptical readers may find the tale a little too simplistic, its beauty is that it sums up all natural history in just 94 pages: Things change. They always have changed and always will change. And while there’s no single way to deal with change, the consequence of pretending change won’t happen is always the same: The cheese runs out.

With Windows 8, Microsoft moved a lot of cheese.

I understand the reasons why the Windows 8 design is so radically different. It’s a break with the past that had to be made at some point, and there really isn’t a graceful way to do it incrementally.

I think Microsoft is confident that people will embrace the new interface if they choose to accept it. But the amount of pushback I see from stubborn, sophisticated users is high.

25 thoughts on “Hey, Microsoft, why did you move my cheese?

  1. I’ve been an early adopter and fan of every Windows release since 95, and up until recently I was having a lot of fun ridiculing people that were complaining about these changes. Then I tried to use it for real on my laptop.

    I am not and will not whine- that’s still ridiculous and over the top. But, for the first time I actually enjoy using an older release of Windows over the latest (I even jumped on the Vista bandwagon while it was in beta). Metro is a wonderful UI for touch, but I do not use touch. Maybe this is the future and I’m just out of touch; that’s fine, but please don’t imply that all of us that don’t like this direction are people that are just stubbornly refusing to take our medicine.

    If this sounded argumentative, I apoligize. Just trying to explain my point of view without getting into details of why I don’t like it.

  2. Great book! The President of our company passed these out to all employees a couple of years ago – mainly targeting our aging service technicians who fight change tooth and nail.

  3. Change for change sake is of no value. Microsoft did not have to break the Desktop UI. They chose to. As a consequence, I am less than happy about Windows 8. I expect that Windows 7 will be the last desktop version of Windows I will use personally.

    If people ask me about getting a tablet my recommendation is to get Apple’s iPad. It is and will likely remain my tablet of choice for the foreseeable future.

    The Windows 8 consumer preview beta does away with the Start button replacing it with “hot corners”, hidden areas that come alive when you scroll your mouse over them. At least that’s the theory. The reality is that it stinks as UI. The hot corners often don’t respond in my tests.

    The Metro replacement for the Start button may make sense on touch screen devices but it is plain crap on the desktop where we point with mice.

    Windows 8 screws up the marvelous search features that were built into Windows 7.

    I could go on about the little things I don’t like about Windows 8 but no doubt you get my drift.

    The underpinnings of Windows 8 are quite interesting and some of the new features are well done but the strange UI, part classic, part Metro, is so off-putting that I see no reason to ever run it on a desktop. Most applications now have versions for Apple Macs as well as Windows. The Mac OS X UI, existing and in development, is more like “Windows” than Windows 8.

    Why throw out 25 years of experience with using Windows? Microsoft seems to think that is no big deal. It is to me. I don’t like Metro and other than supporting clients foolish enough to get Windows 8 machines I don’t want to use it.

  4. If they’d just give me back the start menu on the desktop I’d be happy, it’s the decision to force the new start stuff designed for touch-based tablets onto traditional desktop that it is just plain dumb.

  5. I think you’re not thinking in the right dimension. You say “But the amount of pushback I see from stubborn, sophisticated users is high”. Let’s forget about stubborn, sophisticated users for the moment and take a look at stubborn unsophisticated users instead. I’m thinking of people like my 80 year old parents and parent-in-law who are confused enough by Windows XP. There’s no way people like this will be able to live with Windows 8. It’s simply too big of a change.

    Sure, people who start with Windows 8 or people who can accept change will be able to adapt to Windows 8. But, from my experience, the vast majority of existing users don’t fall in this category. These users will either stay with XP or get somebody to modify Windows 7 so that it almost looks like XP.

    1. Jon, you’re reading something I didn’t write.

      So far, the only people testing Windows 8 are stubborn, sophisticated users, the kind who are always first to test something. We haven’t yet heard from the community you’re talking about. I’m not going to pretend to speak for them. I’m also not going to assume they’re incapable of change.

      1. It might be true that right now it’s only stubborn, sophisticated users who are using Windows 8 but unless Microsoft makes a major change (which is unlikely) what we’re seeing now will be the same thing that our helpless elderly parents and other befuddled people will see. So, the result will be the same.

  6. All operating systems have a problem how to cater to the Novice and the power user at same time. With Windows 8 Microsoft has catered to the novice and perceived need to unify the OS on divergent hardware platforms. There is a UI that will work for laptop / Desktop a different UI for Tablets and another UI for Mobile. With in thoughts there is a novice and experienced subset. As a Programmer, Data Analyst, Graphic Artist, Sound Designer, having 4 monitors at 4k revolutions allows better productivity. For the Novice that is overwhelming. Microsoft need to have a UI for Novice and a UI for Experienced users.

    If Microsoft moved to a Meta tag based start menu most users would find a much better experience. Instead Microsoft gave up on start menu and made a mode compicated interface to manage.

  7. Jon: Sorry to inform you that MS is probably not considering your aging relatives at all. I’m going on 73 years of age, but I know the money comes to MS and others through attracting 18-to-55 year-olds. It’s just a simple fact.

    1. I was using the elderly as an extreme example. I know plenty of other people in all age groups who aren’t going to be happy about Windows 8 because it’s too much of a change from what they’re used to. These include very well educated people so it’s not a question of that.
      Windows and a modern PC already are more than capable of doing everything these people need so Windows 8 won’t succeed or fail based on its features.

      Microsoft got away with changing Office radically, although I wonder how many people
      are sticking with older versions just because of the radical difference.

      By the way, I’m only talking about Windows 8 on a standard desktop PC. Tablets, cell phones, and refrigerators are something else entirely.

  8. In my experience, most customers are change-resistant. I had to sell the new Windows 7 UI/UX to clients. I believed in the superiority of Windows 7 over XP and Vista and most of my customers accepted my endorsement and enthusiasm as valid. Most upgraded over the years and I have not heard much grousing.

    I don’t plan on trying to upgrade customers to Windows 8. I don’t want to support it because the number of questions I will get, and requests for “free” help will be immense. I know several system administrators in small to medium size enterprises who are even more concerned about the tidal wave of support calls that Windows 8 will generate.

  9. For people who have non-touch desktop computers, in what ways is Window 8’s interface superior to that of Windows 7?

    Change without benefits is counterproductive.

  10. I think this is in some ways similar to the Office 2003-2007 change. Although I think at this point in that conversion maybe people saw more upside in Office 2007 for power users than Windows 8 does, but I might be wrong about that. In the end most people appear to like the ribbon once they got used to it, it will be interesting to see if everyone warms to the Metro UI over time. I am still unsure myself being of the 3 screen power user type. I think it will come down to programs (apps gasp) and how they take advantage of Metro. I am however REALLY looking forward to some of the copying and other under the hood upgrades that won’t matter at all to the slate touch screen users.

  11. Lots of sour grapes here. It seems everyone who comments here are exactly the people Ed is talking about. I am a software developer, so I’m as much a power user as anyone, but I love a lot of what Microsoft is doing in Windows 8.

    Jon: Microsoft wouldn’t be making these radical changes if Windows and the modern PC “already are more than capable of doing everything these people need”. There’s a reason my 85 year old grandfather and my 62 year old father have largely abandoned their personal PCs in favor of iPads. My dad still uses a PC at work mainly for the business software available, but at home it’s mostly iPad. And my mom (60) uses a Kindle Fire for most of her computing and complains if I ask her to do something on the desktop PC. The only way to compete is to simplify the PC interface in a way that’s easier, more intuitive, and more safe and secure. I know you will disagree on intuitive and ease of use; only when Windows 8 really gets out into the main stream into the hands of normal people will we be able to find out who is right.

    As far as Office goes, I work on a product that integrates into Excel that’s used by a broad range of small, medium, and large businesses. Some of these people have new versions of Excel forced on them, but a lot of them choose when to upgrade themselves. There was plenty of griping in the first year after Office 2007 was introduced, but that mostly went away after that. And I very rarely see any support cases involving Office 2003 roll through anymore; most people have upgraded (even larger businesses who are much slower on the uptake than general consumers).

    Richard: I doubt OS X is not going to be somewhere you can hide from these types of changes very long. With each of the last few versions, Apple has been integrating more and more iOS features into it. Microsoft takes a lot longer putting out a new version of Windows so it’s more of a “big bang” for them, but Apple is doing the same thing gradually in OS X.

  12. As a Microsoft employee using early Windows 8 builds for a while now, I can say that the “Who moved my cheese?” feeling goes away quickly. For example, I don’t miss the Start button at all.

    One thing to realize is that almost all PC’s have a Start button on the keyboard (way back when I went to school, it was called the Command button). It is amazingly convenient for desktop users to simply press it to get to the Start screen.

  13. “Change for change sake is of no value. Microsoft did not have to break the Desktop UI. They chose to. As a consequence, I am less than happy about Windows 8. I expect that Windows 7 will be the last desktop version of Windows I will use personally.”

    Microsoft DID have to break the Desktop UI. Regardless of whether or not Windows 8 is a success, the writing is on the wall for traditional desktop computing. While some analog of a “desktop” will probably always exist it will eventually be a very, very small portion of the personal computing pie. Those who believe otherwise are in an ever shrinking minority.

    That said, having used Windows 8 since the developer preview, I can assure you that the desktop is less broken than detractors often imply.

  14. Yeah, I don’t love the changes either. The scroll area on my laptop’s touchpad doesn’t work in Windows 8 (and I’ve tried five different drivers), so I have to move my cursor to the scrollbar to get absolutely anything done in the new interface. The interface is built for touch and looks like it will be great for touch, but I don’t think it works as a desktop/laptop operating system. There is too much scrolling, and the controls (like moving the mouse to swtich tasks, find charms and the Start tip) are not at all intuitive and are slow when done repeatedly throughout the day. (You’re constantly dragging your mouse pointer to both sides of the screen to get any task switching done. You can’t even tell someone to “Click the Start button” because the controls don’t surface themselves. Again, I think it’s great for touch, but is otherwise kind of a mess.

    I need the ability to turn the Start menu and desktop search back on in Desktop mode. Microsoft isn’t going to do it, but I think they should.

  15. Experienced users may be able to transition to Windows 8 just fine, but I understand about some people will have a more than a hard time. I only have to look at my wife and know that even going from XP to Windows 7 took her a lot of time and I know Windows 8 will be a nightmare for her. These are the people Microsoft will alienate the most.

  16. So far, my reaction to Windows 8 (I’ve tested both the Developer and the Consumer previews) is a large shrug of the shoulders. I can’t see a reason to upgrade, either at home (consumer view) or at work (I’m an IT Director with a large fleet of Win7 systems).

    The metro interface is intriguing, but really all it seems to be at the moment is a replacement for the Start menu – and it seems to take longer to use than what we are all used to. The desktop lurks behind everything and looks/feels pretty much like Windows7 – so the change isn’t very deep. Metro looks like it could be great for touch-based systems, but the change doesn’t go deep enough to really make a Win8 touch-system superior to, say, an iOS-based tablet.

    So, we’ve got an OS that still isn’t really ideal for touch, and one that doesn’t quite work right for traditional use anymore, either. This – to me – isn’t an improvement, or even a workable scenario. I don’t know that one unified UI is ever going to work for what are completely different user paradigms – no matter who makes it (Microsoft, Apple, etc.).

    Ed, you are right that change will come and we will all adapt eventually – but it may be Win9 or later before the mix gets to the right point for mass adoption. I’m sure Microsoft can ride that revenue wave out, but it won’t be fun for anyone in the industry.

  17. As a user of Windows since 2.11, I’ve loved each and every release since then, including Vista. Most versions I’ve put into full use even in beta stages. I’ll use Windows 8 for sure. But not initially, and not as a replacement for Windows 7. Which is 100% unlike any previous version of Windows. I don’t hate Windows 8. I hate that MS thinks it’s what I want to replace Windows 7. It’s not. If I eventually see a way to install something closer to the old explorer setup in Windows 8, then I’ll replace Windows 7 with it. But I will NOT use Metro on my desktop. I WILL use it on a touch tablet, but NOT the desktop.

    So, I ask, what’s more stubborn? Users who prefer older methods with zeal, or users to push forward with vigor? Potayto, Potahto.

  18. If I’m not mistaken, Ed and all the other reviewers got tablets from MS to review this thing in. I think that’s one reason why the reviews are enthusiastic, while the “stubborn, sophisticated users” trying this thing on traditional keyboard/mouse hardware (i.e. the type of hardware that has defined Windows for the last 2.5 decades) are horrified.

    The problem with Win8 (and I say this as somebody who enthusiastically embraced each previous Windows release, including Vista, and loved the Office 2007 ribbon when the public beta launched) is that the ‘future’ totally leaves out anything other than content consumption. (Apple is going the same way with 10.8, though not as dramatically).

    Does anybody seriously think Visual Studio is going to get ported to Metro? QuarkXPress? AutoCAD? CATIA? Photoshop? Premiere? Of course not – Metro and touch are utterly ill-suited for the type of work people do with those pieces of software. Hell, without even talking about Serious Work, I’d love to see your typical high school student put together a lab report for chemistry class using a Metro/touch app.

    So, what you’re getting is a situation where EVERY major piece of productivity software from the past two decades is getting stuck in this hackish desktop mode that MS looks eager to deprecate in W9 or W10… and with no replacement in sight.

    What Microsoft is doing is the equivalent of Ford taking the F-350 and turning it into a Fiat 500-class car with a small cargo bed. Large pickup trucks have a place for work, and that’s why Ford (and other automakers) offer both large pickup trucks and small economy cars. (And yes, for a while, pickup trucks increasingly were used for non-work purposes. But that trend is reversing…) Microsoft needs an easy-to-use content consumption OS to compete with iPad? Great. Launch one. Share the kernel, driver interface, etc. with the ‘serious work’ OS. But keep offering a ‘serious work’ OS, or at least a ‘serious work’ mode designed for the type of hardware that people do serious work with. This desktop mode in W8 doesn’t cut it.

    If you use your computer for work, what OS are you supposed to use these days? Windows NT more or less killed the *NIX workstation running Solaris/IRIX/HP-UX/whatever, Mac OS X is embracing the same idiotic paradigm at a slower speed, Linux doesn’t have the third-party business software, etc.

    Oh, and BTW, why is it nearly-impossible for a keyboard/mouse user to find the ‘shut down’ button in W8? It took me a LOT of time to figure out that if you move the mouse to the right side of the screen just right, you get this bar with 5 buttons…

    1. VM,

      If you read my review, you will see that I spent the overwhelming majority of my time with the Samsung tablet docked and connected to a keyboard, mouse, and large screen monitor, specifically so I could evaluate it as my readers would. Sorry you missed that detail.

  19. Ed, I think you are making a good point, but I will have to say that I am not exactly thrilled with Windows 8. I, like many of the other posters here, have been thrilled with each Windows release until this one. Windows XP was a joy to use, it felt like a natural evolution of the Win9x systems. Vista, although slightly annoying because the cheese got moved, was still a great OS. Windows 7 polished the UI of Vista to shine. Windows 8 feels bad. It doesn’t feel like evolution, but revolution and not in the good way. I guess the best way I can describe it is like getting into your car and finding the steering wheel in the back seat. It’s going to take a lot to get used to.

    As far as the normal users, I have been semi-testing them with a touchsmart, and so far everyone that has encountered Win8 has hated it. A refrain I hear alot of is “Why did they do that?” It’s a question that’s not easy to answer.

    Now that I have the whining out of the way, let me talk about the positives. The Consumer Preview is leaps and bounds better than the Dev Preview by far. After reading your ZDNet articles, I am starting to really like the casual use of it. I am still not in full use mode, but let’s get office 15 here before I make that judgement.

    Now for the crazy talk. After using the Consumer Preview for a full day the traditional Windows desktop UI feels dated and broken. I almost wish they would go ahead and extend this release out another year and go ahead and metro the whole thing. I think it might even be easier for the masses to accept, instead of what feels like a half-in, half-out feel. I look at the future office videos, and I can handle seeing that UI in my next desktop. Heck, I wouldn’t even feel bad about learning something new, because it would be entirely new. I wouldn’t have the expectations that this is something that I should be used to.

    Either way, I won’t pass final judgement until we see an RTM or RC, but at that time I may have to squeeze my copy of Windows 7 tight to my chest and scream cold dead hands.

    Thanks, Ed. It’s great to see you back over here as well as ZDNet.

  20. As someone who has been using Windows since the long-ago days of the 1980s and the tiled window UI of Windows 1, I think my feelings were best summed up by the words of another long-time Windows user I respect a great deal who, when she saw Windows 8, said “About f’ing time. We’ve been using that old desktop UI forever.

    Yes, some users will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to have to learn something new – after all, how many people haven’t progressed beyond the various *nix variants and C derivatives. And while the Desktop/Start Button UI isn’t quite that old, it does go back, mostly unchanged, to Windows 95 and seventeen years in this industry should feel like going back to punch cards and line printers. That it doesn’t is a sign of how much we’ve stagnated and coasted on the familiar over the better.

    And, yes, some users will be very annoyed that their status as “the computer expert” will require some work to maintain after years of being used to coasting on skills they first learned a decade ago.

    But change fosters innovation and brings a shake-up in leaders from those who gain from PR and self-promotion to those who are willing to shake up their minds and learn new ways and new concepts. For those who are in that latter group, this is a wonderful opportunity not seen in many years and a chance to be at the forefront of new ways of working as opposed to being the “expert” just because you were born at the right time.

    There’s an old saying in the computer industry
    Why does it take so long to create software when God was able to create the universe in 6 days?
    Because God didn’t have an installed base to support

    Thanks, Microsoft, for remember that not only does innovation matter but that in the long run it matters more than pleasing those who don’t want to learn anything new.

  21. Sorry, but I can’t believe the power user whiners.
    Windows 8 is the best thing to happen to new users.
    I have had to teach numerous people how to use computers, and all I want to say is “Thank Goodness” the Start button is DEAD! That cascading and scrolling menu was a pain for new users. Finding a program in the multiple Start menus was like navigating a maze for beginners. Now the Microsoft app store makes installing programs painless. Program and Setting menus are all in the same place for each app. Just tell a new user that all functions can be found in 4 corners of Start screen. Lesson done!

    Power users now have a Start screen instead of a Start button. Boohoo. Pardon me, if I don’t shed a tear.

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