Windows 8’s ‘one OS to rule them all’ approach forgets the shared PC

I recently got my hands on a Windows 8 Pro DVD and was eager to install it on my media centre PC. Using the computer from the couch, I envisioned the larger, touch-friendly tiles of Windows 8 also presenting a more engaging screen to read from 10 feet away. The tiles would be easier to access with my remote control mouse pointer, and the live tiles would show me information like the weather, news, and latest TV shows to watch. But it didn’t too long before I was disappointed.

After finishing the upgrade process from my Windows 7 install (which I thought was dead simple and fairly fool proof), the first thing I tried to do was open the Weather app. But I was denied. Windows 8 informed me that I needed to sign in with a Microsoft account to make use of the Weather app, or any of the new apps that really make the new operating system different. Without the user account, Windows 8’s interface becomes unimportant and I quickly reverted back to the legacy desktop mode, using my computer exactly as I had before the upgrade. It made me wonder why I’d bothered with it.

Microsoft’s vision with Windows 8 is to provide one OS to rule them all. Users sign in and whether they are using a tablet, a laptop, or a media centre PC, their experience is the same. Settings and preferences are synced via the cloud and you’re presented with the same desktop on any device that you log in too. But the assumption that I’ll always want the same user scenario is flawed – sometimes I want to have an experience specific to a device.

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For example, in using a Windows RT tablet I’d want to access my e-mail, calendar, and social networks easily. That’s where signing in to my Microsoft account makes sense, so I get quick and easy access to my personal information. But on my media centre PC, I don’t need that level of personalization. I’m not interested in reading  e-mail or checking my calendar, I just want to watch the latest episode of Dexter. Since the computer is used for the same function by more than one person, signing into a user account isn’t just unnecessary, it’s unwanted. Signing into a user account on the shared PC may expose my personal information to others who use it.

Microsoft’s new approach to managing app installs also raises another question about shared PCs. Since apps from the Windows Store are associated with my Microsoft account, I may have to install the same app multiple times on one machine that’s shared by multiple users. Previous versions of Windows allowed you to install software so all users on the PC could access it. But now if I install an app, it’s limited to use when I am signed with that account. If I set up a guest account for my media centre, that account won’t be able to use those apps.

Requiring a user account to download an app is understandable, and necessary when payment is required. It’s the  practice used by Apple’s App Store and Google Play. But once apps are downloaded from those stores, any user of the device can open them.

By shifting their software licence paradigm from machine-based to user-based, Microsoft has improved the user experience when it comes to personal devices. But they’ve made shared devices, like a desktop that sits in the household den, or even the media tablet that lives on the family coffee table, awkward and inconvenient.

If you’re like me and rely on shared computers to serve the same function for everyone that uses it, you can skip installing Windows 8. You’ll end up using it just like Windows 7 anyway.

Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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