Who is We?

Windows and its applications are getting even easier to use, and work far better than ever before for most non-technical users. It's a fact, I'm sure; but it seems to be having some unfortunate (and annoying) side effects for the more savvy members of the geekdom.

I've been ruminating on various aspects of this since I came over all Win8ish some months back, but an event last week prompted this in-depth exploration of my opinions. A colleague reported an occurrence of the Blue Screen of Death, though now it isn't. It's a smiley face and a "Something went wrong" message. Yes, you can still get at the info previously available if you are really interested (though how many of us actually were when it happened to us?).

I suggested that Windows can now detect your mood from the way that you type and poke at the screen, and it displays the smiley face to cheer you up when it figures you're in a bad mood. Or maybe not. Though the smiley faces really annoy me in things like Outlook Web Access (OWA) when it's so pleased to tell me I don't have any junk emails.

But are the new "apps" easier to use than the old ones we were so used to? The issue, as far as I can see, is the limitations imposed by modern devices. In many cases the annoyance is caused by the fact that it's now customary to have everything on one "window" or "screen" and avoid opening new windows. This obviously makes a poke and swipe interface easier to use. And it's probably why many of the features I use regularly in OWA have disappeared from the latest version.

But it aggravates that, for example, in the Mail app when I want to see details of a contact it opens in the whole screen instead of as a pop-up window that you just close to go back to where you were. And if you want to copy information from one contact to another, you can't just pop up two windows and switch between them. Though I suppose, on a tablet or phone, you wouldn't want to attempt finger-powered tasks as complicated as this anyway.

What's clear is that Microsoft made the right decision to leave the desktop and existing apps in place underneath the new app-based UI. Inevitably I find I live in the old desktop almost all of the time, using proper "applications" instead of truncated "apps". Then, when I just want to read the news or send a couple of simple emails, I can fire up the trusty Surface RT and do wiggly finger stuff from the comfort of the sofa.

Though I still end up gritting my teeth at some inane messages in Office 2013 and other desktop apps. "We didn't find anything to show here" when my Sent Items is empty, for example. Who is "we"? Are there little men inside the computer working the controls and running around with bundles of 1s and 0s in each hand? And Lync's "Have a good meeting!" message is even more annoying than "Have a good day!" when I buy a latte from my local coffee shop.

But I suppose Microsoft doesn't design software just to be compatible with grumpy old men like me...