Windows 8 has upset a lot of people

Users find themselves fruitlessly looking in the desktop’s bottom-left corner for a start button, like a confused bear hallucinating a salmon.

Wikipedia has it that a psychiatrist, hired to listen in to calls made to Coca-Cola’s customer hotline in 1985, found that customers sounded more like they were discussing the death of a family member than their feelings regarding soft drinks.

The calls, made at a rate of 1,500 a day, were almost exclusively about New Coke; the new formula for Coca-Cola released in April of that year, and intended as a sort of Hiroshima Bombing to end the “cola wars” with Pepsi.

New Coke was the brainchild of Roberto Goizueta, the Cuban executive who became CEO of Coca-Cola in 1980, and who promised his company there would be no sacred cows on his watch – including the formulation of the company’s drinks.

Goizueta’s moment of towering corporate hubris was invoked by the FT today, as a benchmark against which to measure Microsoft’s decision to change “key aspects” of its Windows 8 software for a hasty new launch of the product later this year.

To boil it down to basics, Windows 8 has upset a lot of people by cheating the sense of Pavlovian association by which they learnt to use a PC.

It boots to a colourful tablet-style start screen packed with squares representing apps, and only gives way to a familiar Windows 7 desktop upon prodding and poking. Furthermore, the opening of certain apps (as opposed to desktop-based programmes – Windows 8 uses both) again invokes fullscreen, tablet-style visuals rather than good old familiar red-"x"-in-the-corner-style windows.

Users find themselves fruitlessly looking in the desktop’s bottom-left corner for a start button, like a confused bear hallucinating a salmon.

Nevertheless, anything learnt can be just as easily unlearnt, and those who have persevered with the system tell me it is fast, stable and really quite easy to manoeuvre – especially with a touchscreen medium. What’s more, most of the system’s uncanny features can be disabled, to make it increasingly similar to Windows 7.

But no matter how good the system is once you get used to it, the damage to Microsoft’s sales was already done as soon as they made a significant change to the windows interface.   

Coca-Cola's corporate comms head, Carlton Curtis, came to realise that the New Coke debacle was more due to people freaking out over the withdrawal of the old-style drink, than to any characteristic of the new formula.

For Microsoft, a company whose interface designs have defined the basic expectations of generations of computer users, there has been a very similar price to pay for changing what was so familiar.

Photograph: Getty Images

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser