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.

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.