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Forcing the Modern UI on Windows 8 users was Microsoft's biggest mistake

Windows 8.1 is actually a great operating system

This time last year, Microsoft released Windows 8 to the world. PC World and Currys even opened their doors at midnight on 26th October ready for the hordes to rush in and buy their new PC.

Trouble is, apart from a few enthusiasts, no-one was in a rush to upgrade. Microsoft's biggest mistake was to force the new interface on users entrenched in the old ways of the Windows desktop. All they saw in PC adverts was the new Start screen with its brightly coloured tiles:

Windows 8.1 Start screen

Radical was the over-used adjective for what became known as the Modern UI, but the real problem was not the learning curve: it was that Microsoft did nothing to explain that underneath the Start screen was the familiar Windows desktop and all the features that people were looking for.

It's still a source of confusion today. The fact is, if you want to, you can use Windows 8 just like you use Windows 7. You just have to adjust to the fact that the old Start menu has been replaced by the new-look Start screen (or you can install Pokki to bring back something that looks like the old Start menu).

With declining PC sales (which have slumped considerably further since 26th October 2012), you can see why Microsoft redesigned Windows. Tablet and smartphone sales were rising rapidly, and it needed an operating system that would work properly on a touchscreen (one of the primary reasons the old slate PCs failed so badly).

However, without a touchscreen, the Modern UI didn't really make sense and the options in Windows 8.1 (see our review) to boot directly to the desktop are arguably too little, too late. The fact that the 'new' Start button merely launches the Start screen is considered an insult by many.

Windows 8.1 New Start button

Had Microsoft 'hidden' the new Start screen and interface away in the background and forced it only on those buying a Windows 8 tablet, things might be different now. The idea - clearly - was for everyone to move to using Windows 8 apps and forget about their desktop programs (that's certainly what you have to do with a Surface running Windows RT which runs only Office on its 'fake' desktop).

See also: What's the point of Windows RT? 5 reasons the Surface 2 will probably suck

Unfortunately, not only were the native apps weak, but developers didn't queue up to release their apps in the new Windows Store. Even now, the selection on offer is pretty embarrassing.

The truth is that, even on a traditional PC, Windows 8 is a great operating system. It's faster, more secure and more stable than Windows 7. You can get things done quicker because it takes less time to boot and files transfer faster.

If you were put off buying a new PC or upgrading from a previous version of Windows because of the Modern UI, then Windows 8.1 might just change your mind.

Follow Jim Martin and @PCAdvisor on Twitter and add Jim to your Google+ circles. 

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