Windows 8 killed my PCNovember 20, 2012: 9:26 AM ET
After five hours on the phone with Microsoft, the verdict was that my three-month old Lenovo laptop simply wasn't compatible with Windows 8.
By Cyrus Sanati
FORTUNE -- Windows 8's growing pains could deliver a major blow to Microsoft's already dwindling market value. The company has bet the farm on the success of its new operating system as well as its new Surface tablet and Windows-branded smartphones. But with a lukewarm reception by users and sporadic issues with system migration, it's possible that Microsoft may soon have to make a lot of awkward, value-destroying apologies about Windows 8.
It has been just three weeks since the launch of Windows 8 and the new operating system has claimed at least two victims: 1) Steven Sinofsky, the head of the Windows division at Microsoft and 2) the, Z580, my relatively new Lenovo laptop.
I'm not the first person to have issues migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 8. A number of users have taken to social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to vent their frustration. Many report that their systems have completely crashed as a result of the upgrade. One user went on a diatribe about how, after he installed the new operating system on a "high-end" computer, he found numerous errors and problems, noting "You guys released too early, and I know you are working around the clock to fix issues. But now I'm a man without a functional computer, without Steam, without Office, without even an ability to run ANYTHING correctly."
That was actually one of the more polite complaints – the vast majority contained expletives, for obvious reasons. Meanwhile, those that have successfully installed Windows 8 have found that programs, (which Microsoft, creatively, seem to call "apps" now), consistently crash. Others are reporting that key drivers are not compatible between Windows 7 and Windows 8 -- meaning that parts of their computer simply aren't working, like the audio or the wireless card. This is extremely frustrating because in an upgrade users want to be "wowed" by all the new cool functions, but instead, many are getting angry.
Then there is my personal experience. While I am not a tech blogger, I do know my way around a PC. I tested out the developer's version of Windows 8 a few months ago and I was dismayed to see a flashy but overall inefficient upgrade of Windows 7. Programs didn't work as well as I wanted them to, if at all, and some drivers were not talking to the computer. But it was a beta version – this was to be expected.
Never to be behind the curve, I decided to upgrade my personal computer when Windows 8 was released to consumers, naively thinking that the company had resolved all the big issues. Boy, was I in for a ride. On my first attempt to install, I found that simple things like my touchpad and screen dimmer didn't work properly. The audio was spotty and my screen flickered on and off.
I went to the Lenovo website where I began to reinstall the Windows 8 version of many of my drivers, which apparently Microsoft (MSFT) didn't pick up. But when I went to download them I was prevented from doing so because the installer – yes, the installer – for the downloads was not compatible with Windows 8. I then had to manually download every one of the drivers, one-by-one.
After installing a few, there was no change in how the system ran. Then the computer crashed. On reboot I just got the new teal Windows logo saying it was "trying to repair or refresh" my system – I let it run through the cycle many times but it was apparent that my computer, a three-month old laptop, was on its deathbed.
Microsoft support sprang into action and I was eventually elevated to a "Level III" support manager. You can't get any higher - this person sat in Dallas, not somewhere in India, so in my mind he was the real deal. We decided to do a fresh install of Windows 8 on my computer, meaning that all my data on my hard drive would be obliterated (note: please backup your computer before installing anything, especially a new operating system).
But just doing a fresh install didn't work – neither did the "one-touch" emergency Lenovo backup. My hard drive was dead. The engineer said he had seen compatibility issues with solid state hard drives so I decided to switch it out for a totally blank SATA drive and reran the set up. After three attempts (the installer kept crashing – really?), the operating system was on the hard drive and my computer was back in action.
Success? Hardly. Windows 8 still didn't work properly on my machine -- there were a bunch of drivers that didn't download correctly again. So we then started to download the Microsoft update for the system. But when we went to install the updates the computer refused to do it, noting that the updates were not compatible with my computer.
I then stepped away and let the Microsoft engineers figure out what was going on. After five hours on the phone, the final verdict was that my computer simply wasn't compatible with Windows 8.
Apparently, certain critical parts on my computer just have no Windows 8 drivers available. The driver that they think is the problem was for my controller. It was made by a small company named Intel – yes, Intel (INTC). So apparently Microsoft didn't get Intel to update the drivers for their controller on my particular model. The engineers went on to blame my PC manufacturer for other compatibility issues. The solution? Call the manufacturer and get a Windows 7 recovery disk and reinstall my old operating system. (Microsoft later sent me a fresh copy of Windows 7 through the mail).
The Microsoft engineers told me the issues I was having was unique and would probably only impact PC users who have the exact same configuration as my computer, which they estimated to be around 200,000 computers. I told the boys down in Dallas to keep working on finding a solution. I found it hard to believe that the world's largest chip maker, Intel, and the world's largest PC manufacturer, Lenovo, had anything on the market today that couldn't talk with Windows 8 – that would be ridiculous, right?
So, for now, my new computer is one heavy paperweight. My friends remind me of how obstinate I am about sticking with my PC instead of being "cool" and getting a Mac. But beyond the social humiliation, this problem I am having in installing Windows 8 should be a huge red flag for Microsoft. It is one thing if some programs might not run on Windows 8 just yet. It's another if users can't even get it to work.
What's alarming is that Microsoft seems to be blaming others for these issues instead of taking responsibility for them and proposing meaningful solutions. Engineers inside the company are reportedly blaming the PC manufacturers for its lackluster sales and now seem to be blaming every component maker for not updating their parts to interface correctly with Windows 8. Microsoft representatives declined to comment for this story.
But in the end it is Microsoft that looks foolish because if everything isn't perfect out of the box then Windows 8 will have a dark cloud over it. Microsoft's is new tablet and phones are running versions of Windows 8. If we're reluctant to upgrade our computers to Windows 8, why would we go buy a Windows 8 device?
Microsoft still has its dominance in the PC space, but that is becoming less and less relevant as people ditch their desktops and laptops and start exclusively using their tablets and smartphones for much of their computing needs. It will be several weeks before we know how Windows 8 has sold, but its first few weeks out of the gate has been marred in controversy – culminating in the execution of its father and now my PC. If Microsoft doesn't get its act together, it could soon face a revolt that could put the company on the path to technological irrelevance.