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Microsoft's Paint fiasco reveals its struggle to modernize Windows in the internet age

Earlier this week, Microsoft released a list of features being deprecated in the forthcoming Fall Creators Update for Windows 10. Depreciation is a weird word for non-techies that means "usable but regarded as obsolete" with no further development. While it is not to say a feature is necessarily removed, it implies that at some point it will be.

Microsoft Paint was put on that death list with new Paint 3D app positioned as a suitable replacement. Immediately, tech media and pop culture sites jumped on the bandwagon of lamenting its future obsolescence. Microsoft eventually reversed its position with a modern twist (more on that below).

While humorous, Paint-gate demonstrates the problem that all tech companies have with a successful product that spans decades.

How we got here

Starting with Windows 8 back in 2012, Microsoft started down a path of modernization of the Windows OS that we've come to know for three decades. With a new user interface (UI), interaction paradigms, and the revamp to "Modern apps" that could span smartphones, tablets, and PCs, Windows 8 started to leave behind many of the older 32-bit apps that have adorned consumer PCs since the 20th century.

Windows 10 — another reboot in many ways — continued down that road of revitalization. Right away, there were observable differences when comparing the legacy Control Panel with newfangled Settings area. Microsoft promised that these differences would fade as the two systems merge in the coming years and the tech giant is sticking to its promise.

MS Paint. Yeah, that's the good stuff.

MS Paint. Yeah, that's the good stuff.

Microsoft Paint goes back to 1985 with the first release of Windows 1.0. It is a true legacy app from a bygone era that itself has not seen a substantial revision in years, nor has it kept up with the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) shift in app design. In a world where touch and digital inking is taking the lead for artistic expression, Microsoft Paint sticks out as a relic, like Windows Fax and Scan (which, yes, still exists even in Windows 10 today too).

Earlier this year, Microsoft released Paint 3D, which is just by the name implies that this UWP app is the proper torch bearer for terrible office artists of the future, as well as a younger generation who understand 3D is more than goofy red and blue glasses you wear to watch a terrible movie.

When Microsoft even hinted at Paint being removed at some point in the future, internet nerds revolted. Some of it is legitimate criticism, while much of it is also just nostalgia for simpler times.

The perpetual problem of Paint progress

As someone who launches mspaint.exe no less than 15 times a day — seriously — I'm part of the small percentage of people who would be affected by any removal of Paint from Windows.

Moreover, Paint 3D is just not a suitable replacement. Sure, it's simple and even very nice looking, but for old pros like me it's also too much pen and 3D — I don't even know how to put an arrow in a pasted image, or resize an image by pixel count. You know, the simple stuff for photos so I can juxtapose two things for a cheap laugh on Twitter. Serious business.

Paint 3D. What is this...the future? Heck, no and get off my lawn.

Paint 3D. What is this...the future? Heck, no and get off my lawn.

That issue with Paint 3D just not being a suitable replacement for "hardcore" Paint users is on Microsoft. The company has successfully moved other apps and services like Groove, Movies & TV, Skype (yes, I count it), the MSN suite of apps (News, Weather, Money, Sports), and more to the UWP framework, but Paint 3D is too much new, not enough old.

If 3D is for everyone, why isn't Microsoft marketing Paint 3D to anyone?

To be clear, Paint 3D is a great app. I love the design and the online Remix 3D community. But it's its own thing, not my beloved Paint of yore.

Microsoft either needs to add a basic, non-3D focused "mode" to Paint 3D or just make Paint but with modern UWP principles and keep it separate. Just don't tell me Paint 3D and my "MS Paint" are the same.

We're stuck in the past

While Microsoft deserves some blame for trying to pull a switcheroo with Paint for Paint 3D, the people are in the internets are also ridiculous.

One reason I didn't freak over the Paint-gate situation is that this is Windows.

There are a bazillion other Paint-like apps out there, including the famous Paint.NET, which itself goes back a few decades. In fact, the developer of Paint.NET plans to bring the app to the Windows Store using Microsoft's Desktop Bridge toolset (a.k.a. "Project Centennial").

Moreover, I know — and Microsoft knows (through telemetry) — that most of you are not really using Paint. You just remember drawing goofy things using a mouse while in between Solitaire games during class. That made a lot of the backlash seem disingenuous. Yes, I'm calling you out fake Paint fans.

In a world where Adobe reigns and digital inking is now a legitimate field, the existence of Paint is almost hilarious. It's a token of our shared computing past that we're only reminded of when we accidentally launch it instead of PowerPoint.

The larger problem is Microsoft faces this same issue each time they try to take a meaningful step into the future. Windows Phone users — another camp of dedicated crazies of which I'm a part — lost their collective minds when the notion of Silverlight (itself depreciated in 2012) may be removed in future version of Windows 10 for mobile, even though it would not affect their current 2-year-old phones. Zune Music fans are still sore over that app and don't get me started on the Windows Media Center crowd, who refuse to just let it go.

Computing like it was 2017. Awesome, or just sad?

Computing like it was 2017. Awesome, or just sad?

Microsoft is not removing these things because it likes to mess with users, but because it costs money, time, and effort to keep those apps and legacy development platforms going for an increasingly small camp of users (regardless of how vocal they are). Moreover, it takes up space, adds to the complexity of Windows as an OS and is not where the company — nor its new user base — is heading. You can't have bits from 30 years of OS development put into a modern OS and still have it be lean.

This problem is not just Microsoft's though. Apple is facing this with its increasingly boring and non-modern macOS. While iOS is arguably the best smartphone system, does anyone think that in five more years that OS will start to jettison bits, become clunky as Apple packs more into it every year?

While it was humorous to see even 9Gag and Super Deluxe get in on the "ZOMG MS Paint is ded" meme, it speaks more about the power of internet memory and the constant outrage culture we live in than actual concern.

Preserving the past with a modern solution

In the end, it is not clear if Microsoft intended just to pull Paint from future releases of Windows 10 — a distinct possibility — or if the eventual solution, putting it in the Windows Store — was planned. Microsoft does appear to react more often than necessarily anticipate.

Porting Paint to the Windows Store with Microsoft's Desktop Bridge is the ideal answer to this vexing problem, and I'm glad Microsoft is taking that route. In fact, it is so obvious you must wonder why that was not "Plan A" instead of what looks like a fallback resolution. And if it was the original plan, why it was never communicated? All that goes back to Microsoft's continuing struggle with its own messaging and maybe not quite understanding how looney (and loud) some of its dedicated base of users really care about your dad's apps.

IrfanView — another oldie — is now in the Window Store.

IrfanView — another oldie — is now in the Window Store.

Microsoft should rip out most of those legacy apps — including Windows Fax and Scan, ahem — and put them into the Windows Store. They don't belong in an OS built for 2017. Nonetheless, those apps represent a real legacy and history about how far we have come, and they deserve to be preserved. The Xbox team gets this with its backward compatibility program for older games. Moreover, they represent some real perfection. Microsoft Paint is so beloved despite no updates in years because — like a paperclip — it elegantly solves a simple problem.

But God help Microsoft if they ever remove the Snipping Tool.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

  • I think putting the old apps in the store is a great solution. If people want the old app they can still get it and it drives more traffic to the app store where people might discover newer and better apps. Windows no longer has to be bogged down by old apps installed by default.
  • Agreed. The nice thing about Paint is that it is *simple* to use for common tasks (e.g., copy/paste and cropping of images/screenshots). Paint 3D seems similarly simple for those tasks. Keeping Paint in the store works for me.
  • The photos app does a great job of cropping and simple edits of images/screenshots. No need for Paint for that.
  • Not if you're cropping something in the clipboard.
  • I use paint when i want to reduce the size of an image and upload to a website... It's simple and does it perfectly.
  • Maybe you should try the Snipping Tool
  • I use snipping tool too. Takes a few seconds to boot up which is weird tho
  • you right, the new photo app does that
  • Paint 3D is good for touch screen. At the same time it added additional clicks to desktop. try it to count the clicks. Do it on the legacy Paint and then on Paint 3D. After i found that legacy pain is here to stay. I immediately revert to using the legacy app. I use it to resize, add tex and crop pix alot!!! 
  • I too often use Paint for simple tasks, however it is terrible for cropping, for that I usually use the built-in annotations tool in ShareX, or GreenShot. 
  •  But what about enterprise? My work computer doesn't have access to the windows store...
  • I agree to a certain extent but the OS has to be somewhat functional as a computer OS without relying on the store, this might get annoying for users who don't have internet that often. Maybe include it as an option during setup?
  • A very sensible artical with relevance wider than Paint. As for the comparison with Snipping Tool  ----"But God help Microsoft if they ever remove the Snipping Tool " ----there is a little known 'upgrade' to it which I have used for a couple of years instead of Snipping called simply Snip, or sometimes referred to by other names such as Office Snip. It is an MS Garage Project, both sinmple to use plus more features including editing options and even audio.   
  • "B..b..but... change is scary!" seems to be the only argument against this. Do these people realise that Microsoft also removed Solitaire from the OS and moved it into the Store?
  • Yeah, I think a lot of this was just poor messaging/not anticipating the reaction, which is on Microsoft. It's also just internet users having a laugh and remembering when they were 14.
  • How is it bad messaging this time? It was barely even announced before the BS "outrage" started. 
  • If they had planned to put in the Store the whole time they should have noted and communicated that; if not, and it's not clear they really did plan on putting in the Store, then they are tone deaf to some of their audience.
  • Makes sense.
    Microsoft has always excelled when it comes to communication.
  • Microsoft can NEVER modernize Windows because users like to cling onto the past and Microsoft Paint is the perfect example. MS Paint was first released in 1985, yes you read that right 1985, it's time to let this 42 year old software die off with the likes of Microsoft Xenix and Windows 3.1!!!
  • *32
  • Nope, 42. 85, 95, 05, 15, 17. That's 42 years unless maths has changed since I was at school.
  • There is this calculator app in Windows 10... You might find it useful.
  • ? 15+17=32
  • Lol 42 😂
  • 42?  I'm 44 and I was born in 1972.  More like 32.  
  • Smaller audience of people than Paint (just) but they did a similar thing with Minecraft on W10M. They obviously knew the UWP for phones was coming but didn't bother saying anything about it.
  • It was bad messaging on behalf of all the 'Journalist' with their hyperbolic 'Paint is Dead' headlines. It was pretty embarrassing.
  • Totally agree with the whole article. On the Silverlight on WP though I could only see that being an issue if WhatsApp is a Silverlight app and not an 8.1 WinRT "Universal" App
  • What Solitare is missing! Cue customary outrage.
  • It's actually interesting. We say there is no proper replacement for MS Paint on Windows now (and barely any typical user knows Paint.NET) and then we conventienty blame "the Internet" for the outrage. Riddle me this: how much "outrage" would the Internet make if there was a UWP MS Paint replacing the old one? You know, one that could manipulate images the same way MS Paint could, newer, a bit pen friendly, but with the same level of simplicity? Don't tell me most of it is just drama. From my perspective, this is yet another effort to take away stuff from the OS in the name of modernizing it, and calling out people for "being afraind of change" the same way they did with Windows 8. Not all change is good change, and Windows 8 was terrible for the desktop. So. Give people the next version of MS Paint with simpler and more advanced features, and see if anyone gets outraged. P.S. You argue against yourself. People not getting outraged about Solitaire actually shows you there was a difference between Paint and Solitaire other than nostalgia.
  • I mean, this whole article is blaming both the internet for faux drama and Microsoft for not making Paint 3D an ideal or suitable replacement. I specifically write a whole section on that.
  • Yeah, but you didn't put that in the heading though.
  • I'm not here to baby readers. Read the article, not the heading, then make comment. Works easy enough for all of written history.
  • Sadly, Windows 10 is still terrible for the desktop.  Love it on my hybrid, though.
  • Bad example. The solitaire in the store is horrible. Uninstalled it after a few goes because of those damn ads
  • What?! You haven't learned to ignore ads yet? Alert the media! BTB, it's the same Solitaire (klondike)... just added 3 more types when they put it in the store, that's all.
  • Downloaded it again, I guess it's better now. When it first came out, the ads were really bad on it
  • See all followiing (myopic, brainless) comments to back up this articles statements, below... and above.
  • I think you did a good job by yourself
  • Dan, IMHO you do hit on the issue in the article, but don't stress it enough; communication. It is simply abdominal from MS's side and has caused and will cause so much confusion.
  • It does seem had they just said "we're done making Paint, but we're putting it in the Store" it would have prevented the whole thing. Pretty sure I could have predicted this reaction. MS Paint has a very long meme history, this isn't rocket science.
  • I fully agree with you. Think you should take up a PR job with MS ;)
  • "Pretty sure I could have predicted this reaction. MS Paint has a very long meme history, this isn't rocket science." Agreed, in fact I vividly recall they faced an uproar during Creator's Update development when they had MSPaint.exe open Paint 3D instead of classic Paint for a few builds.
  • Yup, that's true! That's when the concern began.
  • Yeah, they could've just done that at the very least. I don't think they are not aware of possible backlash, so why not just communicate that classic Paint will be on the Store in the first place? Microsoft seriously has to work seriously on their communication and marketing. This two is what gets them the backlashes or even hate. Also, they really have to take care of their planning, which causes some things like features getting over promised and delayed, still going back to communicating it properly.
  • Abdominal? 😄
  • I love changes. But I also don't like leaving anyone behind. Putting it in the store seems like a good solution.
  • I, too, love changes.  But only if it is change for the better.
  • You can put arrows in images and resize by pixel count in Paint 3D. Use the buttons across the top for stickers and image sizing.
  • "The company has successfully moved other apps and services like Groove" I wouldn't call it successful when Windows Media Player is still such a vastly superior app.   "While iOS is arguably the best smartphone system" Yeah. Definitely arguable. 'cause I'd argue that iOS is the worst smartphone system. And the market seems to agree with me ;P   On to the main topic, I'm not sure people actually understood what Microsoft meant to start with. Unless Microsoft doesn't know how to speak English (and the "Fall" thing might lead one to argue they don't), "deprecate" isn't the same as "remove". I understood the deprecation of Paint in the sense that the program wouldn't see any further development or support. That's different from it being removed. Microsoft has deprecated Windows Photo Viewer in favour of Photos (even when WPV is, again, vastly superior to actually view bloody photos) but the program is still there. You can access it to open photos, you just don't find it front and centre and to make it a default program you have to go through some hoops (but it's possible. I do that on all devices). When Microsoft announced the deprecation of Paint, that's how I read it. They'd take it from the spotlight and burry it in the system.   However, the "we're moving it to the Store" seems to indicate that indeed Microsoft doesn't know how to use words and this was just another blunder. But good. I really dislike to use the Windows Store but if that's what I have to do to get Paint back if they actually remove it, then so be it.    
  • "I wouldn't call it successful when Windows Media Player is still such a vastly superior app." I'm pretty sure he means they did it, and people know where to find it, nothing to do with the success or the quality of the app "I'd argue that iOS is the worst smartphone system. And the market seems to agree with me" If you're using the market as your metric, there is also Blackberry and Windows Mobile that are far below iOS
  • On the first account, if that's what he meant, then sure. Though I'd still like to see some numbers on actual Groove usage out of curiosity. On the second account I wasn't but if I was then yes, I would also consider WP, BB10 and even Symbian. And as OSs only, I'd rate them all above iOS.
  • Many people don't use groove at all. I don't. WMP is a superior audio and video player. Can't even change playback speed in groove or movies and tv apps. There is just too much functionality missing from these UWP apps. It's like if Apple were to replace iTunes and QuickTime on macOS with iOS' media apps. All the people who complained about iTunes would switch back to super fans immediately, because these mobile-optimized user experiences only make sense on Microsoft's pet project devices like the Surface tablets they've been using to push windows since the release of 8.0.
  • Yes, but "deprecate" in the world of software does typically mean to be removed. True, it may take a few versions before actual removal, but eventually it happens.
  • I don't know why MS never just bought Paint.NET outright. That's been my go to for YEARS. I also, too don't understand the "outrage" but like you said Dan, it all seems to be fake nostalgia. Kind of like how plans to demolish an old aging mall in a neighborhood, which only has a Dairy Queen, Macy's and Spencer's are met with protest. Let it go folks and get Paint.NET. Oh and Snip > Snipping tool
  • Never let MS buy Paint .NET, they would destroy this best free PhotoShop in the market. I don't mind they put paint in the store, but, I do care it must be pre-installed and have user uninstall it later. Because when I go to someone's PC, I don't want to install a new app just to do basic things. Imagine you get a phone and there is nothing on it, you need to install, Call App, Contact App, Photo App, Camera App, Settings App, SMS App, Music App, that would be insane. Same wtih Paint. When I use someone's PC, Paint is way more reliable because I know it is always there, I don't have to install Paint .NET.
  • Yeah, I wouldn't trust Microsoft on buying things and continue to support, improve or even take care of it. Just leave Paint.NET alone and flourish on its own. It got its own market already and a great alternative to paid solutions.
  • Why do people think MS need to buy everything? Paint.NET is a free (open source possibly) app anyway
  • I don't know how anyone can take my "I don't know why MS never bought Paint.NET" comment and transform that into "MS should buy Paint.NET!".
  • Comments are sometimes just aimed at fans here in general. Everybody seems to suggest MS should buy everything
  • Re. Paint 3D:  "I don't even know how to put an arrow in a pasted image, or resize an image by pixel count. You know, the simple stuff for photos so I can juxtapose two things for a cheap laugh on Twitter. Serious business." 2D shapes are found under Stickers.  Resizing (by percentage or pixels) is under Canvas, and you can choose to scale the image with the canvas or not. I found this stuff no trouble just by poking around a bit. But I'm not sure what it says about the future of the platform that an experienced user such as yourself can't (or won't) take the time to learn something new. That, of course, may be the "bigger problem" you are referring to.
  • I use paint for all the artwork in my books... I would freak out without it
  • snipping tool..... Ive already moved to screen sketch.
  • Daniel, I do not believe that the "Problem" resides only with "nostalgic" users. There is one thing when MS does a restart, and it is called jump start. Instead of developing a successor with a feature set that AT LEAST is close to the predecessor, they throw it to the users not half done, but in the best case a quarter done. I believe Groove still can't play from a CD, and I cant'r rip the CD with Groove. Yet I have that CD which needs to be transferred into the digital world. So I have to use the good old Media Player. Similar things occured with Fotos (the importing feature is still not on par feature-wise with the old program), and with WP7, and and and. I understand getting slimmer is necessary, but the way MS is doing it does nothing to make the users content, to make them feel that at MS there is dedication, that the SW designers are fans of their own product.  (Which sadly was blatantly obvoius with WP, btw).
  • MS has always been horrible with How Tos and Tutorials as clicking Help sometimes brings you nowhere. Back in the day software came with instructions, which would be welcomed with Paint 3D.
  • This isn't a problem. Microsoft has a very large group of devoted people who like what they use, and are vocal about it. That is better than the competing company that has a very small group of devoted people who, after being told what to believe by their favorite company, accept their marching orders and go along without question like the drones that they are.
  • The blame is all on Microsoft. Instead of continually developing and improving Paint (and the rest of Windows) and morphing it into Paint 3D over the years, it simply forces users to take a steep learning from scratch. should have been part of Windows since Windows Vista to ease the transition and it should have retained the same name that people got to know and love as a simple, basic image editing application.... PAINT. I don't and never used Paint personally. I use on a daily basis however. Products are successful because they evolve and mature over the years. Word, Visual Studio, OneNote come to mind. On another note, UWP is sadly still too unstable in my honest opinion. Too many times I had Paint 3D crashing for me, or simply fails to run. Sad, but true. WPF took years to take off too, but now many people got to love it and the same Visual Studio environment uses WPF. UWP on the other hand... MEH.
  • Now hey! Windows Media Center is legit! I've had the same PC connected to my TV since 2007, and it's gone from Vista to 7 to 8 to 8.1, and that's where it ends. Prior to that, I had a different PC connected from 2005 to 2007, running XP with Media Center. This is vital.
  • Here is the best solution: most people who use paint use it for productivity not fun. Paint 3D looks like it is targeted for fun. They need something for productivity. They can rewrite paint as a UWP app. Look at Office mobile. You can totally design something for productivity that has all the functionality for paint as a UWP app. I know that Paint 3D has most of the features needed. But I don't see myself using it at work.
  • Think I only use paint for editing a print screen when I need a screen shot showing the mouse and right click menu as the snipping tool doesn't let you show that.
  • I keep wondering when they're going to do something with the Snipping Tool. 'Snip' from Microsoft Garage showed how good a modern version could be (even though it's still an old school exe file) and yet it's not been updated not integrated into the OS for two (three?) years now.
  • Has anyone complaining used Paint 3d? I just opened it for the first time and can do everything paint could. Took about 2 minutes to click through the menu items and see what's there. Paint 3d looks better, has an easier to use interface, and can do what paint does. I don't understand why anyone would complain.
  • Groove is not a suitable replacement for Windows Media Player either. Too much new, not enough old.
  • That's called nostalgia and it's an affliction you get over eventually and move on with the rest of the world!!!
  • OP is correct, Groove cannot rip or even play CDs. I just put a CD in my insider PC and confirmed. Also doesn't handle internet radio playlists. Websites say "Listen by installing the iPhone/Android" app now when they should also say "Listen in Groove" as they used to "Listen in Windows Media Player".
  • If for the sake of just wanting the old, yes that's just nostalgia, but the thing is there are necessary functionalities that WMP have that Groove still lacks is the problem. We don't need every single feature especially legacy ones, but things like not able to RIP CD's which is still a thing especially when you are aiming to get lossless format, a rating system that can actually help their recommendations, and even DLNA that is still pretty modern that WMP got.
      We can't even transfer music to our phones using Groove, which is a bummer really. Yes, OneDrive? Don't expect everybody uses it or must use it for that sole purpose. Also using the cloud to transfer is a very inefficient way of just transferring music that you already own and have a file. We seem to have a serious problem with too much reliance on the cloud even for basic things as if we are turning our devices into a dumb terminal again.
  • Come back when Groove can do rating, dynamically search my library, make smart playlists, and sync playlists to a phone or PMP. Windwos Media Player has been doing all these since version 11 released in 2006.
  • "That's called nostalgia and it's an affliction you get over eventually and move on with the rest of the world!!!" Oh, grow up!  The reason Groove is not a suitable replacement for WMP is because a load of functionality has gone missing! Sheesh.
  • That's the problem with most Microsoft store apps. They focus on the new features,