Windows 8 - A Long Way to Go [Updated]

[Update: I've been playing around with Windows 8 Pro for a few hours since receiving it from Amazon (Win 8 Pro is only $66 on Amazon!), and I have a few more observations:

  • For an IT staffer or someone doing normal Windows configuration—adding printers, changing TCP/IP settings, etc., Windows 8 is almost exactly the same as Windows 7, with some typical version-to-version text and icon arrangement changes.
  • Using gestures with a mouse in a virtualized environment is a pain. Keyboard shortcuts are easier, but require more learning. I'll probably install a start button app.
  • Metro is mostly out of the way, but certain things have to be done through the metro interface, and on a computer with a keyboard and mouse, those things are not immediately intuitive (see notes below).
  • Interface animations and transitions are pretty smooth; still not as unintrusive as iOS, but better than anything else I've seen (including Android).]

I've been playing around with all the Windows 8 preview releases, and reading a bunch of early preview reviews, and current reviews. This review from Ars Technica highlights the highs and lows of Windows 8, but almost all the most annoying aspects of the new version of Windows have to do with the 'desktop' vs 'Metro' ('modern ui') divide. This paragraph summarizes my thoughts exactly:

There is a hard and dividing line between the two worlds. Far from allowing seamless switching between the two environments, they barely even acknowledge the other's existence. It's extremely limited, and it means that as a person who has to use the desktop for some things, I find myself avoiding Metro apps for all things. Bridging the gap is just too painful and annoying.

At this point, I'm still of the opinion that Apple has it right: Full-featured desktop OS optimized for keyboards, mice, and trackpads called Mac OS X, and Full-featured tablet/phone OS optimized for touch called iOS.

I had hoped Windows 8 would be a desktop OS on the desktop (or when you have a mouse/keyboard attached to your Windows tablet), and Metro/modern ui when you're using a tablet. Trying to have both worlds on both platforms feels terrible, especially on the desktop. Instead of feeling like a 'modern' ui, Metro feels like a thorn in Windows' side because of how annoying it can be. Even with all the (hard-to-learn) keyboard shortcuts.

Hopefully Windows 8 will improve it's desktop experience dramatically, or I fear it will be another Windows Vista (maybe worse) in terms of early user acceptance/perception.


The thing is, a lot of people complain about the Modern UI due to lack of start menu, the two environments crossing, and many put up the argument that W8 would be a great upgrade without the UI change (btw, here's what I'm talking about).

I personally use W8, and I love it. I streamlined my workflow to work with it within 30 minutes or less. The Modern UI works for me on a desktop, I like having a minimalist full-screen view of some apps (which is why I always have my taskbar set to hide). It's less cluttered and more usable.

For instance, running a twitter app is a joy because you have this big full-screen experience while running twitter in a browser pretty much sucks in comparison. Twitter in a browser is cluttered by the browser UI which may include extensions, url bar, buttons, bookmarks, and other tabs. On top of that you have the windows UI which is the taskbar with all your programs, notifications, pinned tasks and so on. The full screen experience is immersive.

For apps like Twitter, Facebook, email, and news readers, full screen is great, since you can be fully immersed in that one app/experience. That's why I love using my iPad for those things. On Mac OS X, you can run apps like that fullscreen if you want, but you're not forced to do so.

I think Microsoft should separate out 'Metro' from the desktop experience, though, and require metro for tablets, and desktop for laptop/desktop PCs, allowing apps to go fullscreen if they so choose.

I think the Metro tiles are a pretty good replacement for the start menu, but it gets in the way for me more often than not. IE is the biggest sticking point—there should just be one version :)

In my opinion, not much has changed at Microsoft. All I can think is that some of the Metro UI fans there got their voices heard, but everyone else still had their voices heard too.

I played around with Surface and I think it's awful, relative to the iPad. They should've written Metro versions of Office and done away with the desktop altogether in Surface.

In regards to Metro, similar to WinPhone, it's not entirely obvious how to navigate the UI, especially not in a way that seems intuitive.

It's my guess that the Surface will sink, never come near iPad numbers. That's sad, because I bet Microsoft is teeming with designers and engineers (and everyone in between) who are chomping at the bit to create something as great or better than the iPad. This will never happen when they have to keep compromising on greatness.

I would like to play around with the Surface sometime; according to those who have used it, the hardware is really great, and parts of it work very well. A clean break from 'PC' to 'Post-PC' would probably help it, though; focus on a touch interface first (since the thing is probably better used as a tablet for the majority of buyers), and then make it so the keyboard and trackpad are value-adds instead of crutches to support legacy applications like Office.

I like the idea of a hybrid computer (tablet in some circumstances, desktop in others)... but it seems the Surface falls short of being incredible due to—as Tim Cook puts it—intentional design compromises that try to cater to both the keyboard/mouse users and touch users, but please neither.

I pretty much agree. The desktop side has some good refinements and I am pretty happy with it.

The "Window Store App" side or whatever they are calling it this week works quite well as an app launcher, but the full screen app themselves just are not on parity feature wise with the desktop equivalents. Plus two versions of IE gives you twice as much to hate - though IE is slowly being less of a pain and the bane of all web developers.

When Microsoft first started working with this UI I think was with Media Center and I used media center extensively with two TV tuners. Though I was never a fan of that interface on the desktop. Windows Phone 7 put the idea to good use and was pretty innovative and it did what it was designed to do using a touch screen. There previous paradigm of trying to squeeze Windows on a phone just wasn't a good idea and WP7 finally broke from that. But the compromise of desktop and touchscreen apps is more of a frankenstein of UI elements with embedded compromises. This seems to be a core problem with Microsoft's vision. They turned out tablets for years and they were interesting but heavy and bloated as once again they wanted to cram Windows into it. The same with the Surface where once again they want to make it into a PC with Windows on it where a external keyboard is not just a possible accessory, but something integral to their vision. The Surface it meant to be used on a table. Plus half the storage of the Surface is used by the OS and included apps - bloat and tablet are mutually exclusive.

They would have been better off with two OS's that provided integration at some level. That is what Apple has done while also bringing iOS ideas to the OSX and sharing data via iCloud. Microsoft is much better at the web service side and they could have pulled this off quite well.

Though the real question is if the compromises they have made are good enough and maybe people will quickly get use to this hybrid way of working with the OS. That is certainly possible. As a Windows developer and a Windows user from 2.0 I became enamored with the Mac because of the more consistent design philosophy that extended to third-party developers. Microsoft though has come quite a ways since ugly as sin Windows Forms.