Before I begin, I must disclose that I’m a creaky old Windows power user and peaked in usage/hacking on the OS during win2k/XP days. Every new update since results in a loss in usability for me. I skipped Vista entirely, but once I was forced onto Windows 7, I had a few minutes of good productivity that I lost everyday searching for shit that should be easy to find, like “uninstall program”. I lost options in troubleshooting drivers and other nasty things, but the speed improvements made up for it. I’ve been playing with Windows 8 Release Preview for a month or two now so I can tell you without any uncertainty, I hate Windows 8.
It’s not so much the change, I’ve loved learning iOS and Android on phones/tablets. It’s that Microsoft has tried to create a middle ground OS that works on PCs and tablets alike. In the release preview at least, they’ve forced their “Modern UI Style” (formerly Metro) on hapless desktop users and it’s just not a good fit. My personal conspiracy theory is that they needed lots of usage data on the Metro UI, and didn’t so much need it on desktop, so they forced it to get more usage stats as desktop users struggled to adapt. Really, the New UI is just awful for desktop users.
The Start Menu and Windows 8 apps
After logging in, you’re greeted with the start menu, a . . .desktop made of tiles. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the tiles except what they represent. (mostly Windows 8 apps) To anyone used to full power desktop apps, be prepared to be disappointed with all Windows 8 apps. Why do I make such an absolute statement? Because the apps are designed for touchscreens, both their strengths and weaknesses. If you try using them with a mouse and keyboard, you get 10 seconds in before asking, “how do I…” and getting an answer of “you can’t”. In the maps app. . .how can I switch to satellite imagery? You can’t. Can I at least drag select a box area and zoom into that? LOL, no, tablets don’t do drag select! In the pictures app, how can I delete the images from my camera sd card after the computer has copied them? Any normal person would probably want to do that, but you can’t. On the mail app, I’ve got my images in a weird folder, how can I quickly get to that folder? You can’t, browse to it one folder at a time like some sort of 1990’s caveman. In the photo’s app, how can I drill into a folder instead of a library? You can’t. What can I do from the photo’s app? Well, you can email a picture if you’d like. Just like on your phone, but with a machine that’s 10x more powerful, flexible, and more precise.
Well, the apps do show things on the Start menu. So you can see things like the weather, and new incoming email. Better than “You’ve got Mail!”, but now competing with my smartphone, which is hard to beat on the notifications side. And really, if I was using email on Windows, I’d be using GMail or Microsoft Outlook. Not Outlook.com, and absolutely not this stripped down tablet-pablum email app that’s built in. So what other apps are available in the Windows 8 marketplace?
Some of the websites you know and love. Wait, that sounds weird, right? Websites as apps? Well, it’s true. You too can get weird, stripped down versions of websites instead of the full meal deal. Google’s trying to do this too with apps for Chrome and I’ve got the same thoughts for that plan. Weird and unnecessary.
I can’t really complain about all of the apps. The AllRecipes one was done pretty nicely and is great if you want pictures of random strangers’ food on your Start menu. If you want the full power experience in all its ad-supported glory, you again have to go to the website.
The rest of the apps I saw did not offer nearly the glimpse of usefulness that the AllRecipes one did. Wikipedia looked like it offered the opportunity to have random articles show up, wooohoo. Couldn’t really see much use to the others. It’s a real shame that nothing useful like Skype or even INTERNET FUCKING EXPLORER showed up as tiles. Google made Chrome a Windows 8 app, but I think Microsoft knew better. They knew that desktop users could never transition to the tile and Metro interface because:
The Desktop is Where it’s at
Crazy idea for you: Take all your useful Windows programs, and make desktop shortcuts or pin them to the taskbar. Now, NEVER touch the new Start menu unless it’s to rocket you straight to the desktop. Welcome to usability paradise, where things operate the way they should, and you don’t have to settle for half baked goods! Try not to ever tweak system settings or do power user-y kinds of things, and you’ll be safe. The desktop does cool things, like not break basic use cases that Windows users have gotten used to like. . .managing Windows! The Windows 8 apps don’t tile/resize/do anything they’re supposed to. On the Chrome Windows 8 app, you can’t drag and drop images onto your WP blog post. On the desktop version you can. On the app version, you don’t get a minize/resize/close trio of boxes in the top left, you get a small bar at the top that you can use to drag and throw away the window down to close. Does that sound like a terrible compromise for tablet users? On the desktop version, you can have multiple windows. On the tile version, just multiple tabs. If you don’t get the picture yet; desktop rocks, tiles and Windows 8 apps don’t.
It’s a crying shame, because any of the space you make up from not having a taskbar at the bottom, is lost because of that stupid bar at the top that lets you drag the window to the garbage. You can’t do anything else. The next piece that breaks is the taskbar. You now have your desktop, with the normal programs that run in it and use the Win7 taskbar at the bottom to manage, and you also have a left taskbar for Win8 apps. It groups all your normal apps into a “desktop” app, and all the shitty tile apps into their own apps drawers. Kind of like Android 3/4.
I think the worst part about all of this is that it’s forced. If I could just get a faster version of Windows with a prettier UI, I’d dish out the cash for it. If that same version came with some backend supporting code to make Windows work great on tablets, go nuts. But this version insists upon itself. Want that “share” thing to be useful? Configure and use the Windows 8 Apps. Get a call on Skype while you’re in a Windows app? Bahahaha. Even worse, if ANY of my family members gets this and asks for help, I’m going to have to start from scratch with them. In the end, Windows 8 is just awful on the desktop. Microsoft better hope that Windows on tablets takes off, because otherwise, it looks like they’re fucked.
You want to hear my idea of real productivity on Windows? Take Windows XP, make the taskbar double height. Too big you say, takes up too much screen real estate? Take a look at your default Win7/Win8 taskbar and stop your complaining. Now JAM your most used apps into the quick launch bar (which you’ll have to turn on) and limit the horizontal on your quick launch so you don’t soak up a bunch of running app room. If you do it right, you should be able to fit the apps that make up 97%+ of your typical week, have a regular taskbar that only shows apps that are launched and doesn’t mix launched vs not launched, and not have to deal with start menus at all. Sadly, where it’d be useful to skip all the insanity on Windows 8, there are no more quick launch toolbars. Oh well, back to icons all over the fucking desktop like in Windows 3.1
Agree with me? Think I’m a total idiot and want to give me the gears? Comments are down below, fire away.