My initial take with Windows 8 was that beyond the Metro style Start Menu, it was just an updated Windows 7. The more I mess around with it, the more I find that leaves me scratching my head. The interface was adapted to work well on tablets and touch-sensitive monitors but when you still have a keyboard and mouse the interface actually has a bit of a learning curve to it. That’s not a good thing. Here are 8 take-aways I am hoping get resolved before a final release.
1. Bad first impressions
The changes of Windows 8 will take some getting used to but it doesn’t help itself any by starting with a bad first impression. If you suddenly sat down at a Windows 8 PC, you would have to figure out how to unlock the lock screen by clicking and dragging up the image. (Tip: You can just press ‘Space’ for the lock screen to fly up out of the way.) There you have the sign in screen which is similar enough to Windows 7 but after signing in you land on the Metro Start menu, unfamiliar territory.
The bigger change comes down to new functionality and purposes. If we speak simply of the Desktop and the Start menu, in Windows 8 both are trying to do the same thing and a void is left where the Start menu’s old functionality used to be. My interpretation has always been that icons on the Desktop are most useful for the frequently used programs while the Start Menu serves as an almost comprehensive list of all programs installed. Now, with the Metro style UI, the tile system tries to serve the same purpose as the Desktop by allowing easy access to frequently accessed programs. It’s less efficient in this task because the tiles take up more space than an icon. You can rearrange tiles or groups of tiles and create new groups but moving left or right to see additional tile groups requires going down to the little horizontal scroll bar at the bottom.
You can right-click a tile to make it smaller or larger, take up one square or two, respectively. You also have the option to uninstall an app or un-pin it from Start when you right-click it or you can right-click a number of tiles and choose to un-pin them all.
If you right-click the background, the option to select All Apps will show up and that will take you to the comprehensive list. Otherwise, while in the Start menu you can just start typing the name a program to begin searching for it.
2. The invisible Start Menu button
I talked about this one a bit in yesterday’s post. The Start Button is visibly gone until you hover in the bottom-left corner of the Desktop. Have fun hitting the spot if you have an additional monitor to the left.
While this isn’t that big of a pain thanks to some workarounds (use the Windows key), a bigger problem will come from tech support personnel trying to guide a person over the phone to complete certain steps. “Go to where the Start button used to be and click.”
Right-clicking on the Start menu brings up a number of frequently accessed locations.
(Windows key + X will bring this menu up from anywhere.)
3. How do you close a Metro style app? Edges matter.
This one had me baffled for a little while until I started poking around really looking for it. I would rate this as a poor UI because it can be very inconsistent across apps with little to no visual indication. Is the idea just that people will keep apps running constantly in the background?
One way to close an app is to take your mouse up to the top-left corner and a Peek of other open apps will appear. You can right-click on the app and get the option to Close it.
There is a small indication that there are other windows to choose from when your mouse triggers the first box in the top-left corner because edges of white boxes will appear along the left side. Other apps can be accessed by starting in the top-left corner and then “unzipping” down the left edge to pull up other apps. The button to get to the Start Menu will be in the bottom-left corner if you are currently in an app.
Another way to close a Metro style app is to take your mouse to the top edge until your cursor becomes a fist gripping the top edge. You then click and drag the app as it becomes a thumbnail of itself. Once you drag it down to the middle of the bottom edge, it will be half-way under and you can let go to have the app close.
4. Shutting down or restarting
In yesterday’s article, I complained about the only method I had found to shutdown or restart the computer (without going to the command prompt and running shutdown -t 1). It involved going to the Metro Start, clicking your user name and signing out. Then there was a power button on the sign in screen.
An easier way actually exists from the Metro Start. Again, edges matter. If you take your mouse to the top-right corner for options will appear from the right side: Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings. If you “unzip” your mouse down the right edge, it will turn to a black background and be easier to see. If you click on the bottom option, Settings, it will expand to larger menu from the right side and Power will be an option at the bottom, amongst other things, allowing you to shut down or restart from a pop up menu.
(Tip: Windows Key+C will open the “Charms menu” from anywhere, including the Desktop.)
5. Designed for touch, forgot about mouse
Windows 8 places such an emphasis on dragging things around for touch interfaces, it has actually made the interface more work for those of us with a keyboard and mouse. Similar to playing a first-person shooter with a console controller versus using the keyboard and mouse, touch interfaces have to have certain handicaps. Those handicaps in place for keyboard and mouse users just results in more movement being required than it would be to simply clicking an ‘X’ or accessing the right-click menu.
6. More emphasis on keyboard shortcuts
I’m a big fan of keyboard shortcuts for faster navigation. You don’t have to move your hands between the keyboard and mouse for basic navigation and you might not have to minimize a bunch of windows to get to what you want. However, I understand not everybody knows these keyboard shortcuts so their navigation will be hampered without the workarounds of common shortcuts that seem to be heavily relied on. (Windows key, Alt+F4, Alt+Tab, Windows key + R, etc.) Some of these keyboard shortcuts are the only things helping me navigate the Consumer Preview without just shutting it down. The keyboard shortcuts also helped me through the Office 2007 learning curve.
7. The taskbar does not represent open applications
With Metro-style apps hidden within the Start menu, the taskbar no longer represents all open apps. You can have a number of programs open and only a few things on the taskbar. This also means there isn’t a quick way to switch between programs besides Alt+Tab. Compare the taskbar below with the apps listed in the Alt+Tab selector.
8. Microsoft accounts and Xbox Live integration is overstepping
I’m rarely a fan of deep integration between services. The “Games for Windows” synchronization has been pain enough. It feels like an “all or nothing” investment. I can see that as a good thing for Microsoft – they want you to totally buy into their services. I, however, would like to pick and choose a little bit more. I might like to use SkyDrive and enjoy the benefit of its integration without using a Microsoft account for the computer.
From being asked to sign into an Xbox account just to play Solitaire or Pinball, it feels like there are unusable things on the computer, like bloatware straight from the manufacturer.
Some settings that could be synchronized across PCs (click for larger):
Bonus annoyance: Two versions of IE
Windows 8 has two versions of Internet Explorer, your traditional Internet Explorer desktop experience and a new Metro Style IE app. This isn’t the problem. The metro IE is actually a nice experience for chrome-free browsing of the web. The annoyance comes from the fact that the two aren’t really linked. You can’t access your Favorites from the Metro Style IE but you can send a page to the Desktop version of IE by clicking the Tools button and ‘View on the Desktop’. On the Metro Style IE, your back and forward navigation is controlled by taking your mouse to the left or right side of the screen and clicking on the arrows that pop up.
The promising thing is that Microsoft has already release 4 fixes for problems found in the Consumer Preview. You can snag these from Windows Update (2680328, 2680354, 2680358, 2680376).
My biggest complaint is that the changes with Windows 8 just take more time and introduce more steps to do common tasks. I don’t know if that can be fixed but at least allowing a “classic” mode setting could undo some of these changes. That or Windows 7 will become the next hold-out like Windows XP.