Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Some thoughts on Windows 8

I've being working on Windows 8 on my notebook computer for about a week.

The bottom line: The marriage between a desktop interface and the new graphic interface is unsuccessful.

The new GUI, with its large live tiles and mouse/swiping gestures, is great for a tablet touch screen, but seems to have no advantage whatsoever on a desktop. Desktop OS's have advanced tremendously over the years, giving users many new capabilities including multitasking, mutliple re-sizing windows, shortcuts and other tools to help productivity. The Metro GI is quite simply a regression. It is a necessary compromise for a smaller touch screen of a tablet, but for a full size computer you simply have nothing to do with it. The "live" tiles are just a gimmick, and not worth the awkward compromises which make getting down to real work much slower and more difficult. On the desktop if you really want something "live" just install one of the many widgets available.  To be honest, I spend 99% of my time working from the desktop. The other 1% when I go back to the new user interface, I find that I am asking myself, "what am I doing here?". Furthermore, I installed one the free Windows-7 type start menus (Classic Shell), in order to bypass the new interface. The "apps" in the Windows store consist of programs that are the equivalent of widgets that already exist for the desktop environment.

In the course of a week I have discovered a few quirky things, some of which have to do with the interface, and others are just oversight. A few examples:

1. Getting to the "full" control panel is a pain. It does not show up on the dumbed-down, over-simplified "settings" charm on the home screen, but does from the desktop. I finally made myself a shortcut tile on the home screen.  The "PC Settings" screen from the new interface is completely useless.

2. Microsoft has been pushing Skydrive as a default place to store your files, and they include a Skydrive app in the home screen. Yet, Microsoft forgot to tell you that you need to install the Skydrive desktop program to make it work! Otherwise you have no way of actually storing files on Skydrive. This was particularly strange since I had it installed on my Windows 7 system, which I upgraded to Windows 8, but somehow the program did not get carried over.

3. Security settings were altered, without letting me know. When I emailed myself Powerpoint files, I got an non-informative error message that there was a problem with the file. Powerpoint then offered to repair the file, which did not work. After a few frustrating hours I discovered that Windows and Office tag the files as suspicious, and don't let you open them unless you unblock them, via "trust" settings in Office. At least the error message should have told me this!

4. The Metro interfaced Internet Explorer is, again, good for a tablet, but for the desktop is completely awkward. No folders, favorites or toolbars. Yes, you get full screen, but so what? The same is true for the dumbed-down mail and calendar apps. They are a regression from all of the feature rich programs that we have gotten used to. It is a throwback to the days of MSDOS based programs.

Basically, I plan on using my Windows 8 like Windows 7, and ignoring the new interface.

I'm not sure what Microsoft had in mind with Windows 8.

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