My Take on Windows 8

Not since Windows Vista has a version of Windows been this hated. This means that out of the last three releases of Windows, two of them have been fairly universally hated by their customers. I have been using Windows 8 since it’s release and I am ready to share my thoughts on it.

Before I begin, let me just say that Microsoft had to do something drastic to Windows. Since we are in this “Post PC” era, Microsoft could not just release another version of the same operating system. Had they done that, they would have written off Microsoft as out of touch and that they could no longer innovate.

The bottom line here is that Microsoft was far too ambitious what they wanted to accomplish with Windows 8. Windows 8 is not all bad, just flawed in some situations. Microsoft’s goal was to create a common interface for every device out there. This includes smartphones, web servers, and even the XBox. Microsoft has decided to call this design paradigm Modern UI (it was formally called Metro, but shortly before launch, they changed the name due to a possible trademark dispute).

Modern UI’s biggest sin is that it does not function perfectly on any device that does not have a touchscreen. At first glance, Modern UI looks like a tablet operating system. Because it operates as a touch first interface, using a mouse and keyboard does not feel natural. In Modern UI, you scroll left and right quite a bit and this is very difficult using a mouse. It is a different story if you have a touchpad that supports multi-touch as you can scroll sideways without much effort, but that is about as good as you can get without a touchscreen.

With all the shortcomings of Modern UI, you can be thankful that Microsoft left the classic Desktop interface largely intact, with the exception of the Start Button and Start Menu. Explorer windows have been given a face lift with giving them the same tabbed interface that first appeared in Office 2007.

Multiple monitors are a bit wonky in Windows 8. With multiple monitors, one screen is dedicated to Modern UI and the Start Screen and the rest are Desktop only. The monitor that is used for Modern UI and the Start Screen appears to be a bit random and it switches from time to time so that is a bit confusing at times. Also, Modern UI currently runs on one and only one monitor so there is very little as far as multitasking in Modern UI. It is for these reasons that Windows 8 feels like a very 1.0 product.

Depending on how you used the Start Menu in previous versions of Windows will dictate how you feel about the Start Screen. The Start Screen can basically be descried as your most commonly used applications presented to you full screen in that tablet interface. You can add, remove and arrange these “shortcuts” in different columns. If the program is a Modern UI application, you can resize the icon to take up twice as much space so it can take up an entire row of the column it’s in. You cannot do this with a Desktop application for an unknown reason (this seems like a small problem, but it drives me absolute insane).

If you were the kind of user that clicked “All Programs” in the Start Menu then you will feel lost in the Start Screen as it is not obvious how to get to all your applications. Then once you are viewing all your applications, they are feel like they are placed on the screen very haphazardly.

Now if you are the type of user who used the search box to type the first few letters of the program you want to open, you will feel right at home as you can do pretty much the exact same thing. Again, this workflow is not obvious at all as there is no text box or hint that you can just start typing. However, once you know that you can do this, it feels as natural as your use of the Start Menu in previous versions of Windows.

I know that most of this post has been spent discussing the shortcomings of Windows 8. This is because what is good about Windows 8 is what bits Microsoft left alone (the Desktop interface).

Would I recommend that you upgrade to Windows 8? It depends. If you have a touchscreen monitor, then it is a no-brainer. However, if you have a regular desktop or laptop then I guess it depends if you are an adventurous type. Microsoft has made it clear that Modern UI is here to stay so you can either learn to live with it, or deny it as long as possible.

I know that Microsoft is going to release Windows 8.1 soon, but I wanted to get these thoughts released before so I can do a separate post on how it improves the Modern UI experience.