5 deal-breaking flaws in Windows 8
Antony Raphel 10/28/2011 10:03:00 am Art Of Life
At the Build Windows in Anaheim, California, excitement, eagerness, and trepidation fill the air in equal measures. Developers are overjoyed that Microsoft’s best-in-class development tools can now target tablets, a slew of new, low-level features will usher in entirely new species of always-on, omnipresent devices, and few can deny the awesome money-making potential of the Windows Store.
Once you see past the emphatically strident Steven Sinofsky and the repeated reassurance that you will like Windows 8, however, a handful of flaws begin to rear their ugly heads. As awesome as Metro might be, and as fresh and invigorated the re-imagined Windows team is, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Windows 8 will break the user experience paradigm that two or three billion people have grown accustomed to. Almost every computer user alive today cut their teeth on Windows — on icons, on Alt-Tab, and on the Start menu — and as of Windows 8, that body of experience, that muscle memory, and those expectations, will all be for nought.
Windows 8 re-imagines Windows, and Metro – the primary interface that you have to use — is completely different from what users expect. Metro might not be a separate OS, but beyond low-level features like the kernel and drivers, Metro is about as disparate as it gets. It’s like iOS and Mac OS X, or Android and Ubuntu — they’re built on much the same architecture, but you interact with them in very, very different ways.
Now, it wouldn’t be quite so bad if Metro and Explorer/Desktop were separate, but Windows 8 machines will run both interfaces interchangeably — as Sinofsky says, you can switch between Metro and standard Win32 “like tabs in a browser” — but don’t be fooled into thinking that Desktop is a first-class citizen in Windows 8. Many affordances are made to ensure that Windows 8 is tablet- and touch-first, and as a result the desktop and laptop experience will suffer.
There are five big potholes that, unless they are rectified, will create a seriously jarring experience for most of Earth’s inhabitants.
The most obvious omission from Windows 8 is proper multi-tasking and task/app switching. Unless you are in Desktop and you have a keyboard attached, there is no way to switch between currently-running apps; all you can do is flick cyclicly through open apps — in just one direction. If you want to alternate between two apps — to copy and paste something, for example — it’s simply not possible. If you have 10 apps open (an activity that is encouraged because Windows 8 has received a bevy of power management tweaks) you need to flick left 10 times to arrive back at the beginning.
2. You can’t close apps
As a corollary, if you want to close a handful of those 10 apps — if you want to make task switching easier, or free up some memory — then… well… you can’t. The only way to close apps in Windows 8 is through Task Manager, which exists solely within Desktop. Needless to say, toying with Task Manager with a fat finger isn’t the best experience in the world. We would expect that a Close button might appear in the right-side menu at a later date, though.
3. Goodbye Start menu
For 16 years Windows has revolved around the Start menu — but in Windows 8, the Start menu ceases to exist; in fact, the Metro-style interface that Windows 8 boots up into is actually called the Start screen. Even if you flip into Desktop view and click the flag in the bottom left corner you don’t get the Start menu; it just jumps back to Metro. It’s hard to describe how this will affect Windows veterans: it’s now Metro tiles, Desktop icons… and that’s it. The interface paradigms that they have come to know (and in rare cases love) are gone; it’s time to re-skill, whether you like it or not.
The only saving grace is that the glorious Windows 7 superbar still exists — but before you get too excited, only standard Windows (Win32) programs will grace the task bar; again, beyond flicking left, there is no way to switch between Metro apps.
4. It’s very hard to reboot and shut down
It now requires no less than four gestures to shut down or reboot a Windows 8 tablet — and for some reason it is hidden behind the Settings charm in what is now the Metro-style system tray. Basically, Microsoft doesn’t want you to shut down Windows 8 — much in the same way that you rarely shut down Android, iOS, or any other mobile OS. Instead, Microsoft wants you to hit the physical power button, which simply hibernates the machine — which makes sense, if you only use the Metro side of Windows 8, but what about all of the business and enterprise users that might need to reboot a buggy machine?
As an irritating aside, because the Start menu has died a death, shutting down Windows 8 with a mouse is painful: you have to click in the bottom left corner, then move your mouse all the way over to the right to click the Power button; fun times.
5. The beautiful Start menu search is dead
Finally, one of Windows 7′s best features — the ability to hit the Windows key and find any app or file on your computer simply by typing — is no more. You can still search in a similar fashion in Windows 8 (though it requires a right flick and then a click) but you can only search apps, or settings,or files — and changing between each category requires yet another click/prod.
If you’ve installed Windows 8 Developer Preview on your laptop, desktop, or tablet, let us know if you’ve come across any other weird or wonderful delights.