So the Windows 8 Consumer Preview/Beta has been out for a week or so and after fiddling around with it, I’ve arrived to the same conclusion I did after toying around with the Windows 8 Developer Preview in that I do not like it a whole lot! One of the biggest questions I kept asking myself throughout my entire time working with the Metro UI (user interface) is just plain ol’ why? You see Microsoft knows that it is behind in the tablet device world. In fact, I don’t even think they got started ever since the iPad started taking over the world by storm. They were late when it came to competing with Apple’s iPhone and other Android smart phones and they are similarly late when it came to bringing an OS made for tablet devices. Well, Windows 8 will be that OS. Oh, indeed it will be. But after working with the consumer beta of Windows 8 on my laptop, which is a pretty good indication of how the final product will be like, I’m left with a concluding thought that in order for this OS to succeed, users will need to embrace change like they have never embraced it before.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear before going on. There’s just something I need to get off my chest and if I don’t, I’m afraid I’m going to lose my sanity sooner or later. When a person talks bad about a product, it does not necessarily mean that the person is a straight up hater or fanboy of the competing company/brand! I have read so many similarly negative thoughts on the whole Metro UI thing for Windows 8 and in so many cases, that person will either be called out as a hater, fanboy, ignorant or just someone who is scared to embrace change. Let me tell you something. I for one do not want Windows 8 to fail. I repeat: I do not want Windows 8 and Microsoft to fail. Understand that many users who talk negatively about this product also make a living off of Microsoft and the Windows operating system! And no, I’m not just talking about employees who work directly for Microsoft. I’m not writing this blog entry to tell you what I do for a living, how many servers I manage, how many employees are in my company and all that other bogus stuff. I am writing this to really get some things off my chest concerning this Windows 8 thing and am doing so from a regular consumer point of view.Please understand that what you are reading is clearly just the opinion of one guy and one guy alone. I do not represent an entire nation, company or what have you. If you find my points invalid, by all means, please leave a comment telling me so.
Windows 8 Metro UI
If you’ve ever looked at a Windows Phone 7 before, you’ll see quite a big similarity between that interface and the Metro UI interface in Windows 8. You see, Microsoft wants to streamline the experience between all three of the most popular devices in use right now. Those consists of your smart phone, computer, and tablet. By streamlining the interface/experience, there should technically be less confusion for users using these various devices. If I do something on one device, I should also be able to perform that similar feat on another device that uses the same OS. It all sounds great on paper but like what so many others are saying right now, it just doesn’t work all that well. When you look at the Metro UI interface, even a novice user would be able to tell after a few minutes that it would work great on a tablet device with a touch screen. But how would it work on a traditional PC/laptop with a keyboard and mouse? Well, this is one of the biggest problems with Metro UI and one that is driving users like me nuts.
Personally, I agree with so many others in that I can really see the Windows 8 OS shine on a tablet device. The Metro UI just screams for you to use your fingers to manipulate it. Also, rather than just being able to look at a bunch of boring icons, the Metro UI has something more interesting. Those big tiles/blocks that represent an app or program can actually display real time information! This makes things much more interactive and less “boring”. The realm of possibility really opens up. Some might not see this as a real game changer but I beg to differ because its much more than what we currently have, especially when it comes to the iPhone. Again, I’m not talking about the device itself but just the app icon’s interface and interactivity. Some might then argue that if its so great, why then haven’t Windows Phone 7 devices taken off? Well, that’s something I think Windows 8 will help in that regards. I’m not going to sugar coat it. Apple iPhones are much, much more popular than other smart phones. When it comes to smart phones, no one really thinks of Microsoft. They are still thought of as a software company. When someone mentions Microsoft, they usually think of computers, laptops and big servers loaded with a Windows operating system. By pushing the Metro UI into Windows 8, they have the potential to reach a far bigger audience. Because many of today’s computers still run some sort of Microsoft operating system, think of Windows 8 on the PC as being advertisement for Windows Phone 7 and tablet devices.
Metro UI for PC
Full Screen Apps. Windows 8 will launch its Windows Store where you can obviously shop and download new content across your devices. Every major company that deals with electronic devices nowadays seems to have an app store of some kind and so once again, Microsoft is late to the party. Having a digital store is great. However, Microsoft is committing a big sin here with these so called “Metro style” apps and that is forcing these apps to take up your entire monitor screen estate! Yes, these apps will be full screen. Apps like Internet Explorer, email and calendar will now take up your entire screen, no matter how big your screen is. Do you see the problem? Yups, you guessed it. Multitasking. On a 7″-10″ tablet device, apps taking the entire screen is not so much a problem. However, users with huge screen monitors operating on big resolutions will immediately find full screen apps a complete waste of screen estate. You’re now forced to constantly switch between different apps. Technically, this is also true for how we interact with Windows programs and applications in the past. We work with one program and constantly switch back and forth with another. However, things just don’t feel right when working with Metro apps. Trust me. This full screen thing is one of my biggest complaints with using Metro apps so far. Do you really need to view your tweets in full screen 1920×1080 resolution?
Example: I’m currently taking screenshots of the Metro UI to post on this article. When I open a picture, the default app of Windows Photo Viewer opens. However, Windows Photo Viewer is a Metro style app and therefore, it completely transfers me away from my desktop and I’m left staring at the picture I opened in a full screen window. Do you already see the problem to this? To get back to my desktop, I now have to either press Alt+Tab or drag my mouse cursor to the top left corner of my monitor. Also, how am I suppose to compare photos side by side if it only allows me to open one picture at a time?!
Horizontal Scrolling. Most veteran Window users would agree that when working on a PC, things just feel right when you’re scrolling menu items and whatnot from top to bottom. Well, with Metro style apps, Microsoft now deems it more beneficial to have its users scroll from side to side instead! This obviously isn’t the end of the world but once again, it begs the question of why? Now I understand that a LCD widescreen monitor technically can be considered in the landscape orientation and in a sense would seem right to go from left to right instead of the reverse. However, I can already see many users shaking their heads on this one. Once again, sideways scrolling seems more right on a tablet device instead.
Removal of Start Button. This will be another major change that will be noticed immediately to new users of Windows 8. Technically, the Start button is still there but rather than getting what we have been so use to seeing for the past decade or so, the “Start” button will now take you to the Metro UI, which is clearly the replacement. Again, this is not the end of the world as we know it but as you can probably guess already, many users will be asking why o why? It’s a fact that there will be many PC users who will not like the new Metro interface and many who will. Microsoft is obviously siding with the latter group and therefore forced the new interface down everyone’s throats. There is no magic button in Windows 8 that will magically bring back the old Start menu interface that many so dearly love. Fear not though as you can easily download and install third-party hacks to get back this functionality. Is it really that hard for Microsoft to give users the option to keep the traditional Start menu while providing another method to access the Metro interface when needed? This probably might confuse some users but you have to understand that the Metro UI is a huge change in terms of what many Window veterans are used to. Initially forcing all Windows 8 users to use the Metro UI can come back to haunt them.
Navigation. One of the biggest question that needs to be answered whenever a new graphical interface is presented is just how will users be able to navigate within and around that interface? Windows 8 will include the traditional desktop interface. In fact, the desktop is actually considered an “app” in the Metro UI. You’ll be doing a lot of switching between your desktop and the Metro UI because that’s the replacement for the Start menu. The good news is that if you really are disgusted with the whole Metro UI thing, you can place your most used application and program shortcuts directly on your desktop and open them that way without having to visit the Metro UI first.
When inside an opened Metro style app, at first you might notice that there is no visible way to manually exit the app! This is by design. As with many smart phones, notice how you also don’t manually exit an application. Once you are done with it, you simply head back to your home screen and open another app. Technically, a Metro style app not in focus should be in suspend mode, meaning its not taking up precious CPU resources. It’s just sitting there idling. However, while this might work on smart phones, I’m sure many users will not be happy with this change. Even though its not using CPU resources, it is still occupying your RAM. Also, leaving many apps opened but not in use will cause a pretty long Alt+Tab or Window+Tab list. While the app is in suspend mode, it is still possible to switch back to it. Therefore, even though you have no further need of the app, it will still appear in the “opened” application switcher window. To solve this problem, you can manually exit out of an app either by heading to Task Manager and killing the Metro style application or while in the application, simply move your mouse cursor to the top of the screen, clicking and holding the left mouse button and dragging the application to the bottom of your screen. Tthis works wonders with finger gestures but not so much with an actual mouse. It’s just a big hassle. Another way to exit a Metro app is to press the Alt+F4 keyboard combination.
Navigating through your apps in the Metro UI is simple enough. You can easily reorganize your apps to fit your computing habit and style. The problem is that for some applications that you install, every single application icon that relates to that program gets pinned to your Metro UI start menu. Some of them you will never access besides just the main executable and so you’ll have to manually remove them. The reverse is also true. If there is a Windows application that doesn’t pin an executable shortcut to your start menu, you’ll have to personally do so yourself by navigating directly to applications install directory directly. Again not really hard to do but many users, especially amateur computer users, will have a hard time grasping this idea from the beginning as they are so use to being able to access everything from the traditional Start menu. One last point is that non-Metro style application icons look really out of place when sitting next to applications meant for the Metro UI. Hopefully once Windows 8 picks up steam, application developers will create better looking icons.
Last but not least, while in the Metro home screen, you can simply right-click on an empty area and click on the “All apps” button to view a list of all the miscellaneous applications and programs Windows has to offer. Initially, when you access this view, you would think this is your one stop shop to access all your apps. But then you’ll quickly notice that not only do you read from top to bottom but also left to right as well to find your app. With the traditional Start menu, your applications were categorized alphabetically in a vertical list. Here with Windows 8, because scrolling goes sideways, you also have to move your eyes left to right as well as up and down.
Windows Charms. You can access the Windows Charm menu by hovering your mouse cursor to the top right corner of your monitor screen. Charms allow you to access some settings and sharing options no matter which app you are in. Right now, the only use I have for Charms is to configure some settings related to Windows 8 itself. Also, I can’t wait to see how users will react when they initially can’t find a means to shut down their own computer! To do so, here is what you need to do:
- Access the Charms menu.
- Click on the Settings button.
- Click on the Power button.
- Click on Shut down.
This seems easy enough but I assure you that many users will actually need to do a Google search just to be able to shutdown their computer! Hint: You can press the Alt+F4 keyboard combination while in your desktop to access the Shut Down Windows window where you’ll also be able to perform other power related features.
Search. Windows 8 will rely a lot on searching. I’m not a big fan of when it comes to this feature on my personal PC because I’m just so use to organizing my files exactly the way I want. By doing so, I rarely forget where I’ve stored my important documents. To initiate a search for files and apps on your Windows 8 machine, head into the Metro UI and begin typing your search terms. That’s it. Windows 8 will look for related application, settings, and files that match your search terms. The other neat thing is that you can also select an application to launch and Windows 8 will use your search terms within that app. For example, if I’m searching for emails that I’ve sent out that includes the word “confidential”, I can enter in that search term within the Metro UI and click on the Mail app. The Mail app will launch and automatically perform that search within the application.
Overall Colors and Theme. Immediately upon seeing the Metro UI interface when logging on for the first time, the new GUI will strike at you. I’m not going to mince words here. I have a good feeling that many users will bark at the design and color scheme of the Metro UI. The Metro theme seems to remind me of the building block toys that kids play with due to its squarish/boxy design. This is even more apparent when you begin to re-arrange your apps to better suit your needs! Whether you like the overall Metro UI theme/colors or not, that’s all for you to decide. As with all things, as long as you stick with it for a while and give it a shot, you have the right to hate on it later if you still find it ugly.
As stated in the beginning, I do not want Microsoft to fail. I’ve spent too much time in my life using, studying and teaching their products to various user groups only to see the empire crumble down. At the end of the day, Windows 8 is a new operating system and obviously with it comes better technology to help us users get our job done more quickly and efficiently. However, the Metro UI seems to hinder that experience. I find that I need to click and move my mouse way more than with Windows 7. I’m not really a keyboard shortcut person and so I rely on the mouse for navigation. Windows 8 will no doubt ship with many new features such as faster boot times and data transfer speeds, the ability to natively mount ISO image files, being able to easily restore a PC and along with a host of others. However, you can’t deny that the biggest change of them all is with the Metro UI. That’s why I’ve chosen to dedicate an entire article on it. While deep down I want Microsoft to succeed, I just can’t shake the feeling that Windows 8 will be met with a lot of criticism and the Metro UI will be the main culprit. Well, at least on the PC/laptop market anyway. I really think Windows 8 will fit best in the tablet world. I’m sure a lot of other users also feel the same way. This concern is mainly due to how the Metro UI feels a bit awkward to use at times on a traditional PC. These machines are not going to go away anytime soon and so I think it would be extremely silly if Microsoft chooses to upset a huge percentage of their user base by not adjusting the interface to better interact with a traditional keyboard and mouse.
Windows 8 is Microsoft’s chance to show the world why they are called the “software giant” in the tech industry. Sure, they messed up with Windows Vista but they redeemed themselves with Windows 7. I’m not even surprised when I hear of people say that Windows 8 is not even needed on a PC because if you strip away the Metro UI and the Metro style apps, what you get is your traditional desktop. If a user has no need to run Metro style apps, then what purpose does Windows 8 serve? Even though Windows 8 haven’t been released yet, I’m still seeing the usual group of users who already proclaim that they will be sticking with Windows 7 on their PC and laptop until the next version of Windows. In some ways, I actually agree with them. I just don’t see a big need for Windows 8 on the PC for many users that I personally know of. I’m not even going to touch on the subject of Windows 8 and the Metro UI on business computers in an organization.
What I will say in my final words is that this will not be the last words you’ll hear from me concerning Windows 8 and the Metro UI. Its definitely a big topic and it concerns a lot of users. Personally, I’m always on the hunt to read what others are saying about this subject matter, whether positive or negative.