Windows 8 Metro UI on the PC

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.

WindowsPhone 7 UIPersonally, 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?

Metro Internet Explorer

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.

Metro UI Home

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.

For users who will be using Metro UI, there are a couple of basic things you can do to maneuver your way through the new interface. From the traditional desktop, simply move your mouse to the lower left corner and you’ll see the “Start” button. Clicking this will immediately bring you to the Metro UI home interface. Here, you’ll be able to browse your Metro style apps (which can be downloaded through the new Windows App Store) along with your traditional programs and applications such as Firefox, Teamviewer, Winrar, Irfanview, etc. Clicking on the latter of these will open the application directly back on your desktop. When you open a Metro style app however, the app will take over your entire screen. While inside a Metro style app, you can quickly switch to your other apps in one of two ways. First you can use the traditional and handy Alt+Tab keyboard combination. Second, you can use the new application sidebar. Simply move your mouse cursor to the far top left corner of your screen and your last used application will appear in a tiny thumbnail view. Clicking here will switch you to that app. If however that is not that app you want to switch to, simply move your mouse arrow down to view the full list of opened applications. You can also access this sidebar menu by pressing on the Windows+Tab keyboard combination. Personally, I don’t really like this menu but it is nonetheless one extra way to switch between your opened applications.

App Switcher

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.

Idle Metro Apps

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.

Tiles

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.

All Apps List

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:

  1. Access the Charms menu.
  2. Click on the Settings button.
  3. Click on the Power button.
  4. 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.

Overall Impressions

Don't Forget About PCAs 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.

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Windows 8 Metro UI on the PC, 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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Comments

  1. In Windows 8 Developers Preview you could disable the Metro theme and get the Windows 7 start menu using Metro Controller or a registry edit. But in Windows 8 Consumer Preview you can no longer do this,so now you have to deal with the Metro theme. And also the start button has been removed. And from what I read on the web the start button is not coming back in future versions, nor is the option to disable Metro.

    But all of this has had no effect on me or most people. As you can just get round this problem by installing Classic Shell or Start Menu 7 or other start menu software. Which gives you both the start button and Windows 7 or XP start menu.

    So now that I have installed Classic Shell,I only see the Metro start screen at start up and hardly deal with it at all. Instead using the Windows XP start menu on my desktop from Classic Shell,which also takes over the Windows key function to search for everything, and work the same way as on Windows 7.

    There is also a tweak that you can use to boot straight into the desktop to by pass the start screen,which I have not tried yet. And now there is Ribbon Disabler from Win Aero for windows 8 CP 32 and 64 bit.Which disables the ribbon in Windows Explorer.

    So when the final version of Windows 8 goes out on sale I and most people will be installing Classic Shell or other start menu software to get the Windows 7 start menu and start button. Andrea Borman.

    • Andrea
      I am so glad that you actually found workarounds to a problem instead of just endlessly complaining and complaining like so many other people! Is it sad that a workarond is needed in the first place? Sure. But at least it shows that some users are actually doing something about it. I’m currently writing an article highlighting some of the new feautres of Windows 8 being talked about on their Building Windows 8 blog and many of the new things they are doing is quite stunning. It’s a shame that many of this will be thrown in the background because of the UI change.

      In my opinion, after reading the reasons of why they choose to implement the new Start screen, it makes sense. Everything sounds good on paper. However, actually using it is a completely different thing. Personally, I’m really trying to get familair with the new change. One thing I do agree with Microsoft is that I also hardly use the Start menu and instead have my most used programs pinned on my taskbar instead. This was one of the main justification of why they took away the Start menu. As for the Ribbon interface, I actually like it a lot. I didn’t at first though. You can actually hide the Ribbon interface with a click of a button in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and I’m sure in the final version as well. In fact, the Ribbon interface is actually hidden by default. No tweak is needed if you don’t want to see or use it.

      Anyways, its good to hear from you on your experiences with the new OS. I really can’t wait for the Release Candidate to be released, which should be in a few weeks as I type this. I look forward to hearing about your experiences with Windows 8 in the future as well!

      • Well I would not consider not having the Windows XP or Windows 7 start menu on Windows 8. Which you can have as well as the start button thanks to Classic Shell. When Windows 8 CP first came out,Classic Shell did not work in CP like it did on DP. But then it was updated and the new version of Classic Shell now works on windows 8 CP. So when I first installed Windows 8 CP, I had to use Start Menu 7 which also gives you the start button and a customised Windows start menu.

        I am worried that Classic Shell and the other start menu software may not work on Windows 8 RP and the final versions of Windows 8. But then even if it does not,I am sure that the software makers will update it so it will work on the final versions of Windows 8.

        The options we have for getting the Windows 7 and XP start button and start menu on Windows 8 CP are,Classic Shell,Vista Start Menu(start menu only not the start button,)Vi Start and Start Menu 7. All of these work on Windows 8 CP, and as long as they don’t change the source code too much on the next version,I hope will work on windows 8 RP and future versions of Windows 8.

        But there are a few problems on Windows 8 CP,one is that if I open several files in Windows Explorer the right click with my mouse stops working. Until I restart my computer then it works again.And sometimes my system crashes but these are bugs that should be fixed in the next version,I hope. And it is only a beta version.Andrea Borman.

        • Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about the issues surrounding the current software for bringing back the Start menu. As long as there is a demand for it (which there is plenty), someone out there will take the time to make it right after Windows 8 gets released to the public. I personally haven’t tried any of these software in both the Developer and Consumer Previews but I’ll definitely remind myself to take a look at it come the Release Candidate. Thanks for the info.

          • Thank you for your reply Simon. Windows 8 RC or Release Preview is coming out on 1st June. Which is only 2 days away. But this time I think it would be better for me and anyone else who wants to run their Windows XP software or start menu software on the new Windows 8 RP to maybe wait a week or so. And read the tutorials on the forums and on the web. That way we can get an idea of what the new Windows 8 RP is like and find out what software will or won’t run on the new Windows 8.

            When I first upgraded to Windows 8 CP from DP,the day it came out on 29th February,I sort of gave up when I found out I could not disable the Metro theme. And that Classic Shell did not work then. But a month later I reinstalled Windows 8 CP again,installed Start Menu 7 this time. And when they updated Classic Shell(latest version now supports Windows 8 CP and works on it)I installed Classic Shell the new version.And now I have my windows XP start button and start menu and it is very much like Windows 7.

            But you are right,a lot of people will want a Windows start menu,so there will always be software that will be updated to work on the next versions of Windows 8. Don’t forget Windows 7 never came with the Classic Windows 98 start menu but people who wanted it just installed Classic Shell or other third party software and got it back on Windows 7.

            Windows 8CP is supported until January 2013 so we can carry on using it until then. But we should try to learn how to use the next version Windows 8 RP as the final version that goes out on sale will be different from DP or CP. so we should try to get used to it now. Andrea Borman.

  2. I know many people will have same opinion as yours. I too dislike the idea of using mouse for doing things that hand is more suited for.
    Win 8 may look great on Tabs but for PC, it will be trouble for many people ( at-least initially ).

    I don’t know why but I don’t want it to fail ( I know it will not completely fail). I don’t want to see Apple monopolizing everywhere and selling over expensive products ( due respect, I like their innovations ).

    • I completely agree. It’s crazy how Microsoft is so efficient in the business sector but is struggling so hard in the consumer area. While Apple is the exact reverse, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that whoever does manage to break into that respective area, they will have a pretty much have won the game. With Apple saying that they have more money than they know what to do with it, they obviously scare me more. I just can’t believe Microsoft will go back to that model where they release one good OS, then follow up with a bad one, and then make customers forget that one by making another good one, etc. They are wasting precious time while Apple are most likely thinking of ways to penetrate into the business sector and do a takeover. Yikes!

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