Once again Microsoft has taken their flagship OS in a new direction in an attempt to chase down the pop culture of technology. As the world continues its perilous journey towards touch screen interfaces it is expected that the hardware and the software will experience some growing pains. From a technical standpoint it would appear that the engineers at Microsoft have done their homework and created a definite solid footing on which to build this new age platform. Unfortunately, the non-technical sales reps and managerial staff have decided that they know whats best for business and have thrown a mess on top of this quite lovely foundation.
First the good part. As far as a comfortable environment to work from on touch sensitive PCs, tablets and smart phones, the interface formerly known as “Metro” has found its home. Its very fluid and accommodating to those who whisk their fingers across in an attempt to navigate this already daunting information-overload nightmare we live in. As fingers go, we are all too aware of how inaccurate they are as compared to the function of a mouse and the key stroke on a keyboard, which is why the large buttons and hot corners in the OS are advantageous.
If you happen to use an XBOX or utilize online file storage, Windows 8 has a deep and satisfying integration with your online gaming account and it’s Skydrive online storage service. With cloud computing relentlessly becoming the De facto standard as far as integrated technology in everything with a computer chip, Windows 8 makes great strides in acclimating the user to doing this with confidence.
Not that Windows 7 had bad multi-monitor support, Windows 8 has made some marginal improvements to the way the OS handles the myriad of viewing devices we attach to a single machine. In a world where nVidia, ATI, and Intel GPUs are supporting larger and larger desktop work spaces, any improvement in multi-screen support is a welcoming aspect.
Installing and/or upgrading to Windows 8 is light years easier than any previous Windows OS. With the special low pricing of some of the product upgrades Microsoft is offering, it is extremely tempting for even the most ardent haters to pass up (many users buy the upgrade, apply it to an XP system, then use downgrade rights to get Windows 7). While some of the applications, mechanisms and functionality will undoubtedly be rough around the edges, you can guarantee that the world’s largest OS provider has put an exorbitant amount of effort into pioneering the latest and greatest technologies in personal computing.
If you do not own a touch screen or you have had a hard time adapting to the previous upgrades of Windows, then this version is probably not for you. Windows 8 comes with a radically redesigned default interface geared for touch screen computing. While you can still use this “Interface formerly known as Metro” without a touch screen, it has been reported by more than a few users as uncomfortable and awkward when used with a traditional mouse and keyboard. Some of the tried and tested methods / structures that we have all become familiar with, over the last 20 years or so, were not intuitively relocated or simply removed completely.
First and foremost, the “Interface formerly known as Metro” is a set of animated interactive tile-like icons spanning from left to right. By default, there is barely anything that one would recognize from the previous desktop interfaces. No window handles. No minimize, maximize or close buttons. No ‘My Computer’ icon. No time and date in the bottom right corner. No notification area on the taskbar….no taskbar either. Just tiles.
There is a something like a traditional desktop available with the structures we were familiar with, however this desktop is treated more like an app-tile in the “Interface formerly known as Metro” rather than the other way around. While Microsoft makes no attempt to obfuscate the desktop tile from the user, once you get there it becomes increasingly difficult for the layman to navigate as the traditional start menu is completely missing. Yes that’s right; they didn’t just disable it, they completely removed it altogether. Bad decision given that history has shown us where even more menial changes have been the deciding factor in whether an OS sinks or swims. Granted there are third party “non-Microsoft store” borne solutions to the no start menu issue (http://classicshell.sourceforge.net). Unfortunately such solutions won’t exactly give you the what the original did, but they come close.
However awful the decision, to utilize this new start interface by default is, is simply an artifact of a deeper agenda set forth by Microsoft. If you have had the opportunity to use the “Interface formerly known as Metro” you will notice that there are apparently two ways applications can run in this new OS. First is the classic way of running with the afore mentioned desktop mode. This mode of running an application will be most familiar to users as it looks like a program running on the desktop as it did on Windows 7 (minus the start menu of course). The other way of running an application is through the new start interface and taking advantage of its allegedly robust features. The unfortunate part is that the only place to get an application that uses the new interface is currently through the Microsoft store or having the developer abide by the new rules of said store. Yes, that’s right, Microsoft is locking down the “Interface formerly known as Metro” compliant apps and placing yet more restrictive rules on them for developers. Such rules seem almost ‘Ten Commandment’ styled and can even be better fathomed if read to you by Charlton Heston;
5.1 Your app must not contain adult content, and metadata must be appropriate for everyone
… Your app may contain only content that would merit a rating of PEGI 12, ESRB EVERYONE, or Windows Store 12+, or lower.
5.2 Your app must not contain content that advocates discrimination, hatred, or violence based on membership in a particular racial, ethnic, national, linguistic, religious, or other social group, or based on a person’s gender, age, or sexual orientation
5.3 Your app must not contain content or functionality that encourages, facilitates or glamorizes illegal activity
5.4 Your app must not contain or display content that a reasonable person would consider to be obscene
5.5 Your app must not contain content that is defamatory, libelous or slanderous or threatening
5.6 Your app must not contain content that encourages, facilitates or glamorizes excessive or irresponsible use of alcohol or tobacco products, drugs or weapons
5.7 Your app must not contain content that encourages, facilitates or glamorizes extreme or gratuitous violence, human rights violations, or the creation or use of weapons against a person or animal in the real world
5.8 Your app must not contain excessive or gratuitous profanity
To add further insult to injury, there have been more than a few complaints of MS store apps being unstable and crashing in the tile interface. Even the forums are filling up with IE crashes. This will undoubtedly be addressed in later updates, but the OS just spent the better of a year in beta and there are an inordinate amount of reported app crashes. Even trying to find apps in the store is a nightmare. Has anyone figured out how to search this store thing for an app?
(As a side note; Google Chrome does run in both interfaces and is download-able directly from Google. However, the settings for Chrome are also separated. Set the desktop mode of chrome and its settings, and they do not carry over to the Tile interface mode. You must set them separately)
Although the desktop mode on the PC does allow you to run whatever application you see fit for now, platforms that restrict you from installing non-Microsoft desktop applications are kind of hosed. For example the new Windows 8 RT tablet will only allow the installation of MS Office in its desktop form. All other apps on the RT tablet have to be installed through the MS app store. If Microsoft’s behavior in the mobile space is any indication of its future behavior in the PC space we may see the desktop mode completely disappear from future versions of Windows. For those who think that the removal of the desktop mode in future versions of Windows is inconceivable, the thought that Microsoft would even go in the direction we’ve just seen, was at one time inconceivable. Besides, removal of the desktop mode and restricting users to the MS store only makes the store, and the consumer software side of Microsoft, even more profitable for MS. Currently 75% of Microsoft’s revenue is outside the Windows division, but this could change if it styles its platform more like the way Apple has with its customers and the Apple App Store.
Down right hideous! We are all aware that these new operating systems scale extremely well depending on which hardware they run on, but with computers becoming exponentially more powerful; was it absolutely necessary to scale the look of the interface back so much? With its sharp corners, plane colors, and lack of that shininess that less complex users are drawn to; it makes Windows XP look more appealing. One reason behind this is to get the interface to be consistent with mobile platforms which indeed do have to be conscious of the limited resources on those devices. But really? Do we want that high end beast of a machine we just shelled an admirable amount of money for to be running a mobile styled OS?
As far as efficient use of screen real estate, the “Interface formerly known as Metro” is deplorable. For a smaller touch screen form factor it must be grand to have large buttons your nubby fingers can connect with. For those with a 24”+ monitor you may feel a little cheated. There is so much space being taken by so little data. With the MS store being so limited on useful apps (my opinion), and the entire interface being swallowed by running just one app, the screen’s viewable resources could have been utilized in an infinitely more well thought out fashion. There is the desktop mode that can help mitigate these issues, but with there being two forms of the same app that uses (in most cases) two sets of settings that are independent from one another, you are going to make a choice. Either you run solely in the “Interface formerly known as Metro” or you run in desktop mode. No matter which way you choose to operate, it goes show how Microsoft blatantly disregarded the interoperability of the two environments in the best interests of control.
Ever heard of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Well for those who go out and purchase a large touch screen All-In-One unit, good luck with that rotator cuff strain and shoulder tendonitis. If you’re the typical lazy computer user and shy away from methods in the interface that require anything more than a mouse click, try having to lift your arm constantly to swipe away apps and press hot corners and buttons at the top of the screen. Does anyone smell a market for gel pads for your elbow?
The Bottom line!
Microsoft! What were you thinking? A tablet OS on a PC? While I’m not a fan of the business practices of Apple either, at least they got it right. They have iOS on mobile and tablets, and OSX for desktops and laptops. This is because they realize that the OS must fit the form factor. It seems as if Microsoft got lazy and figured it could just make the same interface for all its customers then dissuade the user and devices from using the desktop, and funnel everyone into the same application store. What a nightmare!
If you don’t own a touch screen or are slow to adapt to new technologies, don’t bother installing Windows 8. If you are a power user and adept at using your quick keys then you might find it somewhat interesting. If you just purchased a PC and it has Windows 8 on it, do yourself a favor; take it your local computer shop and have them wipe it and install Windows 7 (through downgrade rights.) Windows 8 is definitely on the bleeding edge of technology. If you live on the bleeding edge enough times, you will at some point bleed!
If you’re going to run Windows 8, I highly suggest to do the following;
1) Go to http://classicshell.sourceforge.net and download the executable their and install it.
2) Right click on the new start button it creates at the bottom left hand side of the desktop and select settings.
3) At the bottom of the settings dialog select the ‘All Settings’ radio button then select the ‘Windows 8 Settings’ tab.
4) Under the setting for ‘Disable active corners’ select the ‘All’ radio button.
This will assure to minimize the dreadful experience that is the “Interface formerly known as Metro”.
Addendum to the Addendum!
After experimenting with the above mentioned Classic Shell project it may be more appealing to install the application from www.Ninite.com and then customize it as stated above. The appearance seems more pleasing this way.