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Some time with Windows 8

My fiancé recently got a new laptop, a nice small ASUS with a touch screen and Windows 8 pre-installed. This gave me a chance to actually play with it for more than a couple of minutes and really start to figure it out. I'll admit that my initial impression has not been positive about Windows 8, and although getting to spend more time with it has tempered that quite a bit, I still feel like there are some major issues overall.

First, I think the reason that my experience was more positive this time is that I got to use Windows 8 on a machine that has the intended hardware. Namely, a touchscreen and a touchpad that is set up to deal with all the different gestures that Windows 8 likes you to use when you're in non-desktop mode. Being able to switch between apps with a long flick of the finger across the touchpad or touchscreen is actually quite nice and simple, and I like the metaphor that it's trying to do. Similarly, being able to touch your selections on the screen feels rather natural after working with an iPad, or other touch screen device, for so long.

However, I'm still annoyed that Microsoft decided to implement a whole new set of interactions that don't really seem to make much sense, and I don't even understand their purpose. One of the big ones that annoys me is the need to press Windows-Z or right-click to bring up a contextual menu along the bottom of the screen. This is a completely different location from where most menus display, and needing to learn an esoteric key press is not helpful to Microsoft's users. This is just one example of some of the UI annoyances that plague the "Metro" part of the Microsoft UI. Don't get me wrong, it's not a terrible interface, and with some tweaks to better accommodate user behavior that has been ingrained in us for a few years now, it might be really quite usable.

But then, you have the whole "desktop" mode. This is the mode where frankly, most people end up doing all their work. I found myself simply clicking "Desktop" whenever I wanted to launch an app because I often didn't know if the app had a "Metro" version, or what that version would even behave like. So then the question I asked myself, "What's the point of having a glorified Start Menu that is a completely different UI experience from where most people are going to spend their time?" I've even heard rumors today that Microsoft might even let users boot directly into the Desktop mode, bypassing the Start menu on boot up altogether.

So despite feeling much more comfortable with the new UI, in spite of its quirks, I really felt like I was using an OS that needs a direction. A vision and an end goal for how we should be interacting with Windows. I feel like Windows 8 simply uses its users as a set of lab rats, tossing all kinds of things at them to see if something will stick. If someone handed me a Windows 8 machine to use would I use it? Sure, but I'd feel like I would be waiting for the "next thing" to make the experience feel more finished.

Comments

  1. The more I read about Windows 8, the more I think I'm going to give it a pass. I need to upgrade from XP, and plan to soon, but I think I'm just going to stop at 7 for a while.

    The best argument against Windows 8 I've heard so far was, ironically, an attempted defense of the OS! Gordon Mah Ung, deputy editor of Maximum PC, wrote a column defending Windows 8 where his best point was, essentially, "It's not like it's as bad as WinME or Vista!"

    I appreciate what MS is attempting to do, of course. They want a unified platform across devices, which makes sense if you expect users to be transitioning between devices, working first on a tablet, then on a desktop, and so on.

    I just don't see that, though. Maybe it's just me, but I see a desktop as a fundamentally different experience from a tablet. I don't want a tablet OS on my desktop! I use a desktop in one way, and a tablet or smartphone in another. There may be some cross-over uses, but there are things I wouldn't dream of trying to do on a tablet.

    Then again, I'm a gamer and a developer, so that probably colors my views here. I would not want to attempt an intensive coding session on a tablet, for example. :-)

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