Windows 8 – two months on

So I’ve been using Windows 8 RTM for 2 months now, it’s probably a good time to reflect.

Prior to installing Windows 8 I had grave reservations about the Metro UI. While I was keen to try I knew that it was going to be a disruptive user experience until I got used to the new world order. I thought Microsoft were mad for trying to have a unified experience across PCs, tablets and phones. The goal of trying to have developers only write code for one platform and have it available across all those screens was noble but the cost was going to be in the user experience.

In the end I think I am partially right, but I don’t think it is a showstopper for Microsoft. Plenty of people have predicted doom and claim Microsoft are making a huge mistake. I don’t think things are that drastic – and mainly because I bypass the Metro world with a simple keystroke.

My way of explaining this is that there are essentially two worlds in Windows 8 – the Metro world with it’s magical scaling (which looks great on a Retina MacBook Pro!) and own Apps that are available from the Store. And then there’s the desktop world with it’s good old ‘normal’ applications. The Metro world is where you’re going to spend your time if you’re on a Windows 8 phone or a tablet. I just don’t see it making a lot of sense if you’re on a PC or laptop. Even with a touch-enabled laptop I don’t see it being a drawcard.

I spend most of my life in the desktop world that Microsoft is trying to move us away from. As soon as the Metro screen pops up I hit the Windows key + D and go straight to the desktop world. Which for me makes the Metro experience pretty pointless. And without that, what benefits are there over Windows 7?

Well the following are also pretty good to have:

  • Pretty streamlined setup process (but how many times do you install Windows?)
  • Much faster boot time
  • Windows Defender on by default and now includes anti-virus
  • Improved ‘progress’ dialog for copy operations and Task Manager
  • Native mounting of ISOs
  • Windows key + X – brings up power list of things you want access to
  • Hyper-V on Windows Pro up (if that’s your thing)

As for the lack of a Start button? Just hit the Windows key and type – exactly as you did before. No big drama there.

To be clear I spend most of my time in the desktop environment because the day to day applications I use are there – Outlook, Word, Visio, Chrome etc. Yes I can get Chrome in the Metro world but to my knowledge you can’t run extensions. No Ad-Block Plus? That’s a shitty way to view the web!

Living in the desktop world isn’t always plain sailing – for example, a PDF reader is included out of the box but this is a Metro app. So double-clicking on a PDF file in Windows Explorer opens this up in full-screen glory. Looks nice and distraction free for reading the PDF, but confusing for a user who now can’t see the taskbar or work out how to exit.

Without a touch enabled laptop a lot of the context sensitive menus / commands require a magical mouse movement. This is kind of like foreplay – when you get it right it’s awesome, when you get it wrong you fumble around and end up pissed off and feel inferior.

You end up having to manage two worlds – do I want to use the Metro Evernote app, or the full-fledged Evernote application I was using in Windows 7? Using Evernote as an example I found the Metro app to be basic and had less features. I could wear this if the device was a phone or tablet, but why would I want to use this over the normal desktop application? These Metro apps will get better with time I’m sure.

Overall Windows 8 is pretty good – kudos to Microsoft for making a bold new move and trying something different. I don’t think it will be the disaster that some people claim it will be, but I can see Windows 8 ending up in Vista territory – it will cop enough bad press from disgruntled users to scare off organisations from upgrading until it improves. Windows 7 is a pretty slick operating system, if an organisation is on this and primarily only using desktop / laptop PCs I cannot see a compelling reason for them to upgrade. Let’s see how things go later this month when it becomes generally available.