8 Days of Windows 8: Part 2, GUIs Gone Wild!

January 13th, 2013 by Chris

Technically we’re up to 12 days now, and no, this isn’t some sort-of voyeuristic post for graphics designers. It is, as before, a few comments on my initial take on Windows 8.

Any readers who’ve had a cell phone longer than they could drive, probably won’t understand this analogy, but for those who do, consider for a moment Windows 3.1 (aka “Windows for Workgroups“).[1] Remember when you tried to find your programs (before they were called applications, let a lone “apps”), and you sort-of visually searched around for a little rectangle that represented the thing you wanted? Sometimes though, it wouldn’t work quite right until you exited to DOS and ran the program from the real operating system hiding in the background? Sure there were a few snazzy programs (mostly written by Microsoft) that would actually work within the Windows environment, but most of the really powerful stuff (or really good games) left Windows behind and lived elsewhere. This, my friends, is pretty much how Windows 8 feels to me.

If you want some examples of why Win8 feels more like a colorful paint-job than an operating system, keep on below the fold. Otherwise, there is some good news which I’ll save for the next post.

To be fair, two decades have gone by since Win 3.1, and now hardly anyone has any idea that computers even have command prompts.[2] I have no doubt that once the ‘apps’[3] mature into real useful things for people to use, instead of web-pages in a box; we’ll move away from our file managers and desktop icons. For now, though, pretty much everything I do with my computer is in the “Desktop” environment. Perhaps this is because I don’t use any of Microsoft’s tools for web browsing or email reading. (I doubt Outlook would interface well with this environment either.) The Desktop environment is pretty much Windows 7, without the start menu or the transparent Aero window styling.

It’s not that the “Start Page” is hard to look at (although it would be nice to have a saturation slider for the garish tiles), and it’s probably even quite useful for a touch interface. The real problem is that the Desktop interface and the new/modern/metro interface don’t seem to talk to each other in any obvious way. First, there’s the task bar. In Desktop (like Win7), you have a summary of what you’re running at the edge of the screen. Except that any apps you’re running, don’t appear there. You have to go back to the modern UI, then mouse over to the left side of the screen to make them appear. Of course from the Start Page, all of your Desktop applications are represented by a single “Desktop” icon. Come on guys, doesn’t anyone at Microsoft do more than one thing at a time? I think about my work computer. I run two displays and there are 3-4 different programs on each display. Some of those programs may easily have 3-4 windows open. If I had two more monitors, I’d probably have them filled also.
This brings us to problem number two. In the modern UI, you get to see all of two apps at a time. That’s it. One squashed into the left most 20% of your screen, (or on the right) and the other occupying the remaining portion.[4] If you Alt-Tab, however, you can cycle through all the open programs (apps and applications and everything in between).
Don’t get me started on the two completely separate Control Panels which contain related, but seemingly disconnected settings. Sometimes, you click on a link and it switches from one to the other. Or sometimes to your Microsoft “Live” account where your desktop settings are actually being stored. Let’s not forget that there is still the enterprise Microsoft Management Console configuration options from the Windows NT/Server legacy and the venerable command prompt for us diehards.

There is some good news though, and I’ll save that for the next post.

  1. For what it’s worth, I have Windows 3.1.1 floppy disks in my lower left desk drawer. They are, in fact, the beginning of the long chain of Windows OS upgrades that leads my upgrade licenses all the way to this post. []
  2. Unless they speak *NIX or enjoy old hacker movies. (ϖ) []
  3. Am I the only one that has trouble using that word without feeling the air-quotes? []
  4. Disclaimer: I only have the one display at home, so I don’t know if you can span multiple displays and get 4 (oh my!) whole apps open at once. []

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