I Don't Get Windows 8.

I've been using windows 8 on my main computer since the dev preview - a little over a year now. I've used every version of Windows since 3.1, I get Windows, I don't get Windows 8.


Not a lot of people are talking about it, but the desktop has seen some really great improvements in W8. Cut, Copy and Paste work a lot better than older versions of windows. For example if I get a new album from an artist I already have, when I drag the /Artist/Album folders into my /music folder, it simply adds the album to the Artist, rather than trying to replace the Artist, saving boatloads of time. It also stacks all your copy and move dialogs into one box rather than filling your screen with boxes, its actually fantastic. The new explorer has the ribbon UI and its really easy to use. The flat colours look awesome on the desktop. There's system-level popups for volume and brightness changes so each OEM doesn't have to implement one that looks out of place and suspiciously like the OSX popup. I really like the win8 desktop.


Until Microsoft tells me what to call it, its metro to me. I dig metro. It uses the screen real estate well, and the animations are smooth and fast, even on a 4 year old netbook with an Atom 270. I especially like the email app and the control panel is nice. Internet explorer is still internet explorer and it took a little time to figure out how to change tabs, but its fine. I like that they chose not to support Flash. Kill it with fire. The store is nice, but its a complete mess now that there's actual listings there. I've joked that just like the wp7 app drawer, its a great design that just doesn't scale past zero apps. The music app is cool, and so is the photos app, though it could use some tweaks. It should be noted that this is all with a mouse and keyboard, Its clear that these apps are meant for fingers, but they work well with a mouse - the music and email apps especially are way better (if less full-featured) than their desktop equivalents. Even with a mouse and keyboard, I really like Metro, and I can't wait to try it on a tablet.

Synergy? Hardly

Since my computer has an older, low-res display, metro apps don't run by default. you have to edit some registry keys to fool windows into thinking you have a 768p or bigger display in order to run anything other than the desktop, start screen and control panel. It isn't hard, I just can't be arsed for a little while after upgrading, so I used it in desktop mode for a few days after each release. As I said, desktop mode is awesome. Its windows 7, but subtly better in nearly every respect. Its faster and lighter and less clunky to do nearly everything.

The one obvious, clunky, frustrating exception: looking at photos. The picture viewer is gone from the desktop, leaving the metro version as the only option. Until hacking my way to metro-land, every time I click on a picture, I'm greeted by a blue bar across the middle of the screen informing me that my display is just too tiny to show me photos. Thanks.

The Store also doesn't work, but you wouldn't be able to use any apps that you bought so its a bit of a wash. Its a little weird that 7 doesn't support high-res displays well (that's why everything is 768x1366, anything better would have super tiny icons) and 8 doesn't support low-res displays, the kind that benefit the most from fullscreen apps with large typography.

Once you do enable metro, things don't get much better on the photo front. Now, every time I click on a photo, I'm greeted with a huge sweeping animation bringing in a splash screen, followed by my photo fullscreen with a handful of regular photo actions. If I'm looking for a specific picture, I now have to multitask back to the desktop and click on the next photo which opens another splash screen. This is still a preview of the app, but windows phone does the same thing in a lot of places. Apparently this is how microsoft thinks computers ought to work. Even with no background processes eating up memory, and - more tellingly - even on beastly gaming desktops, important apps still close as soon as you aren't looking at them.

This is just one example. There are very few things that you can do in only one environment. Checking your email? You'll be punted to the desktop as soon as you open your attachments. browsing your music? you'll be thrust into metro if you click on a song, but you'll be sent to the desktop if you try to play a CD.

Switch! Switch! Switch!

While each environment is great on its own, the transitions are really jarring. The desktop is clean, familiar, static and utilitarian, but as soon as you hit the start menu: SHAZAM! Bright colours everywhere! flipping tiles! No consistent colour scheme! Even apps made by microsoft use almost a dozen different colours, including two shades of blue. Like cold water, once you're in it, its fine, refreshing even. The square tiles are nice, and the extra information displayed is helpful sometimes. The first party metro apps look great too, the fonts are nice, the colour schemes are consistent within most apps. Third party apps make it clear that metro isn't easy to get right, but that'll come with time. Inevitably, you'll be kicked back out to the desktop, where'll there'll certainly be some kind of warning dialog waiting for you and a bunch of system tray icons begging for your attention. Compared to metro's smooth minimalism and animation, the desktop looks old and cluttered and clunky, its like running into a wall. This only gets worse on a touch-enabled tablet because the desktop is absolutely not finger-friendly.

Each side is better on its own and it takes considerable effort to avoid the other one. I think forcing metro makes the desktop worse, and forcing the desktop makes metro worse. You never spend enough time in either environment, so you wind up with this dull annoyance at your computer. Win7 is obviously not perfect, but you could get comfortable with it. I'm getting used to win8, but it isn't comfortable. There's still a brief "Whoa what the hell did I do?!?" moment every time I'm switched between metro and desktop, and I'm a geek; normal people feel even less like they're in control of their computers.

This is heartbreaking because..

On Its own, the desktop part of Win8 is a sizeable update to win7. Its not world-beating, and it wouldn't be essential, but I don't like using windows 7 as much anymore because I keep expecting windows 8 desktop features. If I were buying a computer, I would want to make sure it had the windows 8 desktop. Sadly, that classic windows feeling of productivity vanishes the moment my screen blasts me with a bright colours if I click on certain icons. Metro simultaneously distracts you from your work and makes the desktop feel lame.

On its own, metro is a pretty awesome tablet concept. Its fast, fluid and finger friendly. Its even pretty great with a mouse and keyboard. Its simple and striking, and it brings the controls up front, making it obvious what you can do in most situations. The desktop is not like that, the desktop does not work with fingers, and it feels old, it gets in your way when you're using your tablet on the couch. I'm not convinced that people are really going to plug a bunch of accessories into an ARM tablet. Legacy games aren't going to work and because there's a desktop, and because its called windows, people are going to expect to be able to install them. The desktop makes metro feel weak/underpowered and is a clunky inconvenience.

Why Bother?

Office is not a good reason to keep the desktop. People don't do work on tablets, and an RT is not going to fully replace a laptop. You are not typing your thesis on that touch cover either. They should've offered a stripped down, good enough for most people, Metro version of office. If you need full Office, you still need a full computer. If you say that they need the desktop for office, you're really just saying that they haven't finished Office or Metro. I don't think its too much to ask that microsoft finish a product before they try to sell it to me. They're already pretty late to the game, they can take the time they need.

I don't know why microsoft is so attached to the legacy, there's a massive amount of jobs, products and money being made simply because absolutely nobody really knows how to use windows. Be it antivirus, system 'cleaners', Windows for dummies books, or the entire field of IT and tech support. This forum is full of power users and I bet everyone here learned something new about windows in the last week or so.

What Everyone knows they should do

A consumer-focused Metro OS and a professional/power/legacy Windows OS would make for a clearer strategy for microsoft. Rather than cars and trucks, we currently have a Honda Element, a gigantic, inefficient car or a tiny, underpowered truck. Windows 8 in both its forms is not a vision of the future of computing. It is not even slightly clear what microsoft is trying to do with it. If its some kind of unfinished transitional fossil, don't release it until its done transitioning! If the desktop is important, keep it around, if its garbage, throw it away.

TLDR: Metro and desktop are great on their own, but make eachother worse when they're together. Microsoft had a chance to say "This is what computers are now.", but all Windows 8 says is "We have no clue what we're doing. Neither do you."