My Windows 8 Review

Ok, big news with Sinofsky's departure and all, and maybe this isn't the best time to put this out there while all attention is going elsewhere. Anyway, I just needed to make a few points after using Windows 8 full time for a couple of weeks.

The UI Formerly Known As Metro:

As a Launcher

Not much to say here. It works as a launcher, I guess. My irritants are that you can't do one key searches for control panel settings. you can type it, but you have to use the down button on the keyboard to move the search scope before control panel results turn up. this is a huge downgrade from Windows 7, IMHO, though somewhat mitigated by the Windows+X shortcut to control panel. Why isn't the searching unified across scopes, ala Spotlight or iOS or Android search or LIKE AS IN WINDOWS 7.

As an App Platform

This has already been over-discussed everywhere. Hate that app settings are hidden in "CHARMS" rather than having some button on-screen. This is also one of my greatest beefs with the general UI direction in TUIFKAM. More on that later. Anyway, there's a couple of decent apps, a whole ton of junk apps. The good apps are really beautiful on my 37-inch LED TV which I use as a monitor. I think the new app platform is way too young to have too conclusive a judgement passed on it. One thing I would say, though, is that when you're using a not-so-great app because its free, the "authentically digital" design theme really starts to feel tiresome. Things begin to look more like wireframes than complete apps. This is not a problem apps created with more attention and care. I guess sleek UI does not automatically translate to aesthetically pleasing third party apps.

The Look and Feel

This leads to the one thing I can't agree with the design direction of TUIFKAM. Everything is so obsessively hidden, with no clues immediately expressed on-screen to the existence of these functions until you make some sort of gesture. This approach works well with obsessive-compulsives, and probably really appealed to the UI designers because they knew their creation like the backs of their hands, but its not friendly to new users. Have you used a TUIFKAM app halfway and suddenly thought to yourself "oh, wait, maybe this app has some options" and had to swipe the "CHARMS" menu up to check for them? UI is a subjective exercise and for something that Microsoft hopes to take the world by storm, leaning so heavily toward one side of the spectrum of UI minimalism is really too extreme. I like the cleaniness of the approach, but when you have to name a menu "CHARMS" because you've run out of words to use to describe what a specific thing is, you know you're too far off the beaten path.

Yes, I really hate the word "CHARMS" which is why I capitalise it and put it in inverted commas. The concept suffers from such a severe lack of charm that perhaps that's precisely why they chose to name it that, in hope that it would mitigate the pain of its existence. "CHARMS".

The Windows Bit of Windows

But enough about "CHARMS" and the "Modern UI" and other such poorly contrived branding terms. The biggest let-down of Windows 8 is that Windows, or what is now called the "Desktop" in Windows 8 is really just re-heated leftovers from Windows 7. Not much has changed and, to me, at least, this is travesty. The "Desktop" still uses the primitive ClearType font smoothing that look primitive and rough compared to OS X or even Linux. For any defenders of ClearType, you'll notice that even Microsoft has abandoned it in TUIFKAM, choosing instead to use something much closer to OS X, where text emulates printed shapes. Unfortunately, they've not seen fit to port it back to the "Desktop", being the first clue that they've all but abandoned all efforts to improve it.

More Microsoft Tardiness
The theme engine has now done away with the glitzy transparent window borders. On Windows 7, if you didn't like transparency, your only option was vomit shaded pale blue. At least that's gone now. I hate to bring up this point about Windows 7 again, but the "Basic" theme's horrendous mix of pale blue on cold grey must have been a deliberate choice of the worst possible colour, selected to punish users who were cheap enough to be using the "Home Basic" edition of Windows. Such a sin of design choice must not be forgiven lightly. At least its gone now, and Windows 8's Desktop allows you to choose your own match of colours.

Except that when you choose darker shades, the Window Titles remain stuck in black and become irritatingly camouflaged. I've noticed it since the Preview versions and have sent bug reports and requests to Microsoft, only to be completely ignored. Its not important, I guess. Only an obsessive compulsive would notice something as trivial as that. The same kind who would conceive of the obsessive minimalism of TUIFKAM and its "CHARMS".

Mouse scrolling still doesn't work right on the Desktop. Maybe this is a subjective preference, but pointing your mouse over a Window that isn't in the immediate foreground and moving your mouse scroll wheel does nothing. This annoyance carries forth even in TUIFKAM. In the 3 column Mail app, for example, clicking on an email in the second column, you instinctively move your mouse over to the 3rd column where the content is and attempt to scroll only to see nothing happen. Then you realise its because you haven't clicked on it yet.

The icons of the Desktop environment are an awkward mishmash of big ideas of the moment at Microsoft. Minimalist gray back and forward buttons sitting next to the skeumorphic 3D shapes of Windows 7, wrapped around a Ribbon toolbar. Only to be expected from an abandoned product. Down in the taskbar, the same arbitrary system of hiding certain icons in the system tray while showing others.

There was a moment in time when Vista was criticised for having its Shutdown function hidden away behind 4 steps and Windows 8 has risen to the challenge of making it worse. Charm your way to a shutdown by mousing about to reveal menus hidden in screen corners! "CHARMS".. pfft.

Control Panel remains completely and utterly unchanged from Windows 7. Marks for consistency, I guess. In fact, maybe instead of labelling the traditional Windows part of Windows 8 the "Desktop", they should have just labelled it "Windows 7"

The New Windows is not Windows

Microsoft's faustian deal with Windows 8 is to use their clout of universal acceptance to push this entirely new and unrelated platform onto as many adopters as possible, leapfrogging them past their competition in the mobile space. I can't help but feel like the old and the new are just too distinct, too poorly integrated, for this approach to be beneficial to users. This forced adoption of their new platform is Microsoft at its good old days of anti-trust violations, strong-arming their way into a new market using their existing monopoly.

Windows 8 isn't a free upgrade. You're meant to pay for it. Yet the "Desktop" shows negligible improvements over Windows 7 and the TUIFKAM often gets in the way, ironically, by getting too far out of the way. I paid for an upgrade, and now I feel like maybe I should have been the one who was paid. To be an early adopter, a beta tester for this unfinished product that isn't Windows.

After All That Griping, Some Credit Where Its Due
I realised that I actually had good things to say about Windows 8 when I started typing this. But getting all my gripes aired took all the concentration I had for the afternoon and I left it all out. I'm just gonna list the plus points quickly and maybe I'll update this if I can be bothered sometime later.

  • No More Dilemma of Transparency-Everywhere or Surgery-Gown-Blue
  • Portable Accounts is Neat (even though I've had that for a while now by running my own AD, now its accessible to the general public)
  • Plus Points on the General Aesthetic Choices. (I like the look of it, its the overdone minimalism and hiding of basic functions that grates on me)
  • Fast Booting is Nice