Why the start screen is the new desktop
The start screen has had its share of angry comments since the developer preview. The usual kind of reasoning is that it replaces the start menu in a bad way. I would like to take a different view: the start screen is the new desktop. The metrofication of the desktop.
Let's dissect the traditional desktop environment. It has:
- a large space for putting documents and shortcuts.
- a taskbar showing the running and pinned apps
- a system tray / notification area
- a start menu
Now let's see how the start screen includes all this functionality in a metro way.
Some users like to put all kinds of shortcuts and documents on the desktop. The start screen accommodates this by allowing all kinds of things to be pinned to the start screen. Apps can create tiles for just about anything. Want a folder shortcut on the start screen? Just use the explorer to pin the folder. Want a webpage bookmark on the start screen? Just use IE to pin the webpage. Want the weather of a certain location on the start screen? Your prefered wheather app will have a pinning feature.
The desktop taskbar does two things: it shows the running and pinned apps. The pinning is the easy part, you can pin apps to the start screen too. But you'll now say: hey the start screen doesn't show running apps, you moron! Remember though that metro apps should be thought of as always running.* Now if all apps are always running, that means they would never fit on the traditional taskbar. But they do fit on the scrollable start screen. So yes, the start screen shows all running apps, because all apps are always running!
* Apps aren't really always running of course, but Microsoft wants you to think that way. Metro apps don't have a close button and when you select them on the start screen they should continue where you left off.
The traditional system tray typically shows status icons and other background tasks. This is where the live tiles come in. The tiles on the start screen combine apps with status information. Apps can have background tasks and update the live tiles accordingly. So start screen is indeed a metrofication of the traditional tray.
As is well known, the start screen allows both browsing and searching apps, files and other stuff. So it indeed incorporates the start menu functionality. To be fair it doesn't have a shortlist of frequently used apps, but maybe the apps list will be sortable on the last used date.
So yes the start screen really is the metrofication of the traditional desktop. It does have a lot of the same functionality but in a cleaner, simpler way. The number of apps you can pin to it aren't as limited as the taskbar. The screen isn't as cramped as the start menu. You don't have to configure which tray icons you want to see permanently or not. The live tiles are easier and more powerful than traditional shortcuts and the system tray. You can easily identify items by grouping and laying them out in the 2D space and by using a combination of small and wide tiles. It really is quite smart.
Most of the criticism seems to be that the start screen is full screen. I don't think this is the real problem. On my Windows Phone I never find it troublesome to go to the home screen to select an app. iPad users also don't seem to have a problem with pushing the home button. No, the real problem for me is missing trackpad gestures. I want the start screen to appear and disappear with a simple gesture. If a gesture is all it takes then the mouse distance to an app will probably be even less than the distance to the traditional taskbar.
If you think about it, it even starts to make sense that metro apps are full screen. If the start screen is the new desktop, then why should the old desktop be visible when I'm using an app?
What do you think? Am I crazy? Blinded by fanboyism?