My changes to Windows 8, what do you think?
Like everyone else I'm trying figure out what to make of Windows 8. I like the metro apps and I like the old desktop. But I don´t like the way they are slapped together. I also think Microsoft´s `immersive` philosophy went a bit too far. And Microsoft apparently never even thought about big screens. I've tried to come with some changes that might make it work and I like to discuss them with you guys.
Optimizing for big screens
Windows 8 introduces a new kind of windows, I call them metro windows. I like them. Metro windows never overlap and all metro windows together always combine into a full screen, no pixels are wasted. The only manual resizing possible is to make it a narrow side window and the app can change its layout to optimize for being narrow.
Unfortunately, Windows 8 only allows two metro windows. Which is a waste for a big screen. I propose to allow multiple metro windows. They should be easy to arrange, just like the tiles on start screen. For example, here is how you could rearrange the screen by adding new apps:
You see this looks a lot like real windows. I imagine you could drag a tile on the start screen, the start screen would disappear and you drag the app to where you want to open it. If you click, instead of drag, the app would simply open in the window where it opened last time or else in the last used big window. To move the app, just hold the top of the window for a sec and drag to another place. The previous app will come back to fill the gap.
Of course, the bigger the screen, the more windows you can have. On a tablet you'd still have room for only one or two windows.
The desktop of course, also loads inside a metro window. It would be great though, if you could drag a desktop app to a metro window and it would create a new desktop there. Just like using multiple desktop screens. This would be power user stuff of course. Non-power users better stick with simple metro windows.
Give me a notification bar!
I hate that I can't see my trusty gmail notification icon when I'm in a metro app. Do I really need to switch to the start screen to check if I have mail? Let's just use a tiny amount of black pixels to get a notification bar on the bottom. And let it morph into the full good old taskbar when I get my mouse over the notification bar or do a bezel swipe. Better yet, give me the option to have the taskbar visible all the time. It doesn't need to be a default setting, but at least give me the option. I don't like performing a weird mouse gesture just to switch apps.
Above, you see the small notification bar on the bottom. Above that you see a gray application bar, which I'll discuss later on. The tiny notification icons can't be clicked by the way, they should just notify. This means they can be small; no need to be touch friendly. If you recognize some Windows Phone things here, that's indeed where I got the idea from. Let's see what happens when we get the taskbar to show up:
Yes, that's right, the taskbar should be used for desktop and metro apps. I don't like metro apps using the side bar and desktop apps using the taskbar. Just let the taskbar show the latest used metro apps as well. It would be cool if you could drag the app from the taskbar to an existing or new metro window, like you currently can with the left side bar.
The application bar
The lower bar in some apps is called the application bar. It looks a lot like the one on Windows Phone. But I like the Windows Phone version better. Why? For starters on WP7 the icons are usually not hidden, which I like. I don't like hunting for them, let alone clicking the right mouse button all the time to reveal them (especially on notebooks). WP7 does some nice things here: on the right side there are small dots, clicking them enlarges the menu: this shows the labels of the icons and reveals more options. It's very elegant.
On the top left you see the mini version that some applications use if they really want to use all screen estate they can get. But most apps wisely have the most used functions directly visible with icons or even just text to keep the bar narrow. On the right you see what happens when you click on the dots.
I also decreased the size of the icons a bit. Do they really need to be huge? I can touch them just fine if they are a bit smaller.
Getting rid of the charms
The charms aren't all that necessary. For search and sharing, it really would be better to use the application bar instead of hunting via the charms. Search and sharing are usually context specific, so the options should just be shown at the places where they have a function. If I am in the games section of the store I want a search function to search games, not a hidden global search via the charms. Settings should be placed somewhere in the application menu as well.
If Windows Phone and iOS can manage fine this way, I don't see what charms would add. Yes, they would add extra icons to the app, so maybe Microsoft argues they decrease the "immersive" experience, but I don't care. Hunting for stuff gets me out of the immersive experience anyway.
The start screen can of course still be used to access the global search function.
So instead of the charms, just give me a side panel with the quick system settings and use the rest of the panel for a recap of the notifications. And while we are at it, let me drag a notification, like a new email, onto a metro window to open the mail app there.
Wrapping it up
So there you go. I hustled a bit with what was already there and added some Windows Phone bits into the mix. I've tried to add big screen support, increase the discoverability, increase the mouse experience, avoid different switching mechanisms for metro and desktop apps by using a universal taskbar and finally added a permanent notification bar for those things you just want to see without touching anything.
I probably overlooked some things; screwed up some important use cases, created something that's even more confusing than it already is, or maybe I'm just not seeing the Microsoft vision of immersiveness. In other words: what do you think?
I don't know Microsofts roadmap. They might have different plans for the final Windows 8, or even Windows 9 or 10. I don't know what they have in mind. Maybe they have really great plans. If they do, I wish they would tell us, so that I could get some more trust in Windows 8. Because as it stands, I only like parts of it, but not the combination.
P.S. You might not like metro windows at all, but that discussion can be done elsewhere. Here I'd like to discuss how to change it only a little to make it more workable.