Opinion: Why the desktop should stay in Windows forever
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the role of the desktop in Windows 8 and how it works with Metro. Some people seem to want it gone forever, convinced it has no part to play in the future of Windows. I disagree with this idea. I think it's always going to play a large part in Windows. To really explain why, I'm going to have to get into what Windows 8 as a whole is for.
Firstly, you have to understand that what Microsoft are trying to do with Metro is make an interface anyone can use. As strange as it seems to us, most people can't use their PCs. People don't understand file hierarchies, they fill their desktop with shortcuts because they don't know how to find them etc. Metro is designed for people like that. It's designed for the new generation of PC users who turn their computer on, run their web browser and do very little more. These same people know how to use their tablets and their smart phones happily. Why not let them have that same confidence with their desktop? When using Metro, it's quick to get used to some of the common rules it has - using the charms menu, right click to bring up the app context menu. - and once these have been learned, one can confidently use any Metro app because it has the consistency the desktop lacks. Importantly, all of the power stuff Windows had before is still there, it's just hidden out of sight for the sake of these people. Now, I get that a lot of the people here know what Metro is for, but it's important to make it absolutely clear for the sake of my argument that it is an easily usable environment.
The desktop is, of course, completely intact but with many improvements. For example, the massively improved task manager, less processing power use by the OS itself, the awesome new power menu in the bottom left corner, etc. See, the desktop is now supposed to be used for different activities to Metro. Anyone who wants to do some serious multitasking like programmers, office workers, graphic artists etc. should go to the desktop for those activities, not Metro. For example I use it for programming so, with the Metro SDK, I can have Visual Studio open in one window, Blend in another and a webpage open for looking up code snippets. A task like that would be ridiculous in Metro because that's not what it's built. It's full screen, has low information density and the information on the screen isn't manipulatable like it would be in the windowed desktop environment and for a lot of the more taxing activities, you need a whole heap on the screen at a time than Metro can provide. Even writing this up on the Verge, I decided to use the desktop as I'm copying it over from a version I wrote of this that I wanted to change as it was written more for a particular person. I decided I wanted both versions on the screen at a time so that I could change parts and add parts back in without having to switch between tabs.
You could argue for Metro's snap function which I use incredibly often. It's amazing for casual things like browsing the web whilst having a conversation with someone over messaging for example which is great because that's what it's for - general, everyday multitasking; but you're still limited by low information density and the amount of space each app takes up is not manipulatable all of which makes it unsuitable for a heavy duty task. If I were to write this as mentioned before in Metro, I'd have a nightmare. One version of it would be condensed to the tiny edge of the screen making it hard to read or to write into with the other taking up nearly all of the screen. They could easily solve this, I guess, by making an additional halfway snap, though the desktop would still be important for anything that needs more than two apps on screen at once and to have the level of totally manipulatable sizes of the snap function would defeat the purpose of Metro as consistent and very easy to use.
Of course, like most people in the world, I don't just use my PC for tasks like that. I also want to wind down, browse the web, have conversation with someone, maybe read up on some news in one of the news apps, sometimes even sit back and play some Fruit Ninja (which is a crazy sensation to play on a desktop with a mouse) and not have to worry about everything else. I know what I'm doing with Windows 7 or any other previous version, of course, I just prefer to use something that consistently works and where I'm never in a situation where I have to worry about anything else my computer has packed on underneath.
Basically Windows 8 has got two worlds because it satisfies two very different needs. The desktop is for professional tasks, Metro is for everyday tasks. See, I think most people's problem is they're looking at metro as a replacement for the whole OS. It's definitely not. It's just for the tasks that people want to be able to just do without having to worry about anything going on underneath and that should be done comfortably in a place where everything just works. It's often funny to see someone using their pre-Windows 8 computer for small tasks, only for them to become baffled by something normal to us but totally jarring to anyone who doesn't understand computers. For example, I've seen people who're browsing the web with a bunch of other windows that they don't know are open on the screen and, when they accidentally click on them, they get shocked when it jumps in front of their browser.
There will be some professional apps for Metro, of course, but only ones that suit it. Apps that can get away with the full screen environment - like a trimmed down version of Word, OneNote, that slideshow application recently shown at the WPC, and probably much more - but the desktop won't die because there's always going to be that need for a windowed environment.
Essentially, Windows 8 is for everyone. Like a lot of people, I don't just use my computer for the casual activities Metro is made for. I will also happily use my computer for activities I need the windowed desktop for and I want to be able to do all of that on the same computer, comfortably switching when I choose.
I think the Surface is a perfect representation of this. It is a tablet for when you're working normally but, when you want to buckle down and do some work with it, you seamlessly attach the keyboard and kick out the stand and, as far as I can tell, it's great in both situations just as Windows 8 is.
Just to add. this is the first time I've ever actually shown a full blown piece of opinion writing. If it's awful, please let me know.