Microsoft, please continue to reconsider the Windows 8 design. /rant
Windows 8 is a huge departure from its predecessor. Initially, I was very optimistic about the concepts behind it. Microsoft would be unifying the look of their products, and would have a all-one answer to tablets and computers.
After trying it though, I found myself reverting back to Windows 7. I don't follow the sales figures closely enough, but the intuition I'm getting from those around me, on blogs and articles, and from my own IT management, telling me to image Windows 7 over on new Windows 8 machines, tells me I'm not alone with my preference. I do see a the same optimism for Windows 8 from time to time, but its clear to me that its controversial.
I go to school for psychology and computer science, so to me, user experience is everything. Marketing is important, but UX is a crucial and underrated element behind successful electronic sales. The emotions you have when interacting with a device will shape your opinions about it, and by extension, what you recommend to your friends. And the same principle happens behind reviews of a device: if the reviewers are feeling positive when using the device, the better the review, and collectively, the better the reception, and eventually, the better the reputation. That's really what it boils down to! Everything I have say below runs on this philosophy.
Like many, and like Microsoft is catching onto, my biggest problem is that Windows 8 definitely feels like a dual UI system-- an operating system running both a interface for touchscreen (tablets), and desktops. Microsoft initially placed access to the desktop UI through the modern UI, making it feel as if it were just an app. They eventually allowed ways around this, making it so you can boot directly into the desktop UI. But its my understanding that the "Start" page (menu?) still minimizes the desktop into a tile on the start menu.
Now, I believe that really patronizes the desktop and its functionality. Many of us have been exposed to smartphones and tablets for years now, and its been standard that clicking on an icon or tile will open an app, much like clicking on an icon on a computer opens a "program." To me, making the desktop accessible this way implies that it is an app, and is no more significant than the twitter app, whose tile I maximized all the way. Despite this, a myriad of software lives on the desktop UI.
It is also obviously jarring when you open an app in the "wrong UI," or in other words, when you open a desktop app in the start menu, or a modern app on the desktop. I feel like I'm being tugged around.
And the last big issue is the experience of this modern UI on a device without a touchscreen. It is a very pleasant design behind your finger tips, but I've been frustrated using it with a mouse and keyboard (perhaps being an impatient human being, I just know I can get around quicker if I had a touchscreen). The modern apps are especially frustrating... but I think its acceptable for developers to produce more touchscreen-heavy apps since desktop users could simply choose not to use or install them. It's really the general navigation of the OS that needs the mindfulness on both users.
It's clear that there's a lot about Windows 7 that users want to hold onto, yet the old Windows model is too stale and not suited for tablets. I think the Modern UI is actually a pretty awesome environment to compete with i(Pad)OS and Android.
On the hand, I like that Microsoft brought back the start menu, allowed the same wallpaper between Start and desktop, and enabled booting into the desktop. I'm also pleased to hear rumors of a returning start menu.
So what's the best option? Simply, I think if Microsoft intends to package their traditional desktop environment in their OS and pitch Windows 8 as the newest of the Windows we've known for years, they have to stop this "patronizing" of the desktop environment. Prioritizing the modern UI might feel more right for a tablet, but a user on a desktop will notice that their OS changed dramatically on device that is more or less the same (the computer). The traditional desktop needs to be highlighted again.
Instead of the desktop being contained in the Start page, like an app, I'd like it to exist side by side with the start page. Why not have the desktop UI exist above the Start page, and clicking the keyboard Windows button will have the page slide up the bottom of the screen? Or on tablet, you could even drag the Windows taskbar up on the desktop with your finger to get to the start page. Think of the start page appearing like Control Center does on iOS (maybe quick controls could be integrated into the start menu too somehow, but that's a different story).
Assuming the taskbar lives at the bottom of the desktop screen, maybe it could even become the status bar for the Start page and fullscreen modern apps, providing quick multitasking, basic information, and a divide and access to the desktop that's always available.
In addition, the desktop start button could provide a sort of "preview" of the start page designed like the tradition start menu, sort of like in this article (which got me thinking about all this in the first place):
I was very impressed by the idea of this design. I hope that Microsoft continues to improve, or rather bring back, their priority of the desktop. Really, the modern interface is the new thing they brought into the picture, and I guess it wasn't without cause that Windows 8 emphasized its new ideas the way it has thus far; many people will know about the new functionality by now, even if they learned the hard way.
Another thing, Mac OS X continues to be a solid OS for a desktop. I think there are a lot of ways Microsoft can innovate the desktop environment and compete with OS X as they have historically, though now, it seems there is a lot focus on competing with iOS and Android instead. What about all the cool features (like multiple desktop sessions) in Mission Control on OSX, Microsoft? Have you thought about answering that?
All of these ideas might sound ambitious, but I am hoping that Windows 8.2 brings some environment changes, and more robust navigation for users across the devices. Let's see the desktop reign again. Let's see the sun shine through the clouds like we did when 7 came out after Vista.