Windows 8 so far

I’ve been using Windows 8 on my Inspiron Duo for a few months and I thought I’d give a little review.

First off I’m a ‘Windows 8 Pro’ user, I have both WinRT (touch enabled) and ‘legacy’ desktop. I probably fit into an exact Microsoft persona for Windows 8, for leisure I switch my Dell into Tablet mode and happily move around in WinRT. For work time I use the desktop apps with Keyboard and ‘mouse’; Visual Studio, Office, etc. In general I’ve found living with both interfaces to be fine. I’m quite used to quickly switching between WinRT (Win key) and desktop (Win + D). Desktop mode is pretty much the same as Windows 7, the Charm bar in desktop mode has its pro’s and con’s. Whilst I like being able to get to the contextual menus quickly it does, occasionally, unexpectedly pop up when I’m just pointing at the edge of the screen. There are some additional quick menu’s for the mouse user. Right-click at the lower left brings up lots of goodies, such as, ‘Run Command Prompt as Administrator’…which is nice.

Using Windows 8 in WinRT is where Microsoft’s PR machine wants us to live. In general it’s nice. Navigation between the tiles is easy, the live tiles are nice…it’s good. However, it’s not perfect, the areas I would like to see improved are;

  1. Notification of application start-up failure – on the phone if you start an application and it fails to be responsive in a short time the OS kills it. That seems ok on the phone. When running WinRT on a Win Pro devices it feels wrong. I don’t expect to start apps to see them disappear, especially when the device is not running on batteries. I would like to see the kill-time extended when plugged in, and I would like the OS to tell me what/why it’s just killed the App
  2. Auto-hiding scrollbars. This is probably the most annoying problem with WinRT when using it with a mouse. You start scrolling and everything is fine. The scrollbar then vanishes are you’re left clicking empty space in a futile attempt to continue scrolling. You have to wiggle the mouse to bring the scrollbar back. Auto hiding needs to at least be an optional settings, preferably related to the device in use
  3. Quality of the pre-installed application. This one is a real shame. For me, People Hub and Mail are not very good. Mail needs a lot more support around junk mail and general rendering of html emails. The People Hub team just need to use a Windows Phone for 20 mins and learn how to do it properly. The experience is clumsy. Having to select individual destinations to post to is annoying. Having only one view of all streams is annoying, I like to have separate streams for Twitter than Facebook. Having said that, I do like the steam viewer. So come on Microsoft, the apps are not terrible but these are so important to the success (or not) of WinRT we really need some updates and QUICKLY!
  4. WinRT to Desktop interop. This is a real pain. Whilst I’ve no problem with quickly nipping into WinRT to have a quick look at the live tiles (it works well) I do want some of the information to be shown in desktop mode. For example, if I have a new email for work, I’d like to be notified on the desktop. As for having to run two versions of Skype…come on Microsoft, that is just crazy talk. I would suggest we need a set of interop services. The desktop system tray could easily respond to WinRT apps raising a specific type of event. I could see this offered as a bolt-on to the SDK. I think this is technically pretty easy to do and would give app developers and users a chance to make Windows 8 feel like a single integrated experience.

In this post I’ve complained about a few things, but I do really like Windows 8. As many people of said before, I really don’t want to go back to Windows 7 (which I liked). Using the Inspiron in tablet mode on the train is great. Sometimes I go back to my iPad, it’s better at games (my Dell is poor at graphical tasks), and the Twitter app used to be a lot better that trying to use the People hub – although now iOS twitter is grim to use too. Overall I find myself reaching for my Dell more and more. It maybe that Win8 cheats to provide rocket fast start up, but I really don’t care how it does it. All I know is that the iPad is great because it’s always ready to work (or used to until after some terrible OS updates) but now so is my Dell. However, try and run Visual Studio on an iPad, even if you do (via another machine) not having a mouse really makes for a poor experience. With Windows 8 I have both worlds, and I like to being able to inhabit both with one device.

So well done Microsoft…now fix a couple of glaring problems and I’ll be happy.

I hate Windows 8…or do I?

I was fortunate enough to win a Dell Inspiron Duo. A little low-powered netbook with the dubious benefit of having a flip-top touch screen. Pretty useless really. So when Windows 8 Developer preview was released I thought it was the perfect match; it was pretty good. In desktop mode I could carry out my work related tasks, in Metro mode use it as a very basic tablet – at that time there were next to zero Metro apps. So when Windows 8 Consumer preview was released I eagerly installed it, knowing that the earlier tablet focus will have been redressed by improvements to the desktop variant. I installed it and was initially furious.

Metro aka Windows Tablet?

One you have logged on you are presented with the Metro interface. Now this is where my blood started to boil. Now I  like Metro, at least I love it on the phone. I can see the point of it on a tablet. I can just about cope with it on the XBox with Kinect. Where I just do not understand it is for a desktop PC. Let’s face, using Metro with a mouse is a poor experience. Like it or not mice are designed for vertical scrolling, it just doesn’t translate well to Metro. Add to the this that certification for Metro apps includes ‘finger size’ controls and there is nothing I’ve seen so far that has done anything to make me think Metro isn’t simply a tablet UI. So let’s take a look at the desktop.

Windows 8 Desktop, erm

My working life is going to be in the Windows desktop, both for me and some extent my customers too. So I select ‘desktop’ and I’m faced with Windows 7. But wait, no start button. How can I find my apps? Naturally my mouse gravitates to where the Start button should  be and I’m sent back to Metro. Hmm. Not what I would consider intuitive. So it looks like a desktop but actually to launch anything I have to go via Metro. That is really clunky. Enough of all this, my Dell has two finger gestures and it’s not working so before I go on I must install a driver. Now, first to check Control Panel to see if it has already been installed but switched off. Ok Start->Control Panel. Argh, no Start. Hmm. After some flapping around I discover the app search mechanism. Yes, after 20  years of the UI I’m back to a glorified DOS UI but with a pretty intellisense style search. Ok, now this doesn’t really bother me as I often just use Start->[Type in Name of App] in Windows 7, so I can’t really throw any mud here.

After a while, with plentiful use of the Windows key, I manage to get my Dell running almost correctly (orientation sensor isn’t working). However, now when I open Metro I’m faced with a shotgun splattered UI.


So what’s wrong with that? Here’s what I think.

What is Metro?

To explain why I got upset about this release you need to understand that I do like Metro, at least what I believe Metro to be. The principals behind it are, to be an easy way to see the information you need…just like the signs at the Metro (although the Metro Paris isn’t exactly a primary example of this idea). So when I open my Windows Phone I get pretty much all the important information. If I wait a second or two the information changes to show other contextual information, great. So how is it that different on Windows 8? Noise. When you’re navigating a public area, such as an airport, metro station, etc, the signs showing you the route through are clear. When I open my Windows Phone the information I want is there, clearly separated Why, because the real-estate only allows for a small number of ‘signs’ or in this case ‘tiles’. When I open MetroTablet I get far more tiles. If I start to scroll I get more tiles, in fact anything I touch ends up as tiles (see previous screenshot). IT’S NOISY. Stop shouting at me Metro. It’s akin to walking into the tube station and having every tube route sign added to the walls with no favouring of the routes from that station. You’ve lost the reader, and therefore the whole point. So I’ve established I’m angry at Metro, but how did we get here. Here is my guess…

Personas vs. Agile vs. Apple

Microsoft have been faced with an obvious problem of losing market share in the average home. Apple have had great success by building on their previous knowledge. IMO Apple owned the graphic design/publishing market even though their OS was obviously technically laughable with little to no multitasking. But still people used it, why? It’s my view that it was because people only really used one app at a time. There was little need for windows everywhere. I think Apple took that experience into OSX. Now with a proper grown up OS the user is still only shown about 5 apps in the in-your-face dock. The 5 apps they’re likely to use. Even though we have multitasking Apple are ‘restricting’ us to 5 apps. It works, and it works well. I hate it. I have apps crawling out the wood work, the dock is next to useless to me and the app explorer/manager is just painful. But I know I’m in the minority so why should Apple care?

Obviously Apple have made a great deal of money from iOS and Microsoft want to claw that back and originally I liked Microsoft’s approach, let’s have a unified OS rather that WinPhoneTablet. As much as I enjoy the iPad (or did before the terrible update of iOS5) I can’t do anything really useful with it. The idea of switching between tablet and desktop is very appealing to me.

So faced with these ‘facts’ it would seem the solution of Windows 8 is a good one, Metro presents the 5 apps you need and desktop lets you do your grey suit work. Great. However…

Microsoft use persona’s and they use agile techniques. Nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s gone wrong for MS. When Windows Phone 7 was released Microsoft pushed their main persona into the public. The 20-30 something who works all day in an office and wants to keep up with their social world but doesn’t have the time to spare opening lots of apps…they’ve got people to meet. That was the only persona, after-all you should deliver small chunks of value so using one persona is a way to do that right? Immediately I thought that was a secondary persona. I became more convinced of this when a Microsoft employee stated that, “young people didn’t buy phones…they don’t have the money to spend on them”. If you ever needed proof MS didn’t get the phone market that was it. However, the basic design idea of Metro holds true regardless of the persona, so the only negative impact of the phone’s persona was the worlds worst marketing campaign. But what has this got to do with Windows 8?

I believe the team have looked at these issues and created the persona of the home user who will have a tablet (a new tablet, you should try Windows 8 on a tablet without a Windows button – tough), and will occasionally use one of those ‘legacy’ applications. Otherwise they’ll use only the ‘5 apps’ they see at the start screen. That’s it, no other possible personas. Therefore we have an OS that is only practical for users that; a) have a new tablet b) only use a few apps. So what about me with my huge monitor (I wish), my vast number of apps all open and viewed at the same time, my tablet without a dedicated Windows button and no ability to select the lower left point? What about ME?

So I hate Windows 8?

After I climbed down from my high horse I decided to write this blog entry. I’ve written it because I realised that I am probably not your typical user. I’ve grown up with computers and have a lot of assumptions built in, e.g. “you scroll up and down, horizontal scrolling is horrible”, “I need a tree UI to find my apps”, etc. So considering the mass market out there Windows 8 doesn’t look so bad. Sure, as a friend rightly pointed out it, it does need cues to help the user find all the “weird” hot points that make it easier to use but perhaps a new user, or an soon-to-be-ex-Apple user (yeah ok), will find it intuitive?

I have my doubts about Windows 8, I can see the goal but I just hope someone dusts off the desktop persona otherwise I fear Windows will be consigned to the leisure market for ever more. I hope ‘consumer preview’ implies there is a ‘business/pro preview’ in the wings…I hope.

So to sum up, I actually like much of Windows 8; the prospect of running Windows 7 on low powered devices is great. I just hope someone takes a long look at the Metro/desktop integration for pro users.

[edit] looks like I’m not the only one