When things change, people get unhappy. Except fan boys of course, but that’s to be expected. Microsoft are launching a new OS soon, and the tech blogosphere seems to love hating on Windows 8’s new Metro UI. I don’t understand why.
First I need to clear some things up. I am not a Microsoft fan boy. In fact, I am very much an open source geek, and ex-Desktop Linux enthusiast. I still love Linux, it just doesn’t like me, my profession or my hardware. I do love Android, and think Windows Phone is bland and ugly. Windows 8 doesn’t particularly appeal to me visually ( like Ubuntu 12.04 does ), but practically, I think they’re catching up big time. I feel like i can say this with confidence, as I’ve been using Windows 8 for the last 6 months as my primary work OS. Windows 8 comes with a large bevy of improvements, including (finally) a much better copy dialog that stacks with other copy dialogs and has a pause button, improved Windows Explorer with a ribbon menu that doesn’t suck, ridiculously fast boot times especially with UEFI ( which I’m not sure I agree with on a moral ground ) and much better performance and memory usage, improved default app handling and notifications. And then there’s Metro.
There are many articles expressing hatred for the Metro UI, often with tricks of how to get your start menu back. The problem with almost all these articles is that I can’t seem to see a solid reason for the dislike of it as start menu replacement. On a touch device, most bloggers seem to agree that Metro is great. And I have used it on a touch device regularly and it’s great. Snapping – the ability to run 2 windows docked side-by-side, one at 30% one at 70% – seems like a feature iOS and Android could do with. I could really see the use in having my chat window open on the side while reading my feeds or playing a game. The share and settings charms provide consistent, context based sharing & settings, and developers can register their apps for types of content. Overall, a good user experience.
That said, I don’t see myself using Metro apps on the desktop. Because that’s not what they’re intended for. Metro apps are for touch interfaces. Many next-gen ultrabooks will ship with touch screens, so that’s something that Windows 8 is built for. For hardcore desktop users, there’s still traditional apps with full desktop support. Removing it in favor of the clunky old start menu is, in my opinion, just going to far.
My main reason for writing this post, is that i think the Metro dashboard is arguably the best replacement for the traditional menu system i’ve seen so far – with Ubuntu’s latest Unity shell being the counter. Windows 7 introduced the pinned apps to the taskbar. This is something that initially i hated, but after using it, realised that it was Apple’s dock done right. You always know how many windows of that app you have open, and it replaces quicklaunch for the apps you actually use. If there’s something you need that’s not in there, hit Windows key and type. That’s how people work, right? At least that’s how I work in Windows 7.
Windows 8 takes this last bit a step further. Your start menu is now full screen, and centered around your keyboard. You simply hit the windows button and type. You navigate with your arrow and tab keys. You can instantly find control panel settings ( Metro and desktop ), apps ( Metro and dekstop ), and files that are in your libraries. Hit enter, and it launches your selection. Everything is navigable by keyboard. And yet almost every single blog has gone on about how it sucks for the pc. Rather than learn a bunch of obscure Windows shortcuts, you can now get any app, file, or setting open with the Windows key. Why would you – especially as a developer – not want this? It’s just as good as the current iteration of Unity, Ubuntu’s desktop shell. If only Microsoft added the functionality to get menu items with the keyboard!
I think people need to spend some time with Windows 8, use it on the desktop for day-to-day usage instead of messing around for 20 minutes and then ranting about why it’s unusable for PCs. Sure, it took me a day or two of adapting to the new way but once the mindset of Win+”what i want” was there, i struggled to go back to my Windows 7 home PC. A colleague of mine is running it on his primary home PC as well as his work PC. The only reason I haven’t upgraded at home is because I don’t want to reinstall when it’s actually released.
Windows 7 is a good, solid OS, but Windows 8 outdoes it by far. For touch devices, Metro apps and the Metro UI is good. I don’t like the visuals, but from a usability and developer perspective, it’s really solid. For desktop devices, the Metro dashboard is a more capable, super slick, lightning fast start menu replacement. I see the best of both worlds here, ready for dual input devices like some new Ultrabooks, and Transformer type tablets. If i’m missing something obvious, please tell me. Because i really don’t see what people dislike.