Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review of Windows 8 for the Desktop and Laptop

I moved from the Customer Preview to the Release Preview, and it has turned me off Windows 8 in many ways. I presumed that there would be significant improvements from the Customer Preview to the Release Preview, but there are hardly any. It looks like the Customer Preview was basically the finished interface.

I love the speed, visuals, freshness, and file manager. In fact, I was ecstatic when I first played with the Customer Preview.  It's just that weaknesses in the Charms bar, Metro apps, and the Start screen have not been fixed in the Release Preview, and it makes this OS feel transitional and half-baked. I hate that. It means another 3 years of limbo.

By now, MS should have made the perfect Desktop/Laptop operating system, but they have given up on that in the pursuit of regaining market share in other categories. And in the process they are alienating Desktop and Laptop users. Computers are such a big part of my life that I want the OS to be good. I'd happily pay $500 for a great OS for 3 years.

Regardless, I was unhappy with the old Start button. It felt clumsy and graceless as an object. It was like squeezing through a narrow corridor to get to a shambolic filing cabinet. It really was a hopeless mess - small writing, small arrows, having programs in folders below individual icons, and having a mix of recent and pinned programs. And I didn't like the layout of the more administrative links in the other half of the Start menu. It all just felt old and clunky. So I think it needed to be changed, so long as that change was an intuitive evolution.

At first, the Start screen looked to me to be a wonderful solution. It's bigger, prettier, graceful, speedy, and customisable. However, it is primarily designed for Tablets and Phones, so it simultaneously reduces functionality for keyboard and mouse users. This is true in so many obvious ways that I won't bother listing them all. One clear example is that when you right-click a tile, instead of being given a contextual menu of many functions, you have to mouse down to the bottom left of the screen to access a few limited functions. The Charms bar is completely for Tablets and Phones, so it's just an irritation on the Desktop/Laptop. Likewise for Metro apps - they don't give me anything that websites don't already give in a much more controllable fashion.

Unfortunately, Microsoft's probable solution for Desktop/Laptop users will be merely to bring back the Start button in the final version of Windows 8. Thus, Desktop/Laptop users will be stuck with the clumsy old system for at least another 3 years.

Already, I'm looking ahead to Windows 9. If it has a Desktop/Laptop version for the Start screen that implements all the functionality of the Start button, and adds improvements, then it could be great. But it would have to be brilliantly done. And they have to do something about the Charms bar too - probably turn it off for Desktops/Laptops and put its functions on the Start screen.

As it stands, W8 is a weird and annoying limbo experience for this Desktop/Laptop user. It's like having a Tablet/Phone operating system intruding on your computer. I suspect it will not be ideal as a Tablet/Phone system either. So it feels like an experiment gone wrong, like Frankenstein's Monster. I hate being subjected to experiments in this way. Microsoft has a social responsibility to do better than this.

If Microsoft bring back the Start button and turn off the Charms bar for Windows 8, then I would enjoy the improved speed, visuals, freshness, and file manager. It would be a nice upgrade from Windows 7, but nothing dramatic, so it would have to be cheap too. But if you have to stick with the Charms bar and a compromised Start screen, then I think I would skip it. Third Party solutions might pop up, but it's risky using them for core OS functionality.

Anyway, that's my take on Windows 8. What do you reckon?

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