Why, Windows 8…why?

Why Windows 8? Why?!!!!

In recent years Apple has risen to prominence by essentially inventing, or at least popularizing, the smart phone.  One interesting development to come out of the Smart Phone revolution was the iPhone operating system, called iOS.  Android essentially copied it and Microsoft went a long way to NOT copy it, inventing the Windows Phone OS.  As the popularity of iOS grew and the iTunes store turned out to be a great platform to centralize software sales, Apple decided to move towards unifying their desktop and phone operating systems.

Users of OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, the last two Apple desktop OSs, can attest that Apple made a definite effort to make the two operating systems look, work and feel as alike as possible.  This has led to some criticism from Apple users since working with a mouse and using multi-touch gesture on a touch screen are very different experiences.

When Microsoft was developing the Windows Phone they put a lot of thought into an interface that wasn’t just a bunch of icons on a screen. They decided to use tiles instead.  The design move later migrated to the XBOX 360 as the new “Metro User Interface” replacing the original XBOX user experience.  On an XBOX 360 Metro was fine. Perhaps a little more focused on pushing options to the user, since the actual gaming experience didn’t change, I didn’t find it an unpleasant transition.  And of course, if you look and dig just a little, you find the remnants of the older interface “under the hood” of the Metro UI.

Microsoft then tried to follow Apple’s lead by integrating the Metro UI into Windows 8.  They did this because Windows 8 had to straddle the two worlds of Desktop and Tablet hardware.  Tablets are like big smart phones.  You use multi-touch gestures to operate the device and innovative ways to access menus, etc… this is necessary since you don’t have a keyboard or mouse.

Which brings us to Windows 8.  Microsoft has a habit of changing their products drastically from one release to another, often forcing the user to re-learn their software. Users of Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010 will remember the first time they saw The Ribbon… and couldn’t find anything they needed on it.

The Metro Interface is like The Ribbon except for your entire Computer OS instead of just MS Office. In the name of bringing the Windows Desktop and Windows Phone user experience in line, Microsoft has changed the Windows user experience quite a bit.

Someone with good computer skills may spend a few minutes figuring out the myriad ways to use (or minimize entirely) the Metro interface.  But for the average user it will be a drastically new experience with NOTHING where it was in Windows 7, unless you know how to get under the hood.  You see, if you look closely at Windows 8, past the flash and animated tiles, you will find most of Windows 7 underneath, but none of it is easy to find and I found myself making new short cuts once I had finally found the Control Panel, for instance. The menus, coming from a Tablet environment, seem arbitrary and random on a desktop and the lack of multi-touch on (most) desktops means that ‘intuitive’ becomes ‘counter intuitive’ for many users. For instance, Windows 8 uses ‘hot spots’, special areas of the screen (usually corners) that you click on to bring up hidden menus.  Are those hot spots obvious? No.  The Start Menu? Gone.  The entire experience feels like showing up for the job you have had for five years and finding the front door missing and no indication of how to get into the building.

To address this, some software writers have developed software to replace the Metro UI, remove the ‘hot spots” and restore the Start Menu.  For specific instructions on how to wrangle Windows 8 into some recognizable form I refer you to this article on the excellent CNET site.