Windows 8: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


I installed the release bits for Windows 8 in August, so I wanted to take some time to give my feedback on what I think about Windows 8, now that I have had time to get used to it. I would say it is a bit of a love hate relationship. On one hand, I love the quick response to the keyboard and I don’t miss the start menu much (there are some exceptions). On the other, there are times it can get downright annoying and aggravating.

If I were to sum it up in a word, the word would be schizophrenic (others have suggested bipolar). On one hand, you have the new Modern UI, which is probably ideal for installs on tablets, and then you have the standard windows. The problem is the two seem like night and day as you switch back and forth between them. Once “everything” is in modern UI?

I will post something about Office 2013 (semi-Windows 8 feeling) in a separate post.

Good – Keyboard Driven (Touch Driven for Tablet)

For those with tablet, touch driven is probably the better experience, but I am on a notebook, so being able to quickly drive from the keyboard, without using a mouse, is an ideal experience. Microsoft attempted this with Windows 7, but the indexing of applications was not optimal, so it often took time to find the right application. With Windows 8, I hit the windows key and start typing in the application name. For example, to start Photoshop, I only need to type in ph before Windows has isolated it as the main application. This is 4 keystrokes: windows key, p, h and then enter.

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With this feature alone, I really don’t miss the start menu, at least most of the time.

I have focused on keyboard here, as I have a notebook. While playing with the tablet, I found the touch driven paradigm is even better, as you can use gestures to open the various menus rather than focus on hovering in the correct place. I am torn on whether a tablet is in my future, since I already have a nook to fill that void, but I see the tablet as a viable option. In fact, I see the tablet as the most viable option, as Windows 8 is more focused on the touch driven paradigm.

Good – Response

Windows 8 is much faster than Windows 7. Programs load faster. And when you are using properly designed applications for Windows 8, so much more is done in the background, leading to a much more responsive user interface. Please note that newer Microsoft programs are doing this as well (Visual Studio comes to mind), so you will see more and more focus in this direction.

Good – Windows Store

There is not enough in the store yet, compared to Apple’s store, but it is nice to finally have a no nonsense, non-complicated way to set up a program and get it running. Thus far I have used it more for games (many of which my children found online), but I can see a lot of potential in having a store on the desktop. Fortunately, all of the applications in the store are Modern UI, so the fit in without the schizophrenic desktop (see the ugly).

Good – New Task Manager (and more)

Not only cleaner, but more functionality. I mean, just look at this baby:

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Everything is nicely laid out and you have more information on each screen. And I just lost any non-geeks who came to this page because they found it in a Google search (I would say Bing search, but despite being a Microsoft MVP, I find it hard to find my content in Bing – In fact, I generally get pissed off when I accidentally use Bing on a browser that is still defaulted to Bing and end up typing in www.google.com and finding what I need – wow, did I really just have an ADHD moment and start ranting about Bing – sounds like a blog topic).

For those who are non-geeks, one of the best uses of the Task Manager, from your perspective, is to kill a pesky application that has hung. Hopefully that is very rare, but there are still some application vendors that have applications that do not play well with Windows. I do not generally recommend using this option as a way to shut down an application (the close button is a better option, or exit menu choice), but I will say I do kill some programs this way (Visual Studio comes to mind at times) as winding the program down takes too long. Fast machines often lead people to be impatient (okay, not people, just me).

One thing I don’t like is the new App history tab, but that is only because I just looked at it and found I have spent over 3 hours playing Jetpack Joyride. Actually I do like this tab, as you can see your CPU and networking use. The startup tab is also nice, as you can disable start up programs rather quickly and users is useful on the multi-user home scenarios. Speaking of …

Good – Multiple Users

The multi-user scenario is much nicer in Windows 8. As proof, I don’t hear as much complaining about one of my daughters using another daughter’s game. In Windows 7, the switch was clunky enough they would often just pick up the machine and start playing on their sister’s still open account. With Windows 8, they are more prone to switch users.

Good – Windows Live Account Synchronization

This is bigger than just Windows 8, so I will warn you I may go on for a bit. When I first installed Windows 8, I did not link to my Windows Live account. As Microsoft got closer to RTM (release to manufacturing, or the final version), I finally agreed to try it. And I love this.

When you use your live account for your login, the Modern UI bits are automatically linked in. This means you get messages from any service you have linked into. Since I already have Windows Phone, I have already linked in Facebook and Twitter, so Windows 8 automatically pulled in my contacts and I can get my messages from all of the linked sites in one place. That may not sound like much, but it gets better when you get out of Windows 8.

Using Office 2013, Windows Live synchronization allows you to keep your documents on the cloud, via SkyDrive. I have used previous Microsoft solutions in this area, like LiveMesh (and groove, although it is more of a synchronization of files than storage – not enough time to cover this now). This is an Office feature, of course, but it should be seen as a direction. Microsoft IS moving to the cloud and you should consider embracing it, as it  does make your life easier.

Back to Windows 8. One nice thing about this synchronization is you can keep your Windows 8 look and feel wherever you go. Yes, this is a bit minor, but I think other things will come of this. Suppose you have a personal computer and a family computer. If you set up one to the look and feel you like, and use Windows Live accounts, you will find the changes when you log into another computer. Today, this is likely your kids computer (or a shared family computer), but tomorrow it might be at the library. And I see even more potential as we become more cloud centric.

Not everyone will like this feature and my advice would be to not link your live account. You can always do it later. I would also suggest, with Office, being a bit careful where you store your documents if you are worried they might be snooped on the cloud. I find this unlikely for a variety of reasons, but some people have a lower paranoia threshold than I do.

I see some room for improvement here to allow other types of accounts, as some users will not want to use live, but it is not a huge deal for me.

Good and Bad – Modern UI

Overall, I like the clean look of “Modern UI” and I have gotten used to the lack of menus (not really lack, but the application fills the whole screen and you rely on items like the “charms menu” to access certain functionality. And it is rather nice to have the full screen experience. But (a big BUT), it takes a lot of time to get used to. I am not adverse to change, but realize you will probably hate it before you like it if you have ever used a computer before.

Modern UI is clean and gets you focused on the task at hand, which is good. You use the entire screen. But you can’t stack programs, as you can in the desktop mode. I don’t find this to be a huge problem overall, but I do find myself tapping the windows key a lot when I am in Modern UI applications and the start menu. This, unfortunately, leads me to keep the Modern UI for less serious things, like playing games. Almost said reading news, which I do in the Modern UI, but I am more likely to hit a news site in Firefox.

On a touch device, this is probably less of an issue and it can all go to good rather quickly.

Bad – Internet Exploder 10

Yes, I just called it exploder, because that is what I find it doing more often than any previous version. YouTube blows up so regularly, I have opted to use Firefox. Microsoft has also disabled some third party functionality for security reasons (security is a good thing, but I think driving people to other browsers is the likely outcome). I still use IE, but I am finding it less and less of a friend. At this point we are still frenemies, but I find myself severing ties on a regular basis.

This is bad, since IE has been my primary browser for a long time. Other than surfing for fun, I find the Modern UI version to really suck bad. It ticks me off that it is not easy to get back to the address bar (I don’t have touch on this notebook), so I will open it up in desktop mode and then it will crash. Perhaps I should explore if there are easy ways around this, like keystrokes, but I have just given up on the damned thing. I don’t think I have opened Internet Explorer in Modern UI in weeks. It is open right now because I have been too sentimental, or lazy, to go to control panel and make Firefox my primary browser.

Okay, so this is not exactly Windows 8, but a program in Windows 8, but it is a big enough thorn for me to notice it.

Bad – Program Compatibility

This has been a bane for me in many ways. My company does a lot of meetings on WebEx, and the WebEx client will not run on Windows 8. This means I am now setting up a virtual machine for Windows 7, just so I can attend meetings. Sounds good, but I had issues using Hyper-V to set up the virtual machine and found that VMWare would not install when Hyper-V is installed (by default in Windows Ultimate). Yes, this is a bit of a rant, but I have found a few other programs that are not sterling.

It seems like many of the manufacturers of non-Windows store applications have not upgraded to be compatible with Windows 8, which is a bit of a pain.

This should not be an issue for most home users, however, so it is not a complete negative.

Bad – When You Would Be Better Served with the Start Menu

Yes, I am back on the topic of the start menu. While keyboard driven is nice, there are times it would be nice to have a real start menu. To understand why, this is the start menu in Windows 8.

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Due to the number of programs I have installed, the screen scrolls about 3-4 screens across. Not a big deal, overall, but once I am off of the main screen, all I see is a bunch of ungrouped icons, as shown below:

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This is not a huge problem with most programs, as typing finds them. But I had an issue with setting up a new profile in Outlook (for work). I can’t type profile to get to this functionality. I can’t right click the Outlook icon, as I could in previous versions of windows (as that gives me the option to pin and not much more), so I had to open control panel, search for mail and set up the profile. That is a pain. There are other programs that are non optimized, as well, and it would be nice to have a start menu for when you get stuck.

Admittedly, most of this is probably functionality the normal home user does not use, so it is not a big deal for the masses. It is also functionality I rarely use, so I am not overly concerned. But when I need to find a program, it would be nice to have something like a start menu, with applications organized by installing application, so I can quickly find what I need.

There is a registry hack to go back to desktop, but I don’t think it is a good option, as you lose the benefits of the Modern UI start screen. You essentially revert to a faster Windows 7 if you registry hack your machine. I am currently investigating third party options and I am going to carefully choose one that allows me the benefits of the new while using the old in cases where the new really sucks.

Bad – Multi-monitor

Windows 8 works fine with multi-monitors, overall, but there are some gotchas. First, only one of the monitors moves into Modern UI. This is actually a plus in most ways, but it feels funky seeing two different UIs side by side. One thing that is a bit painful is the slide out menus, like the charms menu.The problem is the slide out menus are available on every monitor, so an accidental hover near the seem (where the file menu is on so many programs, or the shutdown red X-ed box on the other side) you end up pulling up a menu and often end up opening programs unintentionally. This conflicts with the “don’t make me think” rule of user interfaces.

Actually, this feature is present on a single monitor, as well, although I don’t find myself hitting either the “open program menu” (upper left) or the “charms menu” (upper right) that often on a single monitor. It is more common when I am near the seem between the monitors.

The problem is exacerbated when I stick the new Office applications on the right most monitor. The File menu is now down the side (very touch oriented?):

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But so is the running programs menu:
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And the later completely covers the former. This happens if you hover too close to the top, right where the key to return to the main ribbon bar sits (the arrow with the circle), and it is quite easy to then pull down and see the entire menu, as shown below:

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This problem is largely caused by having two OS user interfaces in one OS. Which gets us to “the ugly”.

Ugly – The Schizophrenic User Interface

The Windows 8 start menu is rather useful, especially for those who spend their time in email, on social sites, and the like. The apps you need to use for this type of functionality are prominently displayed front and center when you start up. And, as long as the application is designed for Windows 8 (aka modern UI, formerly known as Metro), there is no big deal.

But, when you start an application that is not Modern UI, you end up opening a window that looks like Windows 7, sans the start menu. You then end up using the Windows key to navigate back and forth between the new UI, or using the running programs menu, or similar. This could be okay, but only modern UI applications appear in the running programs menu on the left side of the screen (as is shown in one of the screen caps in the last section), so I have to switch back to desktop. BTW, this is one area where multiple monitors makes things easier, as only one monitor at a time has the Windows 8 Modern UI look, as shown below (my notebook screen is on the left and my monitor on the right).

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All I have to do is click on the right screen when the Windows 8 start menu is up and I will get a Windows 7 look and feel and be able to access my non-Modern UI programs. If I have a Modern UI application open and do not click on the other monitor, I have to hit the Windows key and then click on the icon for the desktop (bottom left in the first grouping of icons in the screenshot above) or use the running programs menu and go all the way to the bottom left. Apparently desktop is a third class citizen, so it is always the farthest away (not a problem with touch, I would assume).

Summary

Overall, I find Windows 8 to be a good experience, although I will admit I wanted to shoot the Windows 8 team when I first started with it (I am over that now and have some joy in my heart). I now have no intention on going back. I would like to see a few of the items altered or even fixed. Here is my list (not exhaustive, as I am sure I can come up with more):

  • Fix Internet Explorer or you will completely lose market share (of course, since browsers are not direct money makers, this might not be a big deal?). I also think fixing Bing is in order, as it really ticks me off, but that is a topic for another day.
  • Find a way to make the schizophrenic desktop a bit less jarring. My computer should not feel like it has a split personality.
  • Explore options other than swipes for those of us who are touch challenged. This primarily applies to Internet Explorer today, but I am sure I will find other programs that hide stuff from me and have options that make it much easier to swipe (or perhaps only allow swiping).
    Peace and Grace,
    Greg
    Twitter: @gbworld
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One Response to Windows 8: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  1. Pingback: Windows 8 Start Menu « Stop Making Sense

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