8 reasons why Windows 8 may not be ready for the desktop

Microsoft recently released the beta version of Windows 8, and there’s been much early praise, particularly for how well it’s designed to run on tablets and smartphones. But how does this early version work as a traditional desktop/notebook OS?

Because an obvious question is why Microsoft elected to position Windows 8 for tablets instead of refactoring Windows Phone 7 (their smartphone OS) for mobile devices, similar to how Apple has OS X and iOS platforms.

The answer is most likely that Microsoft hopes to leverage Windows, which has the commanding OS market share, to try to break into the tablet space dominated by iOS. But at what cost does this come for those of us who use Windows on a traditional desktop or notebook?

1. The familiar Start button is gone

Just prior to the launch of the Consumer Preview, Microsoft declared that the Start button would be removed from Windows 8. Literally, that’s true, but the button’s essential purpose remains. Under Desktop mode (the GUI which looks and works mostly still like the classic Windows desktop you’re familiar with), you move the pointer to the left corner of the screen, and a thumbnail of the Start Metro panel opens up. (The Start Metro panel is basically the new Start Menu for Windows 8.) So the Start button still exists, though in a “ghost” form. But when Windows 8 is used on a traditional desktop or notebook computer, we wonder if its absence in Desktop may confound the uninitiated.

2. Metro UI not optimized for traditional Windows apps

In Windows 8, the Start Metro panel replaces the old Start Menu. The new UI favors touchscreen interactivity, which comes off as a bit too glossy for use on a traditional desktop/notebook.

An app or program listed on the Metro UI is a shortcut depicted as either a rectangle or square with an icon or thumbnail preview. We prefer setting most of these to squares in order to maximize the usage of screen space. Other apps in the Metro UI are widgets (like what you see on a smartphone or tablet) that show you data within its panel, such as weather information, stock quotes, or social networking notifications. So these tend to display better as rectangles.

3. Full-screen lock-in

Apps specifically designed for the Metro UI are displayed full-screen. You can’t re-size or minimize the running program -- thus, a little ironically, Windows 8 is starting to move away from the windowing GUI concept. For tablets and smart TVs, we can understand the full-screen mode requirement, which helps simplify things and ensures the user’s focus on the immediate program at hand. However, under a traditional desktop/notebook setup, this can feel constraining.

4. Two multitasking environments can get confusing

Because of the full-screen mode of the Metro UI, there’s a new multi-task switcher for jumping between two or more apps/programs. You point to the upper-left corner of the Metro Start panel, or Metro app, and a sidebar opens on the left side of the screen which shows thumbnails of all the active programs running under Metro. Click a thumbnail to jump to the program. Under a desktop/notebook setup, we don’t feel this works as an effective way to move among programs quickly, and to keep your eye on open, running programs at a glance.

Now here’s where things can get confusing: Multitasking under the “classic” Desktop mode not only works the traditional way, it and the Metro multi-task switcher work independently of one another.

5. Too much side-swiping

It looks like Microsoft in recent years has developed a fixation on designing UIs where the user has to do a lot of swiping side-to-side. The Start Metro panel in its default setting is laid out unnecessarily in a wide horizontal fashion, with an emphasis on rectangles over squares.

Using Windows 8 with a mouse or touchpad to scroll horizontally as frequently as you may need to in the Start Metro panel can become a chore on your wrists and fingers. The Windows 8 Store is especially afflicted by The Swipes -- it feels like you have to swipe through the equivalent of a couple of feet in order to go through the entire length of the store’s layout.

6. Synching questions

With the emphasis on Windows 8 serving as an OS for tablets, too, there are now a slew of syncing options in it. The next version of Windows could open a new set of privacy holes, as well as drain system resources while having to keep data across several programs in sync across your devices and with the cloud. To make things easier for the user, Microsoft may need to devise a series of syncing presets (e.g. “minimal” could be designated to sync only your web browser, email and messaging settings).

7. Game room or board room?

We understand and cannot fault Microsoft for wanting to push their services through the Start Metro panel. That said, the prominence of the Xbox brand as two Metro apps in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview strikes us as a little curious, when there is no placing given to those that are “more professional” -- for example, Office 365, Microsoft’s web app version of Office seems like it would not look out of place here. The presence of these Xbox apps seems to hint that Microsoft may be wanting to angle Windows 8 more as a casual computing platform, like for the living-room smart TV, than for the world of business, enterprise, home office.

8. Is Win 8 a desktop OS?

Or a tablet/touchscreen OS? In the desktop/notebook computer environment, Windows 8 asks the user to compromise on the various, convenient ways by which they interacted with programs on prior versions of Windows. The ultimate question: Is this primarily a desktop/notebook OS, or meant for tablets and other touchscreen devices? Microsoft wants to have it both ways by making Windows 8 pull double duty through the Start Metro UI, but the result at this point has a wishy-washy feel for the traditional desktop/notebook platform.

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