Dr. Lawlor's Code, Robots, & Things

December 19, 2012

Microsoft “Window” 8: cringe-worthy, mostly

Filed under: Random Thoughts — Dr. Lawlor @ 5:57 am

My brand new laptop arrived today, and I’m blogging to you live from inside Windows 8.  Granted, I’m mostly a Linux user, but my favorite distro Ubuntu recently torched their traditional desktop UI in favor of a more touch-and-tablet friendly system named Unity, which I mostly hate, so I’m willing to experiment.  There are bright spots in 8, but overall I can’t say I’m very impressed.

In Windows 8, the regular desktop lives inside a walled-off ghetto, where the few surviving windows (plural) scrape out a meager existence, with the usual title bars and task bars and such, except the start menu is gone.  Outside the ghetto, such as when you drag into the lower left corner of the screen, you get the new “Start Screen”, a tablet style UI where apps live in fullscreen freedom,  but more “Window” than Windows.

The desktop and tablet sides share basically nothing: the background patterns are different, the fonts are way different, they even each have their own separate control panels.  To switch between windows in the desktop, you use the taskbar at the bottom of the screen; to switch between apps in the tablet side, drag into the upper left corner and then down.  There’s zero relationship, either visual or semantic, between these two methods of switching.  Yet alt-tab cycles between *everything*, tablet or desktop, so why not the task bar?

To switch from tablet to desktop mode, you drag into the upper left corner, or click a “Desktop” link in the start screen, but grandma?  She’s now lost, because there are two totally unrelated modes (desktop and tablet) colliding here.  Most modern virtual machine systems are much better integrated than the desktop and tablet modes of Windows 8: I can mix and match individual Windows 7 VM and native Linux applications on my Ubuntu taskbar, but Microsoft can’t even share the taskbar with *themselves*.

The whole point of the app side is to get the new UI styles, and the start screen does have “just start typing” search, which is what all the cool kids are doing nowadays (e.g., Unity dashboard).  You start typing, it starts spitting out suggestions.  When you see what you want, you click it or hit enter.  This is a good idea, and Windows-cmd-enter instantly brings up a DOS prompt as it should.  Yet typing “mouse”, “keyboard”, or “network” shows zero hits unless… you click the “Settings” category instead of the default “Apps”.  And you still get two totally separate groups of hits, one for apps, the other for the desktop ghetto.

Windows 8 start screen network search

And seriously, categories?  Clicking?  The ENTIRE POINT of typing is to do away with categories, so you don’t have to hunt through a dozen levels of menu to find what you need. You can read the now-fired Steven Sinofsky describe the Start menu search design here.  Does this actually sound simpler?  Than anything?

Steve Jobs, were he only alive, would have nuked that entire UI department from orbit, just to be sure.  Linux, here I come again…

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