How I would fix Windows 8

Windows 8 has introduced some radical changes to the user interface, the likes of which have not been seen since Windows 95's introduction of the Start menu. The new "Metro" interface is sleek, elegant, and highly responsive, but unfortunately Microsoft seems to have missed their mark in a few small but nonetheless critical places. Here is my proposed solution to some of the common complaints about Windows 8.

Trouble Spots

A Jarring Experience

Windows 8 continues to unpleasantly surprise the user with bits of Metro on the desktop (such as the network connections pane and certain error dialogs). Likewise, bits of the desktop interface sneak through into Metro, such as when a non-Metro app or control panel is launched and it kicks the user out of the smooth Metro experience.

Second-Class Desktop

Metro is amazing on a tablet – I just recently purchased an Acer Iconia W500 for the express purpose of testing it out, and my experience with it has been superb so far. However, the same cannot be said of using Windows 8 on a desktop PC with 3 monitors attached. As outlined above, while opening the Start screen is fast and fluid, it still is unnerving when the entire area of one monitor is covered by it.

Two-Faced Application Switching

The entire desktop is itself treated as a single app, and this makes switching between Metro and desktop apps cumbersome. It is also unnerving to open desktop apps from the Metro interface, as stated previously.

Mouse and Keyboard

The Metro interface is navigable via mouse and keyboard, and support for these is far superior to that of iOS and Android. However, it's far from perfect, and it is clear that Microsoft built Windows 8 with primarily touch devices in mind.

My Proposed Solution

Provide a "Desktop First" and "Metro First" mode

Metro is optimized for touchscreen PCs, while the classic Desktop mode is optimized for, well, desktops. Therefore, instead of attempting to mash together the two disparate UIs, it makes sense to include an easily accessible "mode switch" that will favor one approach over the other. This can be done at install time – if a touchscreen is detected, "Metro First" is automatically selected, otherwise "Desktop First" is selected – but should also be adjustable at any time.

Allow Metro apps to run windowed in "Desktop First" mode

Metro apps are the way of the future, and Microsoft seems to agree. The only issue? Using the entire area of a 30" monitor on a single app is wasteful. Therefore, in "Desktop First" mode, it should be possible to run Metro apps in their own window. Launching a Metro app should likewise open a window, which can optionally be maximized into fullscreen mode.

Bring back a compact application launcher in "Desktop First" mode

The Metro start screen is very useful, but when you have 5 windows open on the desktop, it makes much more sense to have a compact application launcher in the corner – which is what the Start menu originally did. No, the classic Start menu should not be brought back the way it was in Windows 7, but its basic functionality of searching for, pinning, and launching a list of applications and control panels should.

While desktop shortcuts and pinned taskbar items are semi-viable workarounds, they are still cumbersome workarounds. I, personally, prefer to keep my desktop and taskbar as clean as possible – I don't want to see icons in the taskbar unless a program is running. Search functionality in a compact form that does not cover the entire desktop is likewise important, but not possible using any of the proposed solutions. Third-party solutions should not be necessary to implement this basic functionality.

Keep desktop apps on separate "workspaces" in "Metro First" mode

When in "Metro first" mode, desktop apps should each appear in their own "workspace", with a quick toggle allowing all of them to appear together on the same desktop. This will allow different kinds of apps to be treated equally, instead of kicking the user back to a potentially messy desktop, and will allow far more intuitive switching. Toggling to "Desktop first" mode while viewing a single-workspace desktop app should intuitively make all apps visible.

Provide a consistent app-switching experience

This one is simple. When in a Metro app, you can slide in from the left to view a list of running Metro apps; in desktop mode, you can either use the taskbar or Alt+Tab. This needs to be unified so that all apps can be seen from either mode, possibly with the exception of Metro apps on the taskbar since Metro apps are suspended when switching to the desktop.

Final Words

Windows 8 has brought many improvements and innovations to the Windows world. Unfortunately, some of these improvements either seem incomplete in their implementation or seem like outright regressions in efficiency. I seriously hope that Microsoft will address the issues presented here, and at least consider them for the final release of Windows 8 or even "Windows 9".

Posted on Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 7:14 PM | Permalink | Tags: Windows, opinion, beta, touch, upgrade

Comments (1)

Friday, June 29, 2012 at 10:13 PM
I 100% agree with everything. Microsoft -really- needs to streamline the entire Metro experience, while integrating into the standard desktop-like feel we all have been using since day one.

Although sadly, I doubt they're going to make any last minute changes on this one. The public response to Metro in Windows 8 was scattered, and Microsoft for sure knows about it. I think it is, sadly, a bit too late for a re-do of the desktop experience in Windows 8. Unless if Microsoft has a ton of time on their hands, they're not going to do anything about it...

Then again, we really don't know when Windows 8 is coming out, so they could always delay it. I just wish the press would smash Microsoft and tell them something needs to be done, because they're for sure not going in the right direction.
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