Windows 8 and Metro Stylie

The second a Windows 8 preview was available, in the autumn of last year, I ran (well drove, actually) straight out and bought myself a touch screen desktop PC. The nice man at PC World really struggled with the concept that I was simply going to wipe it and install an operating system that was surely one number too high. I eventually managed to escape his genuinely earnest attempts to sell me software assurance on applications I was never going to use by explaining Windows 8 through the gift of Spinal Tap.

Since then I have been busy earning the personal tools to carve myself out a future career as a Windows 8 developer. More on that in future posts but the process has allowed me to get up close and personal with Steven Sinofsky’s new baby. Some month’s and a second download later I still ain’t sure it’s the canine gonads that Steven is hoping for.

Lots of good stuff in Windows 8 and I reckon that Metro and the WP7 paradigm will play well on tablets but it just doesn’t fly on desktops. Sticking Metro stylie to the front on a non-touch device is painful to be honest and touch screens on a desktop are a pain the neck (well arm actually). W8 does have a desktop environment which is much like Windows 7 without the start menu (why?) but whenever you want to launch a new application you either have to fire up a search dialog and type it’s name in or switch to Metro tiles and search through a grid of many dozens of installed apps. For apps you use a lot you can pin them to the Task Bar or put short cuts on the desktop but for occasionally used utilities not being able to drill down to the through a structured Start Menu is, as I said, painful.

As for apps without borders on a desktop, what the heck is the purpose of that? I spend my whole working day with lots of Windows open, right now I’ve got 5 but that’s small beer, and I’m often monitoring stuff going on in all of them, so having a single app take over the whole screen seems a bit pants to me. As a way of solving the problem of a lack of screen real estate on a tablet great! But I’ve got two 1920 x 1200 pixel monitors and even a moderate home PC these days has a pretty good screen.

It seems to me that Microsoft are sacrificing actual utility in the chase for their own holy grail of having a single OS across all their platforms. The one OS thing is a bit of an illusion anyway, because you don’t get the desktop on ARM devices (which is gonna be most tablets I’d have thought).

Ironically Apple do this desktop/tablet fusion thing really well. On a Mac running the latest version of OS X you get presented with their standard desktop operating environment. A swipe on the magic mouse pad though and you get ‘Launch Pad’, which is basically the iPad/iPhone outer shell. Native Apple apps run in a window by default but a short cut key or mouse click away is full screen mode.

So with Apple you get the productive desktop environment when you want it and Metro Stylie is lurking in the background just for those occasions when you fancy it. This plays well on my 13 inch laptop, when screen space is at a premium (where Metro stylie’s good) and also on my Mac Desktop with loads of screen space, where I never have to use full screen mode.

On my 24 inch Windows 8 PC however, Metro Stylie just keeps getting in the way. Maybe Microsoft will bring forward some technology that will make a compelling argument for this arrangement in Windows 8 or maybe they’ll change things and get Metro out of my way. But as it stands I can’t see there being much take up of Windows 8 amongst professional PC users. I guess the kids will like it though.

Personally I really hope Windows 8 flies, Apple need the competition and the World needs the choice.

( I tried hard to find a link to an image of a nice man so that – pictures being worth etc etc… – I could help the avid reader visualise what a nice man at PC World might look like. All I will say is that my attempts to do so by googling ‘nice man’ ended badly)