Windows 8: First impressions and what I would change

Desktop computing, despite the giant leaps in innovation over the past few decades, is still fairly new to many people around the globe. Tablet PC’s and smartphones are even newer. Having finally met Windows 8 face to face, I affirmed the fear that I had about the system from the day I set eyes on the first screenshot. Microsoft, it seems, has rushed to compete against Google and Apple in the new touch-interface software market. What Microsoft forgot, is that most computer users have only just gotten used to the “traditional desktop” and comfortable venturing into the use of modern software via Windows 7. As someone well acquainted with different operating systems, I was surprised to find myself at a loss during my first encounter with Windows 8. The inconsistent user interface between the metro apps and desktop apps, the lack of window controls in metro apps and the hidden location of the power menu are some of the features (or lack thereof) that threw me off-course.

However, Windows 8 is not all that bad. The live tiles and clean, bold metro design are aesthetically pleasing to the modern mind. Windows 8 integrates social media and online content like email, maps, weather and web search very well into the desktop. By all means, the fact that the core Windows operating system available on tablets and desktops are the same is phenomenal and gives Windows a major advantage as a tablet OS over Android and iOS. But, of course, a desktop PC is not a tablet and by that I mean the way we interact with the two are fundamentally different and the user interface design must take this into consideration. I’ve made a few mock-ups of the changes I would add to make Windows 8 a bit more user friendly. Click on an image to see a larger version.

Window controls are needed for metro apps

Window controls are needed for metro apps

I found no way of exiting a full screen metro app, except by pressing the Windows key on the keyboard to return to the start screen. After some time wasted in fiddling around, I discovered that apps can be closed by pressing Alt+F4, or by right clicking the preview of the app in the app switcher and selecting “close”. If the app is not closed, it continues to run in the background causing a severe loss in performance because metro apps are resource-hungry.

Options to close apps via the metro app switcher.

Options to close apps via the metro app switcher.

Since I had to first Google a way of closing apps, I took this idea from the Gnome 3 app switcher which sports a close button on the window previews. I suppose, Windows borrowed the app switcher design from Android, hence it would be easy to slide closed an app via a touch screen, but the method is not very intuitive for desktop users.

A more prevalent power menu in the charms bar.

A more prevalent power menu in the charms bar.

Older versions of Windows, all versions of OS X and Linux have never puzzled me as much as Windows 8. The simplest thing to find on a PC is usually the power menu. Even on newer tablets and smartphones, holding down the power key pops up a power menu with options to shut down, restart, etc, but not Windows 8. Holding down the power key on a laptop sends a suspend command by default and the on-screen power menu is mysteriously hidden under the settings. I would locate the power menu on the charms bar like so 🙂

A menu to configure apps from those running to those not yet installed and a search bar reminding users of the on-demand search feature.

A menu to configure apps from those running to those not yet installed and a search bar reminding users of the on-demand search feature.

Whilst it is a nifty feature to have on demand search built into the metro interface, new users of the operating system may need a hint. The old start menu had a search field in Windows Vista and Windows 7. I think it’s way too soon to hide it away. I would also add a menu below the word “Start”. The start screen is a launcher like that found on Android and iOS. Most launchers are configurable and users of touch interfaces have already become familiar with having an options menu like the one in my mock-up.

That deals with some aspects of the user interface. In terms of performance, Windows 8 is truly the fastest booting Windows thus far. Like I said, metro apps are resource-hungry, but if you keep closing apps when you’re done with ’em, the OS works well. Now to the serious question, is it worth upgrading? Straight up, I’d say NO! A Windows 7 PC is capable of running the best and most modern software that exists for Windows. Windows 7 is stable, has a very well known and user friendly interface and will continue to be supported by Microsoft and hardware vendors for a long time. Besides, most common tasks done via the computer these days require a good browser. Internet Explorer 10 might only be available for Windows 8, but Google Chrome, available on Windows 7, offers a much more feature-rich and stable web browser. So I would not recommend upgrading a current Windows 7 desktop to Windows 8, but if you’re looking to buy a smart PC like a hybrid that sports a touch screen and detachable keyboard, then of course, Windows 8 offers a great experience over iOS because you can take Microsoft Office and all the apps (formerly programs) you’re used to using wherever you go. Unfortunately Apple’s iPad and Android tablets do not yet offer that convenience.

That’s a wrap for my intro to Windows 8!

Thanks for reading!

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