Windows 8: Love vs Hate
Thursday, December 6, 2012
I've recently had a comment conversation about Windows 8, over on Philip Greenspun's weblog. He was having a hard time with the new system, and I had some comments:
I understand your frustrations! The new environment can be very disconcerting. I’ve been using Win8 on a non-touch laptop for a while, and a touch laptop for a shorter time. The “swiping back and forth” capability of a touch screen, like you noted, is so much fun and easy!
First, to address your issues:
Back button. I agree wholeheartedly. I have a Windows Phone, and I think it does a great job with the back button. I’ve often been annoyed at the getting to a place in Win8 where I can’t just go back. For instance, open a PDF attachment from an email, and when I’m done reading, I can’t just go back. How I go “back” depends a lot on how I got there. I can switch back to the mail app (or Outlook in Desktop), and there I am. Win8 by default will swap to the previous app when you swipe in from the left, and you can grab that same app with the mouse with an upper-left movement. Yeah, it works, but it take re-wiring to a “switch” mode instead of thinking of “back.” We don’t expect a back button in Win7 when apps open up, so I guess it’s the same thinking?
Home button. I’ve been a user of the keyboard home button for years, so that’s easy on a keyboard machine. On a touch computer, I know I can always get the Start button on a swipe-from-right, but I also expect it to be bottom-left when I swipe-from-left, and it is: EXCEPT when I have only one app running. Then I swipe, swipe, and then remember I have only one app, and then swipe from right to get it. It should always be available left or right swipe. On non-touch, I want to throw my mouse into the corner and click to get the Start menu. Not only because that’s what I’m used to, but because it’s fast. When XP expanded the Start button hit zone, removing the little dead zone that 95/98 used to have (remember that?), it made this motion so much more reliable and less picky. Now, to have to mouse down, wait, and then click? Too slow.
Split-screen. This is actually useful. I’m a multitasker, and use Aero snap a lot to easily setup side-by-side views. I’m not sure if it has a name, but putting a “touch mode” app as you call it in the sidebar is a useful feature, for stuff that can fit in that mode. It’s chromeless, so it’s useful for running “touch mode” IE with websites that can squeeze into that format.
Then, some suggestions that may help you:
Configuration changes: I didn’t like the swipe-from-left behavior dropping me in the last app, because I started first with the mouse-to-upper-left which gives me a list of apps to switch to. To get that in touch, get to your “PC Settings > General” section and change the App Switching behavior. Once that’s changed, the swipe-from-left gives the list of apps, just like I expect like I get with WinPhone hold-back-button.
Did you change your default browser? I thought that if IE is your default browser, then it’ll keep you in “touch mode” IE if that’s where you are, or in “desktop mode” IE if you’re in that mode. Having two IE modes is definitely confusing, but I got dumped in desktop mode only when I switched to Firefox as default, I thought.
In reponse to his reply about using Windows since the beginning:
Phil: I still use Firefox all the time, but IE is set as the default. This works because I never shut my computer down (sleep works very well), so I don’t have to think about which one to open. On the occasional time when I open a link from an email or such and it opens in IE, well, that’s fine too. I’m thrilled that the web has gotten to the point over that last couple years that it doesn’t really matter which browser I’m using.
You mentioned history; that is what this is all about. Remember going from Win 3.11 to 95/NT? I was thrilled at how much easier networking was, but we had to run training classes to teach people how to use the Start menu. You mentioned you didn’t have formal training in Android/iOS – did you ever for Windows? When I picked up my first iOS device, the icons were of course intuitive, but where’s my right-click? I actually had to ask someone how to get out of icon-rearranging-mode. How many people know how to double-tap the home button to get a list of running apps?
I think the problem is expectations. I didn’t expect iOS to work like Windows, and figured it out. Many expect Windows 8 to work like Windows, and it isn’t quite. My kids now expect every screen to be touch, and it confuses them when they’re not, so a touch-screen Win8 environment comes naturally to them. It’s us old guys that have the trouble :)
Back to that example of moving to Windows 95. I remember how incredibly frustrating networking was in Windows 3.11, trying to shoehorn network drivers into a tiny bit of memory. IMO this transition is about touch. Windows 8 finally gets it right (for a Windows product), and I find that even in Desktop mode touch is useful, fun, and definitely not frustrating any more.
I don’t think Microsoft got it perfect, but I think I understand what they’re doing, and agree with that.