Thursday, March 07, 2013

First Impressions: Windows 8

Almost 5 years ago I played with a Windows Phone—the Wing—and I observed how silly it was to have a Start Button and other desktop UI features crammed into a tiny phone interface. I was quite surprised then, this weekend to fire up my new laptop, hit the Windows key and have a Phone/Tablet like start screen come up rather than the usual start menu. Could it really be that rather than bringing the desktop to phones, Microsoft was bringing a phone UI to the desktop?

The short answer: yes. Welcome to Windows 8.

From the little research I've done, I've learned the following about Windows 8:

  • Windows is attempting to align their tablet, phone and desktop UI's by having a common launcher and app model across all their UIs.
  • The desktop experience is still very much available, but if you want the basic app universe you have on your phone, you can have that too.
  • Windows 8 is despised by all. Or at least by people who comment on Windows 8 tips articles.

For the second time in as many days, I'm going to respectfully disagree with the Internet. Windows 8 is not an abomination. Or at least, not because Microsoft dared to think outside the desktop model. As I've said in the past, thinking outside the desktop is a good thing. There's nothing magical about folders, windows and a start menus. They're just abstractions built on top of other abstractions.

My Mom is able to navigate her kindle easily enough. If she had that same basic app model in a laptop I think she'd find it very intuitive. Do I need a full screen weather app? Definitely not, but for her to be able to quickly press 'Weather' and get what she needs would be ideal for her. Sit someone down and try to explain how to use Windows 7 (left mouse click on the start bar - oh wait, what's a left mouse click? Let me explain ...), and then show them that they can hit the Windows button and press what they want on the screen, and I think you'll see that Windows 8 has real promise.

Is this Launcher Screen plus Apps a model useful for someone like myself, a professional programmer? Not yet. Of course, my dream UI isn't neccessarily the desktop UI either. I do most of my work at bash prompts and emacs. Back when I ran X-windows on a Linux box, I especially enjoyed using ratpoison, an almost mouseless window manager. Point is, Windows 8 isn't my dream, but neither is Windows 7. Or OS X, for that matter.

So yeah, I'm disoriented when I use Windows 8. Apparently I've got a number of shortcuts that involve the start menu thoroughly engrained in my muscle memory that I need to overcome. But I'm glad to be playing with the latest version of Windows, and I'm glad it's stretching the notion of what I consider normal. I bet if I get creative enough that Start Screen can turn out to be invaluable. In the mean time, I've been getting used to hitting Windows-D to jump me back into Desktop land when I get lost.

One other thing that jumped out at me: apparently Windows has dropped their fancy beveled edges on their windows. The result is lackluster chrome around each window. Perhaps this move is related to syncing up the UI experience among phones and tablets that can't render the fancier UI? Regardless, it seems pretty ugly and I'm surprised to see them regress in the looks department. Is it a deal breaker? Certainly not. But it's an odd choice none the less.

So what do you think? Are you in the camp that claims Windows 8 is "as bad as Vista?" Or are you loving it? What are your favorite tricks?


  1. I'll have to talk to you more because I'm really curious how you like it from the developer point of view. I bought the win8 upgrade for the family pc when it was on sale early this year. I just haven't pulled the trigger and upgraded.

  2. Will do. Like I said, I'm not sure how Windows 8 is going to be useful, but I hope to come up with something.