Windows 8 design flaws Microsoft MUST address

Microsoft has a long way to go to make Windows 8 work on desktops and tablets.

I've been using the Windows 8 developer preview now for long enough to come across a number of design flaws that MUST be addressed for the OS to be usable on desktops, notebooks and tablets.

Note: I know that this is a developer preview, and not a beta or release candidate, and that nothing is fixed in stone, but if we don't make a noise now, it might be too late by the time we get to the beta stage.

#1 - Metro multitasking = two apps

Right now, I'm working with six different applications. When it comes to Metro apps on Windows 8, multitasking means having two apps on the screen side-by-side. That's it. For the causal user, that might be fine, but for power users, Metro offers little more than a LeapFrog 'My First Computer' experience.

The limit of having two app on screen at any one time is crazy and needs a total rethink.

#2 - Mishmash of Metro UI and Aero UI

I find the fact that I'm continually switching between the tile-based Metro UI and the glassy Aero UI at best jarring, and at worse illogical and confusing. Switching between Metro apps and traditional applications is particularly painful, and the idea of trying to do any real work that way doesn't fill me with joy.

At present, the Metro UI is thin veneer over the classic UI. A good example is Control Panel. One minute you're seeing a Metro UI, but a single click is all it takes to kick you into the classic UI. Metro UI is a veneer that doesn't work for either desktop or tablet users.

There needs to be a total reworking of Windows to allow two separate UIs, because this current situation is laughable.

#3 - Metro is nothing more than a gimmick on the desktop and needs a kill switch

While Metro makes some sense on tablets (it makes sense if you're not in the market for a Windows tablet to get legacy support and a familiar environment), I can't come up with a single good reason for this UI to be on desktops, and it's hard to make a case for it on notebooks. I don't see touch-based computing becoming mainstream on the desktop, and I don't see Microsoft shoving the Metro UI down people's throats changing this.

With this in mind, it makes no sense - none at all - for Windows 8 to boot into the Metro UI by default. I've gone to the point where I just see it as a secondary log-on screen that I have to get out of the way if I'm to get any real work done.

In other words - Metro UI needs an official kill switch.

Note: Check out my ZDNet blogging buddy James Kendrick's thoughts on Windows 8 on a tablet.

#4 - Switching between screens is a nightmare

Switching between Metro apps is a kludgy mess on an epic scale. You don't have the traditional Alt-Tab combo, but instead you take your pointer (or finder, and place it on the left-hand side of the screen and either drag across or click on the icon that pops up.

Sounds easy ... but wait!

Problem is, once you have more than a few apps running, there's no quick and easy way to cycle between them. You move the mouse to the left, an icon pops up, and if it's not the right one, you have to click on it and try again.

This is so amazingly kludgy that I can only hope that it's some kind of stop-gap. On a tablet, this is ideal, but on a desktop or notebook, it has to be one of the worst design decisions I've seen in ages.

Microsoft - FIX IT!

#5 - Tiles will eventually lead to bloat

Remember when Microsoft introduced the System Tray. It was a place for important stuff to live so users could have easy access to it and see the status of certain applications. Pretty soon, this prime-time real estate (prime-time because it attracted eyeballs) was filled with all sorts of crap.

Looking at Windows 8, the Metro UI desktop will become the next System Tray. Every app is going to want a piece of this real estate. And more apps running will eventually lead to bloat. While Microsoft will surely make sure that the apps it ships with Windows 8 will be lightweight and play nicely, imagine when you have you have iTunes and Steam and so on running, bombarding you with ads and crap news and information. It's a dead certainty that OEMs will be pre-installing apps in exchange for cash, bringing a new era of crapware.

Will Microsoft prevent OEMs from filling the Metro screen with crap? I hope so!

#6 - There needs to be an option to turn tiles into icons

The smallest tile is too big ... once you have dozens of apps installed, that Metro screen is going to get mighty cluttered.

Also, there needs to be a logical way to categorizing apps beyond bundling them into groups.

How tiles are handled needs to be streamlined to make it easier to navigate.

Conclusion

The more I use Windows 8, the more it feels like Windows 7 with a Metro bolted onto the side. And Metro feels like a hybrid between the Windows Phone OS and the Xbox 360 interface. It feels weird and unfinished.

If Windows had a full Metro UI, completely replacing classic UI then I could see it being really useful on tablets, but right now it's little more than a veneer, and by making Metro the default on desktop systems, Microsoft is acting like a child waving a crayon scribble in the faces of any adult that will pay attention. There's no need for Metro to be on the desktop beyond the ability to run apps, but it's there.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer warned us that Windows 8 would be risky ... at the time I was skeptical, but the more I use Windows 8, the more I feel that it could make Windows 7 the new Windows XP.

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