Sorry, power users, Windows 8 is built for small displays

Sorry, power users, Windows 8 is built for small displays

Summary: Metro apps on Windows 8 don't scale well to big, high-resolution monitors. In fact, they're designed for small displays and tablets, which is why the outcry over the "reimagined" Windows desktop is loudest from power users with massive monitors.


In case you haven’t noticed, ZDNet has a new comment system that allows you, the community, to vote comments up or down.

The biggest benefit I see in the new Talkback section isn’t the ability to mute trolls (although that’s a good thing). Rather, it’s the ability of the community to bring an insightful comment up to the the top of the list. Like this one, from my post this morning on how to customize the Windows 8 Start screen. This is the part I’ve heard and thought about a lot myself:

Metro feels like Microsoft are dropping off the "s" in the name, are we getting Windows 8 or Window 8? For me, the multi-windowing environment is what I need and love, and one of the reasons I just cannot take a tablet seriously as a general purpose work tool. I can see it being useful in vertical markets and for consumption, but for the type of work I do, a single window interface is a non-starter.

If the apps I use "go Metro" in the future, that leaves me being a lot less productive, switching between screens, as opposed to glancing at windows (little w).

I like the look of Windows 8 on a tablet, but the Contact, Calendar and Solitare Metro apps look quite frankly ridiculous on a 1920x1080 or 2560x1400 24" or 27" display - blowing up the fonts and images by 210% over a 10" tablet doesn't make a good experience!

Thanks for the comment, @wright_is.

I can relate. I have a 27-inch Dell UltraSharp monitor in front of me (with a second, much smaller 1360x768 display to its left). At its 2560x1440 resolution, my main display is too damn big for most Metro apps. Or, worse, they don’t scale up to take advantage of all that space.) I mean, Metro style apps are supposed to be immersive, but this is more like “I am a speck in the ocean.”

That’s why the Windows desktop lives on and will continue to exist for many years. For now, Microsoft is optimizing for a world where 10- to 13-inch displays are the norm That’s where there’s the largest demand and the biggest growth potential.

Metro apps are designed to look really good on screens with a resolution of 1366x768. There are sound reasons, technical and economic, why Microsoft has made the decision to aim for this small target. Here, this chart might explain:

That data represents hundreds of millions of user sessions from Microsoft’s telemetry on Windows 7. Each bar represents a unique display resolution. It is worth noting that 2560x1600 and 2560x1440 are not represented in this chart. If you have a 27- or 30-inch monitor, you are literally in the top 1% of all Windows 7 users.

(I stumbled across that chart the other day by accident. It was buried in a 3500-word Building Windows 8 blog post about Windows Explorer, published in the dog days of summer, before the public unveiling of Windows 8 at the BUILD developers conference a few weeks later. No wonder no one ever noticed it.)

When I remixed the data on that chart, I came up with four unmistakable trends:

  • Small, light notebooks rule. Those two big bars on the left are 1366x768 and 1280x800. If you add in 1360x768 and a few oddball variations that are even smaller, you get 58%. With a total installed base of well over 500 million Windows 7 users, that means more than 300 million people are using displays in this size range. And their numbers are growing as Intel concentrates on Ultrabooks and Apple focuses on the MacBook Air.
  • The market for larger displays is getting smaller. Three resolutions commonly found on higher-end 15- to 17-inch notebooks and inexpensive desktop displays made up 20% of the user base: 1440x900, 1600x900, and 1680x1050. We already know I am out of the mainstream with that big desktop monitor. I have two notebooks with 1600x900 displays, which are also slipping out of the mainstream as people downsize devices.
  • Only desktop diehards use high-definition displays. The two true HD resolutions, 1920x1200 and 1920x1080, make up only about 8% of the installed base of Windows 7 PCs.  That’s the most popular resolution for a 24-inch monitor, which pairs nicely with a high-end desktop computer these days. I don’t think this segment is growing.
  • The square is not dead. Weirdly, 12% of the usage on that chart (the two purple bars) is in square resolutions, at 1024x768 and 1280x1024. I suspect most of those are older desktop monitors, running older applications in traditional business environments. This form factor is certain to shrink.

The growth is in tablets and small notebooks. The competition for innovation and for consumer dollars is also in those categories. So it’s not surprising that that is where the design and engineering resources are being focused.

It's also worth noting that those numbers do not match up with the readership of technology sites like ZDNet. I just checked the analytics for this site and found that nearly 20% of you are using high-definition (1920px) monitors. I suspect other tech sites have similar demographics, which is why the howls of protest about Windows 8 seem to be so loud.

I don’t think the Windows desktop is being ignored in this release—the improvements in startup time and general performance are huge, and I’m sure there will be corresponding improvements in battery life for x86 notebooks. As a file-management geek, I like the improvements in Windows Explorer, and the addition of Hyper-V is a killer feature for high-end business and technical scenarios.

But still, Microsoft’s vision of the future of computing reflects, accurately I think, a new world of personal computing. It’s one where our dashboard into information and communication will be made up of multiple small screens, not one or two large displays.

In other words, if Metro doesn’t work well on your display, that device might not have a bright future.

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • squareish screens

    netbooks and VMs as well?
    • Perhaps

      I doubt whether there are that many people browsing windows in small VMs. Most of those using VMs are running as a full replacement, a la Parallels on a Mac, I suspect.

      As for netbooks I think those are accounted for the by the 1280x600 and 1024x600 numbers. That was the res of the most popular netbook of all, the EEE PC.
      Ed Bott
  • Start Screen IS Start Menu

    I don't have huge monitors, so I haven't seen the Metro apps on them. It may be that that type of user will not want any Metro apps, and that's OK. But I'll repeat what I said on another article.

    Use the Start Screen like a faster and customizable Start Menu. Spend 10 minutes pinning your apps and favorite folders to it and organizing them into groups in a system that makes sense to you.

    Now you've got a 2-3 click process to launch EVERYTHING (with the old Start Menu, that could take up to 6 clicks, depending on whether Windows deemed it a commonly used app or not).

    If you prefer to launch from the taskbar or desktop, those options haven't gone away.
    • Start Screen IS NOT Start Menu

      I completely disagree.

      The start menu is easy to navigate, easy to search/scan, offers everything about the system that you need, and all from a compact/screen efficient feature.

      The start screen, on the other hand, is a sprawling/ungainly screen of random tiles. Sure they can be moved around, but they are still tiles. Which means my eyes have to work harder to scan titles in ugly blocks across the entire screen. On a 23" monitor, that's a lot of real estate to scan.

      Simply put, lists are quicker and more compact. (The very reason why I am against the ribbon as well.)

      Designers have known for years that horizontal scrolling is a no-no. Now MS implements that very faux pas as the default screen?!

      What's next, frames?
      • Human Anatomy Drives the Wide Layout

        I think the horizontal scrolling appearance is based on the anatomy of the arm. On a tablet, one only uses the elbow to swipe L/R. In order to swipe U/D, it involves using an awkward wrist action.

        I don't argue with the design principles you cite, but those were rules created for different hardware.
      • or...

        you could type a couple of characters and get instantr search. i stopped using the start menu when win 7 came along. i dont miss it at all. this is more efficient.
      • I completely disagree

        I've hated the Start Menu for a long time and while Windows 7 was a good improvement its still a long folder list of programs. Programs that all have folders with their actual executable within them, therefore there are no visual icons to represent them in the main list. Half of the time, the folder is listed by the name of software company that made it, not by the actual program (if the user even knows who that is). And in this case, there may be programs that relate with other programs I have, but are in completely different locations.

        While you can pin things to the Start Menu and the task bar, it is limited, and clutters that little bit of space up quickly. Also, the never ending expansion menus to reach sub-folders and more sub-folders is tedious to use while adding to the time it takes to navigate it. Doing this in Touch is damn near impossible.

        Scrolling horizontal has been a "no-no" in the industry based upon previous OLD ui standards based on using the mouse which usually has a scroll wheel. NOW, scrolling horizontal has been re-invented with TOUCH and GESTURE based UI's. Also, horizontal movement has been used prior in transitions from one work screen to another (ie apple work spaces, etc). When you "scroll" or "tab" to another screen in Win8, its just like it is on a phone/mobile device. People are becoming more and more used to the concept of scrolling (swiping) horizontal to see more app icons (tiles)

        Tiles are an EXTREMELY effective way to combine icons, with bits of data, with live image rotations, etc into a cohesive UI. They also allow for the user to make a selection easily regardless of mouse, touch, or gesture based interaction. They ALSO create a neatly organized grid that helps clean up the interface.

        Lists are more compact, BUT THEY ARE NOT QUICKER. You have to be insane to think an expanding list of 3-4 clicks (at least) is quicker than a swipe and click.

        I think you are just scared of change, especially if you still prefer the menu system over the ribbon. Sorry to inform you, but the world is changing. And consumers expect something better now.
      • Start Screen IS Start Menu

        Maybe you missed the fact that with the StartScreen 100% of you screen is used for the search, instead of !~ 20% with the StartMenu.

        The search bar is still there, the icons too (with usefull notification).

        Ps. If you need a list just select the search option on you "Charm bar" all apps are listed. You wont need the StarScreen anymore
      • Ugly blocks because Ugly icons

        Icons are now more important than the text of before. The start menu of old was more related to text (or at least an icon followed immediately by specific text). Now it is all about the icon. You recognize the icon and click.
    • I sort of agree

      The Start Screen is good - although I pin the 10 apps I use every day to the taskbar in Windows 7, so I probably use the Start Menu on average every 2 - 3 days.

      I think "big" desktop users will mainly ignore Metro and continue using Desktop applications, instead of apps.

      My big question is, how much longer are desktop applications going to last? If the majority of consumers and people on the move are using small screens and tablets, are developers going to continue writing applications for the 30-40% of users who actually have large screens and use multiple windows in their workflows?

      Some will - programmers tools, for example, because programmers need multiple windows to program effectively and generally have lots of little tools open, which don't make sense in a full screen mode (colour pickers and Vernier Callipers example).

      Office doesn't currently make sense in Metro - apart from a Metro version of OneNote for people on the move to make notes, with a windowed, desktop client for typing those notes up, once back in the office.

      I'm on my laptop now, 1920x1080 15.4" screen, which is about right for me, for on the move and I have 4 windows visible at the moment, allowing me to work more effectively.

      As long as I have the option do work as I want to, I am happy for MS to concentrate on improving the tablet experience. If they force me back to the 1980s, with single screen DOS like interface or a Mac OS like Switcher, I will be looking elsewhere.
      • Devs will do as they always did..

        Develop for multiple types of devices and form factors.
        If our clients wants Metro we will give them Metro apps.
        The same was true for web, PDAs, iOS and Android.

        You give what the clients wants plain and simple.
        At the end he's the one who pays you.
        If you don't the competition will.
        Our company didn't want to produce an iOS app but our clients wanted one so we created one.
    • Uh, only if you like your apps tossed all over the place.

      I enabled admin tools on the customer preview. Oganizing them is imposible. In the old start menu admin tools was neat well organized. The new start screen just spews it all over the place. You can group it in to one section of the screen call it admin tool but you still can't organize how your admin tools look in that little section. The original start had it in a list in alphabetical order by default. It takes several painfull steps to get the tools in to it's own group, then you can't even place the tools where you want. In Mac OS Lion. The iOS like Launcher is very easy to drag items to different screens and group utilities and like aps into folders. Windows 8 makes the most simplest aspect in a modern PC turns it on it's head and reduces it's functionality back to Windows 3.5.

      The only people who like it are people who made it or hoping to make money off the debacle of a product.
  • iPad May change this

    The new iPad has a resolution of 2048x1536 which I am sure will come to Win8 tablets. This equation will most definitely change in the future.
    • Thankfully

      the new iPad may finally push displays to go further than HD. I was glad TVs finally caught up to monitors, but they made monitors slow down in going past 1080p. If I can get a couple 24" monitors with quad HD (the equivalent of 8 12" 1080p monitors worth of resolution), then I'll be set for quite some time.
    • ipad resolution not a good metric for comparison

      ipad resolution makes things that are of a particular size clearer and applies more pixels to an object on screen.

      resolution in Windows typically means you see more objects on screen with a preset number of pixels per object.
      Freddy McGriff
      • Metro follows the former, while the desktop the latter

    • But...

      it doesn't bring windowing or more information (currently) over the existing iPad, it just displays things with less jaggies. Apple aren't "using" the extra screen real-estate to show more information or allow the user to accomplish more, they are making it "prettier".

      Okay, this might change over the coming months, with new apps, but at the moment, you can get a lot more useful and readable information on a 27" display of the same resolution than on the iPad's 10" screen.
      • So true

        and on other blogs consumer/users are somehow "blind" to that.
  • Here is the problem..

    The guys with those huge screens, they set the tone and agenda and if they pee-poo over Windows 8 in Enterprises and Desktops then Microsoft's gonna have another Vista on their hands.
    • The large display isn't as uncommon as you'd think...

      There is a very large gaming community out there (me included in it) that hasn't bothered with testing Windows 8 yet (we're a little busy, you might say). 1920x1080 is generally the <i>minimum</i> we use, and the standard by which we judge video card performance. The higher end IPS displays see a lot of use in this community as well. If MS doesn't address the OS looking like complete *ss on the larger/higher-res displays, then they're going to alienate a large group of dedicated Windows users.