Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

Summary: Windows 8 testers and potential users aren't completely sold on the new start screen (the Metro-style look and feel) of the coming version of Microsoft's operating system. Some positive changes may be coming, however.

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A new post on the Microsoft Building Windows 8 blog has triggered a debate among testers as to the extent Microsoft should and could allow customization of the Windows 8 interface.

The October 3 post, entitled "Evolving the Start Menu" -- authored by Chaitanya Sareen, program manager lead on the Windows "Core Experience Evolved" team -- spawned a number of comments about Microsoft's decision to make the Windows Phone style Metro interface the default on Windows 8. The Windows 8 Start screen, which many users and testers consider to be the Metro shell/interface, is the primary UI for Windows 8. (Microsoft execs prefer to think of the screen as "the evolution of the Start Menu and associated functions," according to Windows chief Steven Sinofsky.)

The new Windows 8 interface is the most noticeable change in the coming Windows operating system. And it has been a polarizing one: Those who've seen and tried it either love it or they don't. Many of those who don't have not found the UI to be cumbersome on non-touch PCs and tablets; in the developer preview, users need to use a less-than-optimal scroll bar to navigate with a mouse.

While a number of Microsoft watchers, including me, believe Microsoft is going to make relatively few user/tester-suggested changes to Windows 8 at this point in the development process, the October 3 blog post offers some hope that feedback isn't totally falling on deaf ears.

"We are working to improve mouse scrolling in the Start screen. We'll talk soon about a new way to scroll without having to use the scroll bar. Also, the scroll wheel is not working in the Developer Preview as we intend it to and we’ll be fixing this as well," Sareen told readers in the comment section of the post. The new scrolling capability will be in the coming Beta of Windows 8, he said.

Sareen also said that there will be a way to close Metro-style apps without having to rely on the Windows 8 Task Manager -- another common request from a variety of testers. While there will be a way, Sareen emphasized that "we also want to talk about why you probably won't need to use it." And it sounds like there possibly (though not definitely) may be changes coming in terms of multitasking. "Some of you have talked about it feeling less efficient to cycle through your recent programs compared to using the taskbar (and we'll have more to say about that in future posts)," Sareen said.

The nearly 200 (as of 11 am ET on October 4) comments on Sareen's post were of mixed opinions about the new Start experience in Windows 8, with more criticizing it than complimenting it. A couple of posters noted in the comments that they're concerned that Microsoft's insistence on the new touch-centric Start Screen as the default UI is going to end up like Microsoft's decision to make the Ribbon interface the default for Office. While some users love the Ribbon UI, plenty hate it and cite it as a key reason they are unwilling to upgrade to more recent versions of Microsoft's Office products. Office users can hide the Ribbon but they can't go back to the pre-Ribbon UI days with Office 2007 or 2010.

With past releases of Windows and Office, Microsoft officials have defended the fact that Microsoft doesn't provide multiple UI choices because it complicates its developer story. Should devs (both outside and inside Microsoft) create apps that assume a classic interface or a new UI like the Metro-style one (or both)? In the case of Windows 8, however, developers writing apps that are based on the new Windows Runtime, or WinRT) have that choice made for them: WinRT apps are Metro-style apps. Period. Developers who aren't relying on WinRT seem to be able to choose whether they build Metro-style apps or more classic-style Desktop apps.

I've heard a couple of folks, including Windows Supersite's Paul Thurrott, note that Microsoft is going to allow business users to tailor what will appear on the Windows 8 Start Screen using Group Policy settings. Will this mean IT admins can configure Windows 8 so that their users never see the Metro interface and go straight to the Desktop app, which has more of a traditional Windows UI feel? I haven't been able to find any written references to this in the Build slides or Microsoft's blog posts, however. (Anyone else?) If this is, indeed, going to be an option, the Windows team could save itself a lot of angry comments if it made this coming option "official."

As I've written before, I like the new Windows 8 Metro interface, but I'm still a skeptic regarding its suitability outside the realm of touch tablets. Even after Build, I'm still not sold on Metro as the default on my PC; I'd prefer a choice.

Do you think Windows 8 users should get more UI customization? (And will they?)

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

    I will be skipping windows 8 and all future version unless I can disable metro completely. I am not talking hacking either. <br><br>Metro UI is totally useless for a non touch device. The PC is dead why because Microsoft says so? Zdnet and all the tech blogs brought that line.
    Randalllind
    • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

      @Randallind

      +1
      Return_of_the_jedi
    • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

      @Randalllind

      +1,000,000

      Windows 8 is such a waste of time. I see zero reason to upgrade and plenty of reasons not to.
      Shederman
    • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

      @Randalllind: It's bought, not brought!
      bradavon
    • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

      @Randalllind Did Microsoft say the PC was dead? Wow. Are you sure you don't mean Apple refering to the "Post-PC era"? At 450M copies of Windows 7 sold, I'd be somewhat surprised if Microsoft thought the PC dead.
      spc1972
      • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

        @spc1972

        Half a billion copies sold in less than 2 years, and the PC is dead, 30 million iPads shipped in almost the same time, and it's considered a major success. I just wonder who actually starts this crap. I'm a little tired of poor journalism. That's less than 7% of all the PC's that shipped with Windows 7. Windows 7 sees a 1% decline over a 3 month period, and all the tech journalist start reporting that Windows is dying now.. and it's ALL because of the iPad.
        charlesdjones1
    • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

      @Randalllind

      +1
      MLHACK
      • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

        @Randalllind

        -1 :-) I can't fathom why anyone prefers the old icon bin of Widows 95's desktop over the live desktop of Windows 8. Perhaps they've passed judgement on Metro based entirely on the Dev Preview. Believe it or not, the new Start Screen will get better over time just like anything else in tech, even before Windows 8's release. In the meantime, we're promised a desktop that is actually useful instead of a static background image. Very cool!
        scH4MMER
      • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

        @MLHACK - To you and charlesdjones1: Windows is more than 25 years old. iPad is one and a half year old. Windwos has a strong base. Those numbers aren't surprising (half a billion). But the numbers for iPad surely are. It seems, lately, that the momentum is less on Windows side. I'm not saying that iPad will surpass Windows, at least not in the near future, or that Windows is absolutely fading away but, I wish your comparison would take historical perspectives into account.

        iPad is not just a blimp. But, I hear it's eating away at Microsoft's lunch.

        We'll see!
        Rafale555
    • &quot;Complicates their developer story&quot;?

      "Complicates their developer story"?

      They've got their priorities backwards. Who cares how "complicated" it gets for MS dev management? (That's who they're talking about).

      I thought the **customer story** was the driving force. Silly me.
      ALISON SMOCK
  • New Vista moment!

    On a non-slate machine the Metro bar gets a huge thumbs down. For heavens sake Microsoft have sense and let the user decide - as a non-techie put it to me "I don't want a cartoon interface on my PC". Lets not have another Vista moment!!!
    andy.james@...
    • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

      @andy.james@...
      If they had enhanced that crappy taskbar and learned so much from OS X, it would be worth the upgrade but that's not the case. Am not upgrading either cause I see no reason to upgrade. I smell Vista too
      shellcodes_coder
  • Really??

    Seriously: If you can't read between the lines of some of the "Build Windows 8" blog psots, then you're just about as daft as the commenters on that blog: Obviously, very obviously, the Metro UI will be configurable via GPO and will be allowed to be disabled.

    Kinda of like the Vista Start Menu and the "Classic" start menu. Right? Sound familar?

    And isn't that option nothing but a Registry change? Kind of like the utility that has already been developed for Windows 8 to enable the classic start menu by default:

    http://www.ghacks.net/2011/09/15/windows-8-start-menu-toggle-disable-enable-metro-ui/

    And if you look at that article - brace yourself - It's nothing but a simple registry change.

    So now let's put that into the bigger picture:

    If you take into account corporate deployment scenarios like VDI, kiosk environments, or just general corporate desktop standards that are relied on by most companies, we all know that MS cannot change the OS to remove itself from these use cases.

    The speculation surrounding this topic and even the insinuations from MJ in this article are complete FUD.

    Lesson to be learned: Don't get your panties in a bunch over a half-baked Dev preview, kids!

    See you at the Beta.
    hoytler
    • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

      @hoytler - I couldn't agree more. The purpose of the Windows 8 Developer Preview is to get developers learning WinRT & XAML, (oops, forgot to mention HTML5/JS... actually I didn't) and building Metro-style apps so that when Windows 8 does launch there will be a significant number of applications ready for sale via the Store thus increasing the viability of a Windows 8 tablet purchase over obvious rivals. I think too many people are reading too much into the new Start experience. I'm sure it will be configurable but I'm equally sure that it will be the default unless turned off and that the whole usability will drastically improve between now, Beta, RC & release.
      spc1972
    • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

      @hoytler

      Sure, tech-inclined folks will figure it out...but what about THE PEOPLE THAT THIS SIMPLISTIC UI IS TARGETING?

      If those people aren't flocking to WP7, doesn't that tell you something? Anything?

      Geez, you could hit Microsoft fanbois in the head with a rock, and they'd still insist everything's fine.
      gork platter
      • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

        [i]If those people aren't flocking to WP7, doesn't that tell you something? Anything?[/i]

        @gork platter
        Yeah strange, isn't it? They made a half-way usable OS and they're still not flocking.

        But I expect their shills to come around shortly and make excuses for that. You can count on it. ;)
        ScorpioBlue
  • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

    Yes! The Metro interface is brilliant but doesn't seem efficient for non-touchscreens. You need to be able to navigate the entire interface with a mouse and onscreen elements.

    Rolling-over invisible hotspots in the corner of the screen and keyboard+mouse shortcuts will not work for the average user.
    uberlaff
    • Metro UI brilliant? Yeah right.

      @uberlaff It is a UI for toddlers. It is more appropriate for the LeapFrog platform.
      wackoae
    • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

      @uberlaff The rolling-over invisible hotspots is a clumsy implementation designed to force all users of the Developer Preview to use the Start menu in this build (with all its faults). You can tell by the way the black border has been haphazardly placed over the old Start menu that it is a temporary measure.

      As I've posted above, this build of Windows 8 has not been provided for a complete assessment of the new start screen rather a platform to get developers to build Metro apps.

      I absolutely agree that the current build has challenges for non-touchscreens but I think this is far, far, far from being the finished product.
      spc1972
      • RE: Microsoft Windows 8 testers clamor for more interface customization (and may get some)

        @spc1972 - I've been experimenting with Windows 8 under Paralles on my iMac (very recent generation). It is clumsy but this doesn't bother me that much. It is a work in progress. But, I can see some elements that will stay and that bothers me.

        When I look at my iPad and see the dozens of small icons in the UI, I cannot imagine how a Windows 8 tablet will look with all the business card sized text icons and how it will allow me to navigate in that OS.

        I do agree with @uberlaff. It is a UI for toddlers.

        And I have a question that still needs resolved _ how will all this work properly with ARM cpus?
        Rafale555