Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

Summary: I installed Windows 8 on a touch tablet sold with Windows 7 onboard, and while I like the Metro interface the dual personality of the new OS is not natural.


I promised myself I would not rush into installing the Windows 8 developer's preview. I knew it would be a time sink for sure, and too early in its development to be really useful. The promise was empty, and yesterday I installed Windows 8 on a touch tablet designed for Windows 7. I figured it would be a good chance to experience the Metro touch interface to good effect. After using it for a few hours, I am unsettled at the dual nature of the beast.

The install of Windows 8 on the TegaTech v2 was very smooth. It struck me how much it looked like a Windows 7 install, which isn't surprising given the developers at Microsoft haven't had time to make it unique. I installed it from a USB stick, and after a brief period Metro was staring me in the face.

I do not intend to review Windows 8 (nor the install process) as it is just too new, and that would be pointless. I wasn't going to write about it at all, but after using it for a while the impression I am getting of one aspect of Windows 8 won't go away. When information about the dual nature of Windows 8 started hitting the web I was intrigued and wondered how Microsoft would pull that off. It seemed to me the Metro interface is slick and designed well, but bouncing back to the old Windows desktop was a bit strange.

I am finding the way Windows 8 bounces back and forth between the nice Metro interface and what is essentially the Windows 7 desktop to be jarring. It's hard to describe unless you do it on a touch tablet as I have been using. The Metro touch interface works well already, with the tiles nicely presented and the ease of swiping back and forth through the various start screens pleasantly done.

I like swiping from the side to get to common tasks, and love swiping between apps. I cannot envision how I would like the Metro interface on a "real" system, not a touch tablet, but on the slate it is a good implementation, although I need real apps to verify the experience.

The problem is that far too often tapping a Metro tile results in getting thrown back to the old Windows 7 desktop. This presented itself right from the beginning as my WiFi network wasn't working. This is a driver issue so I don't blame this early build of Windows 8 for that, but the way it was handled pointed out how new Windows 8 users are going to be hit in the face with the dual personality of the OS.

I swiped in the settings pane from the right, and saw that my network was disconnected. The only option given was to troubleshoot it, and tapping it on the nice green pane took me straight to the old desktop. It looked like Windows 7, worked like Windows 7, it was in fact the Windows 7 desktop. It wasn't very touch-enabled, either. I went from a tablet interface to a non-tablet interface with a single tap on the screen.

Dealing with the desktop mode on a Windows 8 tablet is just like using Windows 7 on one today. It's not very good. Things are small on the screen and hard to tap accurately, the same problem I've had with Windows 7 touch tablets for years.

I figured that this was a special case but throughout my use over the next few hours I kept finding myself thrown back and forth between Metro and the desktop far too often. Looking for a file? Tapping the File Manager Metro tile shoots you to the desktop. Working with the Control Panel in Metro? Hitting "More settings" bounces you into the old Windows 7 Control Panel. While nice to have options available, I found it jarring to be thrown back into the old OS far too often.

I kept thinking that if I was a new Windows 8 tablet owner, the excitement that comes with getting a new gadget would be dimmed when the realization set in that this is basically Windows 7 with a new skin. The more Windows 8 Metro bounced me back to the old desktop, the more that realization was driven home. I understand that there are lots of things under the hood that are new, but that's dashed every time that Windows 7 desktop takes over.

Microsoft has a big job ahead to make this dual personality work. My limited testing shows that the Metro interface is not natural to use with a mouse and keyboard, and the desktop mode doesn't work well with touch. It's like a one size fits all shirt that is far too big in the shoulders and far too tight around the waist. One size rarely fits all.



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

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  • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

    I think this point was well illustrated in one of the keynotes, where they showed a blank Metro desktop to illustrate the need for developers to provide apps. By release time, the plan seems to be that there should be enough functionality available through the Metro interface, either by Microsoft fleshing out the Control Panel or by developers providing fart apps, that you shouldn't really need to switch over to desktop mode very often except when you need to use apps such as Photoshop. On the flipside, if you're in a business scenario then the desktop still works pretty much the same as it always did, and there's already a registry option to use the "classic" Start menu instead of the Metro one, so if you want to spend all your time in Desktop mode without seeing Metro then that should also be fine.
    • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

      @MarkXA But the Desktop mode is Windows 7. No need for enterprise to upgrade, and that's a big problem for MSFT.
      • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

        That's right, I don't see Windows 8 as having enough improvements for the enterprise to upgrade. Unless MS manages to change how people think about enterprise applications, that is not very likely. They may wait for Windows 9 or maybe stay with Win 7 for another decade
      • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets


        The integration of Windows applications into the Metro environment has not been dealt with at all in the developer preview. The DP is intended to let developers play with *Metro* apps.

        Right now, starting an "old" application uses a typical cop-out: Just switch back to the desktop. One could easily imagine hosting that application in a Metro frame instead - allwoing you to switch seamlessly between apps and applications.

        Consider how starting Word would simply make Word appear as a full-screen app, possibly with a "swipe-up" menu where you can *choose* to let it appear on the desktop - much as how it works for IE now.

        The bottom line, you *can not* conclude anything about integration with "legacy" applications from the DP. The only intent with the DP was to let developers have a first glimse on how to write Metro apps; not to demonstrate interop between Metro apps and Windows applications.
      • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets


        There are other new features in W8 that you may not be aware of: 10-second boot time, Minimal Hardware requirement, Client Hyper-V, Refresh/Resest PC, Connected Standby, Early Load Malware, Secured Boot, SmartScreen, etc., to name a few. And none of them have anything to do with the Metro UI.

        As if that's not enough, there also happens to be another phenomenon corporations have been encountering these past few days: their employees' love with their tablets. The problem is integrating those tablets into the network. With W8, you'll get a device that gives the users a slick touch interface, and is also easily integrated into the corporate network. (The underlying assumption here is that users will love Metro about as much as they love their iPads).

        So I think there are enough compelling reasons to upgrade to W8, even if businesses have switched to W7 or Vista. But if they're on XP, I think they will jump to W8.

      • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

        @JamesKendrick Plus, the entire reason to go with Windows on a tablet is for compatibility with all of your existing Windows applications - not so that you can buy/develop all new applications for the Metro UI. If you are required to buy all new applications for your new Metro UI, then you might as well buy all new applications for an iPad instead. The choice of available applications for the iPad will be far greater for years to come because they will have had a minimum 3 year head start at Win8 introduction. That's another reason the enterprise may balk at Metro/Win8 on tablets. The playing field on tablets is far more level than on desktops.

        On the desktop, I find Metro ugly and clumsy in comparison to a standard desktop. The two window per screen limitation is just too restrictive. I have two displays - 30" and 24". Normally, I have at least 6-8 apps open at once and spread across both displays. The Quick Launch bar is far more efficient for opening new programs than returning to a Metro desktop and scrolling through multiple pages of big blocks to find the app. I just can't see myself ever using Metro on the desktop.
      • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

        @JamesKendrick With all the virtualization and install, refresh options and no retraining for metro or other changes, there are plenty of reasons to start installing Windows 8 on new computers instead of Windows 7 for the enterprise. And for enterprises Windows 8 license is already in their Enterprise Agreement and is not an added cost. So, I think you are wrong the no need to upgrade for the enterprise statement.
      • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

        @JamesKendrick "but the way it was handled pointed out how new Windows 8 users are going to be hit in the face with the dual personality of the OS."<br><br>This is a dev preview. Saying that Win8 users are "going to be hit in the face" with this issue is 100% pure speculation, unless you mean "win8 dev preview users".
    • Wait a minute...

      @MarkXA Windows 8 DP is by no means close to production ready so the fact that so much isn't available in the Metro UI environment means that there's a lot to come. The production version of the OS will enable the user to manage the entire OS via the Metro UI. The only time a user would ever go to the desktop "app" is to access a legacy app. I think Microsoft's only mistake is not telling everyone how much still needed to be done to get the OS production-ready.

      By the time Windows 8 hits the selves, every major piece of software currently on the market will have a Metro app. Microsoft does not want Windows 8 users to interact with the desktop, and believe me when I say, you'll never need to.
      General C#
    • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets


      It's a dev build and by no means is it the way the final product will be when it hits the store shelves. Corporations would just run the OS in Classic mode anyways unless there was a need for the touch interface. If the classic desktop is like windows 7 then there's really no reason not to upgrade if your using GPO to force a classic desktop.
  • I've had similar issues with Canonical's Unity UI

    It ultimately forced me to switch to Xubuntu.

    But let's give Microsoft a chance to refine.

    These are exciting times in software development.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate
      Ram U
    • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate At least its an original idea as opposed to Linux/Android with its copycat roots.
      Copy Unix to make Linux
      Copy Windows UI for Linux
      Android copy iOS UI etc...

      When will Linux/Android have an original idea??????????
  • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

    I've triple booted Win7, Ubuntu and Win8 and I haven't left Win8 for 4 days now. I agree with the point you make about switching between the two interfaces.
    I have a 24-inch 1080p monitor and constantly switching between them is definitely jarring. In fact, my eyes feel some pain after a few switches. Sure the transition is smooth, but it is a bit too much for the big screen.
    Even on a tablet, when a regular user switches from Metro, I can see them being confused for a moment and needing a few seconds to adjust to the UI change. But I hope MS does something about this particular problem. Maybe, they could change the transition animation or create a better switching mechanism. I have no idea how they can do that, but they need to come up with an idea for it.
    Personally, I don't mind having two desktops; in fact, I kind of like it. But general users may find it off putting.
  • Agreed

    People wanting a traditional desktop will be irritated by being thrown into METRO; people wanting METRO will keep getting thrown into the complex desktop. Nobody will be happy!<br><br>As an experienced user I would be prepared to put up with it ... because I'd set everything important up in desktop and enjoy the games in METRO when I'm on a desktop PC ... and vice versa on a tablet. Average consumer: no way!<br><br>No doubt M$ want to push people towards METRO but I think pushing is a mistake: that was tried with UAC in VISTA and went down like a lead balloon, no the Titanic.<br><br>I think the winning strategy is:<br><br>- let dinosaurs keep their desktop (put the old search button back and allow me/businesses to choose to go straight into desktop by default: there are enough goodies in W8 desktop to make the upgrade worthwhile, even without the pluses in METRO)<br><br>- to keep newbies in METRO and allow desktoppers to switch to METRO for the games (are newbies going to fire up Remote Desktop and Virtual Machine Manager? I think not!)<br><br>- coupled with some high quality METRO apps. (for desktoppers) and easy-to-use desktop apps (for newbies) ... the experience will be far more palatable. I'd be trying to create something of an allure for 'the other side'.<br><br>Indeed I wonder if there needs to be a flag called 'native environment' which alters the interface subtly. If a desktopper hits search ... it comes up desktop old-school search ... and if a METRO man hits search ... its all green. Similarly if the charms are all grouped for short mouse travel for desktoppers ... but arranged for two thumbs in METRO.<br><br>Choice - the personal PC - that has always been Windows strong point and Apple's weakness. Let's keep it that way!<br><br>Motto (borrowed): Death of the PC = Birth of hype.
  • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

    I believe this developer preview is just to give a taste of Metro and the desktop. The final version will give the user a choice that you either load metro or desktop.
    • False

      @owlnet <br>W8 will be schizophrenic Siamese twins: the left head METRO the right DESKTOP.
      • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets


        The choice is to carry two devices or one. If you would rather carry one, I don't understand your objection to the Siamese twins angle. If you prefer to carry two, I understand.

  • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets


    Are you saying that you'd rather not have the Metro UI? You're stating in no uncertain terms that classic Windows is no good for touch. Even if we assume for a minute (incorrectly) that nothing will change between now and a year later, Windows 8 in its current form is still far better, isn't it? It supports a slick touch interface that Windows 7 doesn't. In other words, that already is an upgrade. So I don't understand your concern.

    I have an HP Touchsmart TM2T (which I like). While I'm not crazy about Win7's touch interface, there are certain pieces that are extremely touch-friendly -- MCE comes to mind right away. I would love to have more touch-friendly parts on the GUI. So W8 is exactly what the doctor ordered. It has the slickest possible touch interface in Metro. And if you want to go back to your old W7 interface to do some real work, it's there! I don't see anything wrong with that.

    With W8, MSFT is trying give us a device that is not only ideal for consumption (a la iPad), but can also get work done (classic). As a poweruser who likes to play once in a while, I'm all for it.

    Please do explain in a future post why you're not. The whole jarring experience explanation doesn't suffice.

  • RE: Windows 8: First steps with the dual personality on tablets

    Need to be able to completely turn off Metro and have Metro apps appear in the desktop environment, and vice versa.

    Unfortunately the MS game plan is to eventually kill the desktop and Win32 and have you use only WinRT/METRO apps that are sold only through their store with 30% to them. Abetting this strategy is the lockdown required for windows logo machines.