Dogfooding Windows 8? I have a bone to pick

Dogfooding Windows 8? I have a bone to pick

Summary: Windows 8 isn't two operating systems in one. It's one operating system that you can use in various ways, depending on your PC hardware.


I was interested to see the mix of reactions to Windows 8 by some 'long-term' users gathered by David Gewirtz from several of our ZDNet colleagues in the US — where long term included a week or so in some cases. So I couldn't resist weighing in with my own thoughts.

I've used Windows 8 on and off since September 2011 when the Developer Preview came out. At the time I was disappointed that it wasn't ready for day-to-day use like the M3 build of Windows 7. But I've used it as my only OS since the Consumer Preview came out in February 2012.

I have several Windows 8 systems and one Windows 7 machine left, which I use about twice a week to look as if I'm on a different IP address and because I haven't taken the time to find a Windows 8-compatible equivalent to Hotspot Shield or bothered to check if Hotspot Shield has been upgraded to 8. Other than that, I use Windows 8 all the time.

My use of Windows 8

How I use Windows 8 varies radically depending on whether I'm talking about the HP touchscreen notebook with permanent keyboard that I use as my main work machine or the Samsung Series 7 slate I use around the house and when I don't need to type long documents — and my Surface RT is much like the Series 7.

On the touchscreen HP notebook, I live on the desktop the way I always have, in Outlook and OneNote and the browser and I use ClipMate and my Word macros and tweaks, and I'm delighted with the faster startup and longer battery life. I appreciate that offline files work better and while I don't forget I'm using Windows 8, I'm just using Windows.

It's not that Windows 8 pushes me in one direction or another. It's that I choose which machine I'm going to use based on what I'm going to do

I keep my hands on the keyboard and the trackpad and the touch pointer except when I reach up and touch the screen to hit the Send button in Outlook or scroll through a document or web page or select a menu or use the ribbon in OneNote — but I did all those things in Windows 7.

I have about 20 icons pinned to the taskbar for my desktop programs. I'm just as likely to open the Charms bar or switch apps with the keyboard as I am with my fingers. I don't miss Aero glass at all, or the poky, fiddly, liable-to-close-at-the-wrong-moment Start menu.

I use the Start screen to launch apps and the charm bar to open control panel and PC Settings and the Metro apps I use most are games, People and just looking at my live tiles for updates like weather forecasts without opening the app.

When I have a keyboard, Windows 8 is a better version of Windows 7. But I know that's influenced by my 1280 screen resolution not letting me have a Windows Store app snapped at the side of my desktop, so the Start screen is a bit more out of sight, out of mind.

On the slates, I live in the Start screen and what I've trained myself to call the Windows Store applications. I use the People app to keep up with Twitter and Facebook. I use the Metro version of IE to browse the web and enter books into LibraryThing and do my online banking and everything else I'd rather do on a screen larger than my phone.

I search in the Bing app rather than the desktop browser. I use Play To to send videos to the Xbox so we can see them on the big screen. I use both desktop and Windows Store versions of OneNote with a pen on the Samsung slate for taking notes when I'm at meetings. It's ideal for notes over lunch when a plate and a notebook don't fit side by side or into the conversation. I do wish Surface RT had a pen.

Windows Store apps

I play more games and spend more time in Windows Store apps but I can drive the desktop with my finger whenever I want to. It's just that because it's a tablet rather than a notebook form factor, I'm not opening so many desktop programs because I'm using it when I don't need to do things in desktop programs.

It's not that Windows 8 pushes me in one direction or another. It's that I choose which machine I'm going to use based on what I'm going to do and that tends to be split into things that require precision and heavy text input so I use the best keyboard I have, and things that I want to do when I'm sitting back that don't need thousands of words of text and are nice to do with touch alone.

For the past few years, I've had one PC that I really use — three generations of an HP EliteBook tablet PC. The 2740p is great: good screen, responsive touch, super keyboard, good enough battery life, enough power for all my programs at once. It's a bit too heavy for my bad back but it's so much of what I need in every dimension that it's effectively my only PC.

I bought the Samsung Slate thinking I'd alternate between a pure slate for days out and a planned Ultrabook to give me a lighter system but I realised I'd miss touch on a notebook too much for scrolling documents so I have a light tablet and a heavy tablet.

I'm looking for my ideal next laptop to buy next year — convertible, powerful, Core, touch and active pen. I don't think I'm ever going to have just one machine anymore, but until Windows 9 comes along everything I use will have Windows 8 on it.

Topics: Microsoft, Tablets, Windows

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • Good points, but...

    Good points by the author, but... don't you think Microsoft could've simplified things by just putting the Metro tiles on the classic desktop--thus, giving us a unified desktop? The Start button & taskbar could still be toggled on or off if the user so chooses (though, I believe, most users will find the Start button unnecessary with a unified desktop).

    I think that's a better solution than the extra & unnecessary steps of slipping back and forth between two desktops. I love Windows 8, but I think this simple change of one desktop for ALL (people & devices) is a better solution. I'm still hoping they'll make this change with the next update. :)
    • I Suspect the Idea Is to Force Familiarity With Modern UI

      I suspect that the reason that Microsoft didn't make Windows 8 more of a "toggle between modes" operating system is to try to force users to become familiar with the new Modern UI (or whatever they're calling it this week). Since Windows on the desktop is just going to end up on a large number of computers (new ones), people will end up using it enough to become familiar with it (unless there is a wholesale rebellion against it, and people start installing old versions of Windows instead - which they certainly hope won't happen).

      The idea is that if you become familiar with Modern UI on the desktop, then that's what you'll want on mobile - because it's familiar. You'll look to buy a Windows tablet and a Windows phone (though the name "Windows" becomes rather ironic with this UI). It's a way to try and head off 'I have Windows on my desktop and Android on my tablet and phone' being the standard situation. It would be all too possible for that situation to lead to 'I have Android on my tablet and phone, and I hook up my tablet to a monitor and keyboard as my desktop' sometime in the future. They don't want Android to creep up from mobile to desktop; they want the reverse, for Windows to creep down from desktop to mobile.
      • If Microsoft doesn't fix it, Apple will...

        The reality is that many faithful Windows users think the dueling desktops in Windows 8 is unwieldy & overly complicated... and if Microsoft doesn't figure out a way to unify the classic desktop with the Metro start screen... Apple will. Trust me. Apple is listening to all of the complaints about Windows 8... and what are they going to do? They're going to give Mac & iOS users exactly what many Windows 8 users (and bloggers) are asking for--a unified desktop/start screen. And then everyone will say in unison, "Apple is genius." And Microsoft will screw themselves again out of pure stubbornness & refusal to listen to their devoted customers.

        Honestly, I don't understand some of the excuses. I mean, tiles can't be put on the desktop because the screen scrolls? Um, the background picture doesn't need to move.... just the tiles need to scroll/move. Isn't that sort of how dual monitors work anyway?

        Furthermore, why is Microsoft forcing people (and businesses) with non-touch devices to use the Metro tiles if they have no use for them? It's just making them angry and/or skip Windows 8 altogether.

        To me, it just makes sense to unify the desktop & Metro screen into one screen... so there will be no more flipping back and forth (which is unproductive & confusing), and no need for the weird "hot corner" in the lower left corner of the screen. The Start button & taskbar can be toggled off as default, but for those on non-touch devices, it can be toggled on... and the Metro tiles can be toggled off (or unpinned from the start screen)... or even pushed off to the side... so that the classic desktop is there for those using classic Windows programs... but a flick to the right reveals the tiles. This seems way more intuitive than a second desktop and confusing "hot corners."

        And, again, I say this as someone who likes Windows 8 & Metro. I just think it can be streamlined... and I think unifying the desktop with the Metro start screen would go a long way in doing that. :)
        • I don't think

          You're really going go use a "desktop" on a lot of hardware. As is, the Start screen is a very fast application launcher on the desktop. At least for now, it still makes sense to have split/full screen apps on mobile hardware with the desktop easily assessable on full-bodied systems.
      • The Operative Word Is "Force"

        I agree that MS is consciously trying to force users in exactly the way you suggest. Apparently MS is not a believe in pick the right tool for the job.

        "When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail"

        Funny, everyone's darling fruit (Apple in case you're from Florida) seems to get along just fine with a clearly touch centric OS on the iThings and a completely different interface for OS-X on it's PCs.
        • carrots aren't enough, use sticks?

          Google took huge market share despite Microsoft having some search presence back then and despite them throwing plenty of money at it.

          Microsoft used their money and prowess and imitation , and inovation to crush the likes of netscape and wordperfect etc, . The certainly exploited some advantages by giving their product away initially and making it easy and logical to use their whole suite.

          But, that past road of victory hasn't been working for them with search and a decreasing share of browser share. Their hotmail was pummeled by gmail and others are continuing to cut in to communications via social networking.

          So, carrots no more! bring out the sticks. My experience was only with the Windows 8 phone.. not the other windows 8 operating systetm. They basically forced me to make a new hotmail account (actually upgraded to an outlook account ) in my business name in order to upload my Outlook contacts to my phone device even as iphones interfaced fine with my desktop.

          They couldn't beat Google search with quality and win me over but integrated Bing in a way it had excusive use of hardware (one of only 3 buttons) and made using Google or others through internet windows extremely cumbersome in the way windows are opened and closed without a user so commanding first and in ways where places on an open window are unexpectedly lost.

          If people prefer chrome or firefox, or chrome over explorer, the stick prevents us from taking that carrot on the Windows 8 phone. "Everyone is doing it" is both not nearly true, and we all learned in kindegarten that "two wrongs don't make a right" anyway.. making that sort of justification a bit like a child that can't learn to get along, if it isn't spurious.

          Go back to winning with carrots Microsoft, spare me the stick!
          Shander Maxwhite
      • If forced to a channeled form, might as well go Apple

        Biggest issue.. if they're forcing me to use a channeled interface, why would I still chose them instead of Apple ? I chose and loved Microsoft for its flexibility..but would have no reason to stay loyal if they moved towards Apple, .. or a model like Google that profits from studying monetizing my use patterns, not by selling me tools to use as I like. If they're all going to be more closed gardens I'm then only picking which one I want to bear.

        I've been an ardent PC backer(not a techie though.. don't really ask me what a dll is or something other than its something that can go wrong)

        I've most resented that Apple really wants to control how people do things... things are so linear... well, maybe I haven't used them enough. Forward delete is there with an alt key finally so maybe they changed their ways.

        Microsoft has always been far more open. By their very nature they were tool builders and tool sellers and wide open towards other companies making other tools to use alongside their tools. That wasn't an all or none thing.. plenty of gray in that statement and they would mercilessly put innovators out of business after copying all others designed but those that could still do it better and hold their users hearts did stay in business despite the odds of fighting a gorilla. Netscape might be dead but open source firefox pops up... chrome is working better for me now than this version of explorer which seems to crash my computer when using flash once a week.
        Shander Maxwhite
    • no ;-)

      live tiles on the desktop would be covered by my program windows. they'd be all over the lovely pictures I use as my background. it would be just as much of a step to see them as it is to go see the Start screen. Oh, and the Start screen scrolls sideways so I can see a lot more tiles than you can fit on the desktop.

      I'd suggest you stop hoping ;-)
      • I agree

        Windows 8 in this configuration would also make for excellent Point of Sale systems and just about anything else I can think of. As I was saying above. It makes sense to have split/full screen apps that work well on mobile devices separate from the space we do work on full-strength systems. The transition is seamless anyway. I think I can launch any desktop program on my computer in under a second and be back at it. Metro, as a launcher works great. That said, I'm finding myself use mobile style apps on the desktop when it makes sense in combination with my x86 apps.
      • MB .. it's all fine 'n well

        arguing with members of the public, for the most part. But trying to convince others your standpoint *somehow* carries more weight than anyone else, is a tad precious.

        You are as entitled to "like it" as others have to "hate it", i mean, that's your prerogative (and theirs ... whoever "they" are). The problem i have is how Evangelists like you try to hide behind a thin veil of pretentious neutrality and trying to vainly come across as being unbiased.

        If all you want is to show you'll like whatever Microsoft comes up with, then fine! Just proclaim it up front, i'll accept that - and i'm sure most others will too. But the self satisfied, self-righteous, sanctimonious air is no way to get anyone to 'buy in to' something - especially those reticent after a fair bit of negative press about Windows 8 already and this early in the game.

        All told, sale figures don't lie: Windows 8 will either be a roaring success or it may end up faring the same as Windows ME or Vista. I'm not banking on it out-doing Win XP or trumping Windows 7.

        Microsoft have one thing that's gone their way since tying in with the OEM's years ago: their wares get distributed by default. That's NOT THE SAME as being chosen by end-users shopping for a new computer and hand picking an OS. Until that's no longer the case (..fat chance!), than that will just remain the status quo.

        There's really no competition for good word of mouth - and there's no recovery from bad press. The court of public opinion is cruel and it takes no prisoners. Windows 8 sinks or swims on it's own merits. It doesn't need apologists or soothsayers to make it float. No amount of double-talk, diatribe or sanguine opinion changes that formula.

        The jury's out.

        A good day to you.
        • I'm not an evangelist

          as a journalist, I believe my job description is close to 'I call them as I see them'
          • Mary, I'm glad to hear that, that makes two of us

            'I call them as I see them'

            What I like about you is you've got a very clear grasp of a wide range of technologies, and, for the most part, it shows through in your write-ups.

            But, just so there's no misunderstanding like, you need to know, this ain't my first rodeo. This old hound has been around the traps some and knows the difference between unbiased, critical thinking and something bordering on shameless worship.

            Now the latter may not be a truly accurate - or even fair - appraisal of your stance on all things Microsoft, but by my reading of your posts, to date, it ain't too far removed either. You'd be wise to bear that in mind - and certainly not for my benefit, but for yours as a staffer at ZDNet, in order to be seen as having unbiased integrity.

            There we have it: I just called it as i saw it.

            You go on and have a nice weekend.
    • I don't think you're thinking through your sugguestion

      As Mary says in a reply below, the windows would cover the live tiles. Clicking on the "show desktop" (right) corner would be the equivalent step of pressing the start screen (left) hot-corner. Same number of steps, except now the interface would be MORE visually confusing with moving tiles below movable windows. It would also retain the chrome that Windows 8 is trying to limit. If you haven't spent time with it, it sounds weird, but once you get used to it, not having the chrome is very, very nice.

      I think that if Microsoft had attempted this, it would have been panned by users and critics alike as just a half-attempted skinning of Windows 7, resulting in something that doesn't work at all for mobile or for desktop. (and yes, I'm opening myself up to the trolls with that one, but whatever.)
    • Have you seen the average end-user Desktop?

      Most are riddled with 50 icons or more without any structure. Adding live tiles would be like enabling the old Active Desktop feature...that was a nightmare and I imagine it would put strain on battery life which is why Aero Glass was removed. MS had to do something fresh and if they butchered the desktop people would have cried foul...look at the way they complain about the start menu. With Win 8 you get the best of both worlds and the freedom to use it as you want.
    • Two Desktops?

      There's only one desktop in Windows 8. The start menu is a start menu. Metro itself doesn't have a desktop of any kind, it just has a program launcher that can pop up on top of whatever app you're running. It operates exactly the same way as the old start menu (opening and overlaying on top of whatever else is there until you close it or launch something from it) and is in no way a desktop.

      It isn't even a "home screen" if you're thinking of it in a more mobile context, it's just a menu that you can open from anywhere. Your topmost app is still running underneath it, and you can hit the start button again to close it.

      I think this dual desktop metaphor is what's confusing a lot of people, and if you think about it that way I can see why it would seem odd and its behavior would be less than predictable. Just remember that it's a start menu that acts just like the one you've always had; it just happens to be too large to see over the top of it to the thing that's running underneath.
    • Get over the whole start thing

      Dude, the start menu is dead and, now that I've been using Windows 8 for more than 6 months I can say that I never want that clumsy thing again. That start screen is so much faster. " poky, fiddly, liable-to-close-at-the-wrong-moment Start menu". That's the way I have always experienced. I don't want Microsoft to ever bring that back and I really hope they don't. I've seen a few users that say they used the start menu to open up explorer (by right-clicking on it). These users have just been used to doing something the wrong way for a long time. That is not the preferred method of opening up explorer in older Windows. Other than that, almost everybody uses Windows 8 as they used Windows 7. Pinned apps, app shortcuts on the desktop, and for some, something like RocketDock.
      • Why Should I?

        I have no problem with your deep and abiding love for Windows 8 and its mangled IU for non-touch machines. Knock yourself out and I pity any actual users you support.

        I have a major problem with your self-appointed arrogance in directing me to "Get over the whole start thing" because I hold the exact opposite OPINION.

        No one has appointed you GOD IN CHARGE (if they did, post the order and the source of authority for they who issued it) and your highly inflated estimate of your place in the universe to issue such edicts exists only your own tightly closed mind.
        • Uhhh...

          I hate comments like this... why post a comment with your "OPINION" if you don't want people to read it and then start a discussion about their "OPINION" of the flaw that they see in your "OPINION"? If you don't want people to poke holes in your "OPINIONS" then don't post them on the internet since by doing so you are already doing what you are accusing others of doing... trying to force your "OPINION" on others by just clicking 'Submit'... think, then speak...
          • You know what.

            I hate people who hate those who have an opinion on someones opinion that is a different opinion to them...

            Gosh, we could go on all night...
      • Duke

        'Dude', why are you such a self-satisied, condescending, seemingly god entitled dick? Is it all just part of W8 fanboisism, or are you just that way all the time?