A Linux desktop and tablet user and Windows 8

I'm a Linux user, but I kind of like Windows XP, and I can get along fine with Windows 7, but Windows 8? Argh!
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

By default, Windows 8 Metro is one ugly spud of an operating system.

By default, Windows 8 Metro is one ugly spud of an operating system.

Some people think I dislike Windows in the same way some people dislike sports teams-I'm just prejudiced against the New York Yankees, Manchester United, Duke Blue Devils, whoever. Nope. I just dislike operating systems and programs that don't run well. Over the years, though, Windows has improved. These days, in addition to my Mint Linux desktops, I happily run Windows XP SP3 and Windows 7 SP1. Windows 8 though? Oh Lord!

When I installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview in VirtualBox and natively on another PC, I didn't have high hopes for it. I've been playing with Windows 8 alpha releases for a while now and I found Windows 8, like Vista before it, to be pretty awful. But, I decided to give this latest sample of Windows 8 a fair chance to show me its stuff. Well, I've been kicking its tires for almost two weeks now and I'm here to tell you Windows 8, and its Metro interface are as awful as I feared they be.

Gallery Tour: Setting up Windows 8 Consumer Preview with VirtualBox

It's hard to know where to begin. But, perhaps I should start with a Windows 8 Metro problem that follows GNOME 3.x of all desktops down the same wrong alley. Both Windows 8 and GNOME 3.x make the simple task of turning a system off a pain-in-the-rump. Why? Oh why?

Some people argue that shutting down systems is so old-fashioned, but until every device I have has a battery life like the new Apple iPad is supposed have, I want to be able to easily turn it off. And, besides, why the heck make it hard to turn off the first place anyway?

Speaking of other basics, I, for one, am used to scroll up and down, not from side to side, on a desktop. Sure, it works on tablets, but I'm trying to use Windows 8 on a desktop. I think most people are going to try to use it on tablets either. If I'm on a desktop, why are you forcing me to relearn such a basic way of working with my PC?

Oh sure, Microsoft wants Windows 8 to be a major tablet player. Well, guess what, I want to be king of the world too, and neither one is going to happen. Apple owns the high-end of tablets, has designs on the mid-range--thanks to keeping the iPad 2 around at a lower price point-and Linux-based Android will own the low end. I don't see a lot of room for Windows 8 tablets.

In addition, also like GNOME 3.x, now that I think of it, Metro is just ugly. But, hey you don't have to take the word of a Linux guy for it. Ed Bott, who favors Windows as much as I do Linux, says, "I think a lot of the reason people have a negative reaction to the Metro style Start today is because the default presentation is so ugly and impersonal." And, then, explains how to customize Metro into a more reasonable interface.

It's a great guide, but, wow, that's a lot of trouble just to take Metro's default and turn it into something that, even afterwards, Even after the clean up I still don't find Metro that usable. Give me a GNOME 2.x style desktop, ala Mint's Cinnamon, any day. On Windows 8, you could, of course, try to just use the classic desktop, but Microsoft doesn't make that easy.

A walk through Mint Linux's new/old Cinnamon desktop (Gallery)

In addition, as again Bott notes, Windows 8 is actually built for small displays. How small? Try 10 to 13-inches. Are you kidding me? I've considered 20-inches the minimum size for a display since I paid $2,700 back in the 90s for a then state-of-the-art NEC 5D multisync monitor. Ubuntu's Unity and Head Up Display (HUD) don't do great with my current large monitors, but they can make effective use of my screen real estate. Cinnamon and KDE 4.8, however, do great with large displays.

A first look at Ubuntu Linux's Head-Up Display (Gallery)

The big question with Windows 8, is whether the dual-or is it dueling?--and mostly separate user experiences in Windows 8 make any sense at all. That is, Windows 8 offers both the classic desktop interface we've been using since Windows 95, as well as a new Metro-style runtime environment called WinRT that consists of the Start screen, Metro-style apps, and the various edge UI [user interface] bits that transcend both environments.

"Microsoft's contends that by not eliminating the backwards compatibility of the past and including the desktop in addition to the new Metro environment, it has created a 'no compromises' operating system, something that offers the best of both worlds, if you will. Microsoft's critics offer up an equally compelling story: This two-headed hydra is a mess, and is in fact the opposite of 'no compromises.' It is, they say, the very definition of compromise."

Those last two paragraphs by the by? They're not mine. They're the slightly paraphrased comments of Paul Thurrott, the man behind the Supersite for Windows. Even this Windows expert's Windows expert, "worries that Windows 8 is disjointed, that these two separate environments will never be crossed, and that Microsoft is essentially creating two different products that will coexist, weirdly, together."

Thurrott hopes that Metro, in which "the final release will essentially be the world's biggest beta test" and Windows 8 will be successful. I don't think so. Desktop or tablet, users want operating systems that either work the way they're used to them working or provides a truly compelling reason to learn a new system. Windows 8 provides neither.

Don't mis-read me. I'm not predicting that Windows 8 will be such a flop, ala Vista, that some users will move to Linux. Desktop Linux is a niche operating system. For those of us willing to give it a chance and like its superiority stability and security, it's great.

But, unless a day comes that major OEMs like Dell and HP make Ubuntu or Mint as easy to buy as Windows 7, it's not going to jump forward. Its close relatives, Android tablets, Chrome OS and Google Chromebooks may be another matter, but classic desktop Linux? No, it won't benefit that much even if Windows 8 is an even bigger flop than Vista.

No, what I expect to happen is that Windows 8 will flop, users will insist on keeping Windows 7. In fact, very quietly, Microsoft has extended Windows 7's consumer support cycle. If things go the way I think they will for Windows 8, I expect you'll see a similar announcement about Windows 7's sales life cycle about this time next year.

While all that's happening, I'll still be happily using my Linux systems as my main desktops and running Android on my main tablets.

Related Stories:

Here's what's wrong with Windows 8

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

The Metro hater's guide to customizing Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Virtually Windows 8: How to set up the Consumer Preview in VirtualBox

Five Reasons why Windows 8 will be dead on arrival

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