My Take on Windows 8, and Why More People Should Try It

Okay, let’s get the easy part out of the way: Windows 8 is far from a perfect operating system, and its many problems and shortcomings – not the least of which stem from not listening to its consumer base – is shameful and disappointing.  I’m not going to blame anyone on any platform for having complaints on it.
However, for all of the flaws for which I am seeing people gripe and moan about, there is alot to like about it, and a good argument for keeping both Metro and standard desktop UI elements together.  It’s not yet ready for the work floor, but for the home consumer, it’s a step in the right direction – and deserves a little less flack than what it’s receiving.

Productivity:  The Big Failure
The biggest problem for Metro is its distinct lack of solid  productivity tools to really make it useful.  Plenty of articles have been written about a lack of Office that works in Metro; however, not many point to some of the other problems that would exist even if it was there.
As a student in college this recent semester,  I found a few huge advantages of having a decent dual-monitor setup – in my case, my TV and a second monitor – for doing online school work.  On my TV I could place PDFs, links to videos or my entertainment center software – in Windows 7 or  on desktop in Windows 8.  Metro,unfortunately,  is limited to one screen at a time – if I wanted to work two Metro apps at the same time, I can’t simply put them on separate screens:  I have to put the multiple apps that will work together on the same screen.  If the UI knew to take advantage of the larger screen real estate, this might not be an issue; unfortunately,  that’s not the case.
I mentioned the lack of Office in Metro earlier, but I didn’t mention how it affects me.  While I’m not bothered by not having a version of Excel or Access for Metro, my English teacher  sent some of his assignments in Word documents, something that’d been handy to have without opening a separate Word window on my second screen.  Likewise, downloading and viewing Powerpoint presentations might have been smoother, faster and easier in Metro than in standard.
None of this applies to my laptop, and trying to get this to work on a single screen would be pointless – while working in split-window is a doable option (especially in class), it’s something that would not work well in Metro due to its current design.  While there aren’t many people taking advantage of multi-monitor or TV setups, there is a lot of missed productivity opportunities in Metro that needs to be addressed in a future revision.
What few things Metro does right with the screen: Internet apps
I didn’t write this article to complain or to point out flaws alone – while I will point out other missed opportunities in this article, I wanted to highlight some of the things Metro is getting right, and show some  other areas that I haven’t seen in other articles.  For arguments sake,  the majority of this applies to my desktop setup, although some of it also applies to my laptop as well.
First is the Menu and some of the live tiles.  I currently have 4 email accounts:  2 GMail accounts (one with the college for school and a personal one,) a Yahoo account (rarely used anymore for anything other than a couple of sites where my old account would  not work), and my “mail” account that’s mostly used to tie  older accounts together.  The mail app in Metro handles all of them, and displays  when I have new  mail – with a caveat:  while my Gmail and Yahoo accounts work with little problem, my “mail” email address runs through my main Gmail – not a big problem as that’s how I’ve been using it for a year now, but a little annoying as some of my email that I am expecting slips through its filters first.
For most uses, not requiring more than a response, the mail app works fine and displays well on screen.  I’ve not had reason to use it with attachments or do any major sends with it, and a lot of that has to do with what is, to me, an interface that restricts too much.  For viewing email and seeing how many messages you have, it’s good.
The Weather App is another favorite, and probably the best “productivity”  app I’ve tried.  All I have to do to know the temperature is hit the “Start” key or access the “Start” screen – and the details provided by opening the app actually have saved me a little  time, in a few cases.  I can’t speak as well for the “News” app, as I’ve not used it.  (That has more due to the sources I think they use and the time I have to explore it – I’m really going to miss Google Reader.)
What Metro Does Best
The two areas I think Metro shines best revolve around entertainment: Streaming media and Gaming.  Both probably owe a lot to other Microsoft  consumer products like the deceased “Zune,” and current “Windows 7” and “XBox 360/Live,” and they also show the biggest potential.
Streaming
Streaming media is what I first explored and liked – I had an assignment in my Business class that required us to watch a video that was only available on Netflix.  Using the Netflix App was easier to do here than in the other options available at the time:  XBMC (my go-to media center app) required a plugin, and Windows Media Center – which was included with Vista and 7 – is not standard or free on 8.  I could have used a web browser, but I already had the App on my laptop,  making this easier.
I’ve also tried using Hulu Plus, with similar results (though not with similar needs – trying to look for ways to lower my cable bill legally, and so far not finding a satisfactory answer.)
In both cases, the UI of Metro were the best I had used (to that point) for a media center setup, and in both cases I’ve not bothered looking at other plugins for  my media center apps.  Text was easy to read on the TV,  and with a  few exceptions, I never need to leave either service for something I wanted to watch.  Both are well-done examples of what streaming services could be with Metro.
Casual Games
The other area where Metro shines brightest is in gaming, something that – in most cases – should be full screen anyways.  Using the interface in most Microsoft-based games is easy, and the games – from your “Solitaires” to your “Minesweepers” justify breaking away from the “Windows” mold.  (In most cases – I can’t answer for all,  as I’ve clearly not had time  to try them all – they work fine with keyboard and mouse.)
In non-Microsoft-based games for Metro, the joys of fullscreen can also be easily witnessed in similar fashion.  “Bejeweled Live,” for example, blends its traditional UI with Metro for a clean look on the players side.  Halfbrick’s “Jetpack  Joyride” and ZeptoLab’s “Cut the Rope” – favorites on other devices – stick to their  own interface designs but still fit in with other Metro-based apps.
Universal  Gripes
While these type of apps showcase clear advantages and potential for Metro in a media center setup, all of them show similar flaws.
First is controllers – it’s obvious many of the products were designed for a touch screen, but what’s not so obvious is the serious lack of thought of non-Microsoft controls  beyond the keyboard and mouse.  For example, in the streaming apps on my non-MCE remote control, neither Netflix nor Hulu Plus would recognize anything beyond standard keyboard and mouse commands – if I wanted to pause, I had to move  the mouse arrow to the “play/pause” button in each app;  going back to  the previous screen involved moving said mouse arrow to the “Back Arrow” at the top of the screen.  Likewise, in “SNES8X”, a Super Nintendo Emulator, the only game controller it would recognize is an XBox 360-based controller – my Logitech Precision that has proven good enough for  other games and is recognized as a device in Metro is simply not an option the emulator.  In “JetPack Joyride,” a game designed for  touchscreen, there’s only one control – the mouse button.  (It shows how simple the game really is, but really makes the game boring as well.)  This kind of behavior could be expected in standard Windows apps, but in a User Interface designed to be relatively easy for consumers, it’s not acceptable to be looking for other hacks or alternatives, or going and buying new hardware to work with it.
The second big problem is closing an app when you’re done – unlike Windows, where there’s a clearly defined “X” to close a Window, unless the App developer puts it in, you’re  going to have to get used to finding the Start Screen or hitting Alt-F4 – that’s because there’s no user interface element to close an app with.  If I’m at my mouse and keyboard this is fine;  with my remote control it sucks (drag & drop doesn’t work with it.)  Good thing I looked ahead at what my school work might entail…
Gamers probably noticed a lack of “Serious” games – your Skyrims, Diablo 3’s, Call of Duty’s, etc. While part of that is a lack of interest and time on my end, I wouldn’t expect them anytime soon: I’ve yet to encounter a Metro app installed in any other way than the App Store in Metro, and I wouldn’t expect this to change  anytime soon.   Microsoft, like Apple and Google, like having a way of gaining revenue and controlling media, and a lot of companies don’t like other companies eating a larger share of their profits.  It’s disappointing, because the App Store, while not as big or as nice-looking as other store offerings, is easy to use on the TV.
This brings me to another point: The lack of apps in the App Store.  I only mentioned Hulu plus and Netflix in the streaming because they’re the only ones I use that have native apps.  Earbits, Songza, and Amazon Prime lack apps at all, and favorite Youtube, while having plenty  of “download” apps, lacks a native one from Google.  (I’m not even going to mention “Google Play” or “iTunes” – I doubt either Apple or Google will take  notice until more users play with Metro.)  For most of these, you’ll either be stuck with using a Desktop or browser-based app.
I could go on, but the chances of any of this changing is slim until the next version of Windows.  The reason for that is simple: many of these complaints, while big enough to be spread across all of their apps, are not the biggest or most important problems to fix right now. Most of that involves refining and fixing the problems that make Metro unproductive right now – some of which 8.1 addresses (but doesn’t fully fix, as has also been noted,) much of  which will need a larger revision to get right.
Fight For It
The biggest problem of all of them – getting more apps into the App Store – is also a mixed conundrum of things they can control and things they can’t.  They could fix all of the things they’re getting wrong currently, such as forcing an interface not designed for the traditional desktop/laptop user onto everyone universally as well as the bugs I’ve mentioned – but without any support from the end user, there simply won’t be a need to create new apps for the environment.
That’s the biggest part I want to change right now.  Many people are viewing this as another “Windows ME,” a failed advancement that should be ended.  I view Windows 8 as similar to Windows Vista:  Full of good ideas, but not quite ready for primetime.  Windows 8 needs another “Windows 7”- like update to be ready, and for that to happen, it needs more of  its users voicing their opinions – but also using more of the features.  It also needs less people writing articles about killing it.
(One last thing:  if Microsoft needs to learn anything from Apple, it need only look at the transition from OS 9  to OS X – a lot of people gave Apple flack for their interface changes and killing Mac User favorites such as the Apple Menu and creating the Dock.  They stuck to their guns with the major changes while making revisions to make it easier and better for the user.  It took a few versions to get it good enough to be standard for most users and for users  to break away from the old OS for good around 10.4.  Metro is currently a1.0 product – it’s going to take a few revisions to get right.  Stick to your guns on this.)

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