The Problem with Windows Is Not What You Think

The complaints about the Microsoft Windows 8 began before the OS was even released. There were complaints about the Metro tiles and apps being too cartoonish. There were complaints about the removal of the Windows 95/2000/Vista/7 start menu from the desktop. And, there were complaints about trying to create one OS for tablets, desktops, and smartphones. I pretty much ignored them.

See, I was late to the Windows 8 party. My trusty old Vista machine kept plugging away for over 8 years. Even though there were problems running some newer applications (Office 365/2013 did not run on it), frugality won out. That is, until the motherboard fried. Literally. Smoke came out of the machine. That precipitated a purchase of a new workhorse PC that naturally came with Windows 8.

I’m glad I didn’t listen to the haters early on. I wouldn’t have wanted their vitriol to shade my own assessment. Whereas most complaints are about changes to the desktop, I think I know the real problem with Windows 8 (or in my case 8.1). It is the existence of desktop UI, not the changes to it. The desktop anchors Windows to an earlier era and an old metaphor of computing. Windows 8 still relies on a UI that is pretty much the same as it was in 1995. It’s prettier but functionally equivalent. Metro, on the other hand, is a fresh and radical departure, well designed for a modern age. It is, unfortunately, hamstrung by a continued reliance on Windows’ ancient ways.

Practically, it means constantly switching between two very different UIs. Want to run a “desktop” application? Even if it’s launched from the Metro interface you still switch to the desktop UI. Need to change some configuration settings? You might find a few in the Metro Settings app but then Windows needs to switch to the antediluvian Control Panel. Windows is constantly switching back and forth between the two, which can be jarring. It’s even worse on a Windows mobile devices where the desktop UI is unusable on 7 inch tablets but you still need to use it.

It also means that key functions that should be found in Metro are not. There’s a laziness to relying on the existing desktop UI for file management or to use multiple applications at the same time. In the end, it’s not possible to do everything you want to do in Metro; the desktop UI has inhibited turning Metro into a proper UI.

I highly suspect that the wrong lessons will be learned by Microsoft for the next release of Windows. Most of the chatter about Windows 10 suggests more emphasis on the desktop and less on Metro. That’s too bad. Metro is cleaner and more efficient for the majority of uses. It would be better to expand Metro and dump the desktop. Somehow, I doubt that will happen. The forces of conservationism in corporate IT will inhibit the more radical vision of Metro for Windows 10. These forces are why we still have a DOS command line in Windows and that’s not a good thing.

So, I am coming out in favor of the Metro interface. I want more of it, not less. I would be perfectly happy to be able to never have to drop down to the Windows desktop UI again, much the same way I’m happy to not have to use the command line very often. Microsoft, I beseech you – stop this adherence to the ancient religion of a few techies. Pump up Metro and dispense with the desktop. The time has come.

Comments are closed.