Overall, I think Windows 8 is a truly wonderful operating system. The under-the-hood changes make it a fantastic improvement over Windows 7. I am completely in love with Server 2012; I can't imagine the next few years without it. Despite being in love with the technology underpinning Windows 8, I ultimately have to walk away from Microsoft's new client OS.
The overwhelming majority of my Windows 8 interaction has been with it as a workstation operating system. With months of use, I've learned to beat the OS into submission. Tools are emerging to help, but some things still have to be done manually.
Using Windows 8 as a workstation and on my stylus-driven Asus R1F has proven to be frustrating. My brief interactions with it in touch mode have ultimately not softened my mood.
Let's put aside both the sysadmin and tech journalist parts of my day job here. I want to talk end-user to end-user for a moment. I admit that I don't have a Windows touch device of my own to play with; my interactions in touch mode have been scattered and brief. I remain open to the possibility that further interaction with Windows 8 in touch mode could impart upon me the joy, wonder and excitement that so many others feel about this operating system. The truth is, I'll probably never know.
The Microsoft Surface is supposed to be the ultimate Windows 8 device. Only a select few tech journalists - those good at staying on message - have been invited to demo the device. I am not among them. When the reviews do hit the streets, I have serious questions about who among those privileged tech journalists I can trust to be running workloads remotely comparable to my own.
At $600 for the cheapest variant with its sexy keyboard case, it is simply too much money for me to drop on a device that may or may not meet my needs. Fondling it in the store for a few minutes isn't going to tell me much about long term use, so when my Asus Transformer dies it will be replaced by whatever the latest Android Transformer is. That thing's been good to me.
I love Metro Start, but I want it on my terms
I love Metro Start, but I loathe how it's implemented. Windows 8 is two completely different (bimodal) operating systems – one touch, the other a workstation. One should not intrude on the other. If I am in workstation mode, I should have to make the choice to enter Metro. If I am in tablet mode, I should have to make a choice to drop to the desktop. I don't care if that takes mandating a user-toggleable hardware switch on all tablets, we need to be able to set which "world" we are living in.
- File type associations need to be context-aware. If I am in workstation mode, I don't want anything opening in a Metro app, ever. I am in tablet mode I don't want anything opening in the desktop, ever. There of course needs to be a method to override "ever" for specific exceptions, but in general this holds true. For hybrid devices that will serve as desktops when docked and then tablets when undocked, the operating system need to switch those file associations from the desktop application to the Metro one.
- Give me more Metro Start! I hate that Metro Start is forced on me, but in truth, I love Metro Start. I want to be able to "pin" Metro Start to its own monitor so that it could sit there being a collection of live tiles providing always-updating high information density launch targets.While I find the "start menu replacement" part of Metro Start completely unusable, it's a replacement for the Quick Launch bar. If allowing me to "pin" Metro Start to one screen is too much work, let me "pop out" individual live tiles and affix them permanently on the desktop. 17 years later, Active Desktop done right.
- Allow me to "Window" Metro applications. I don't care if they aren't resizable, let me specify a resolution for "windowed" Metro apps and let's do this. 33/66 is not enough. I need a way to get at the soon-to-be-mandatory Metro applications in a manner that suits my workflow.
I know that it's en vogue to gripe about Aero not being around anymore. If you want it, go install it. Like the missing Start bar, it isn't a big deal so long as third-party apps can still restore it. That said, there are some aesthetic niggles that I just can't get over.
- Provide a setting to make the Charms Bar a textual overlay with a transparent background. The "Big Black Bar" choice causes context switching when I go to pull up the control panel. Ultimately, it leads to me disabling hot corners; bad if you use your device as a hybrid.
- Let me log on in a manner that bypasses Metro. I shouldn't have to see Metro if I don't want to; it should be something I choose to use. When you are not in tablet mode, Metro should be a desktop app, not vice versa.
The learning curve
I've got "setting up Windows 8 into a desktop-only environment I can live with" down to a science, but I do not want to be working help desk the day this get rolled out to any of my clients. I've got four major gripes about the learning curve that I would want Microsoft to address before I am prepared to man the help desk during deployment.
- Revisit touch queues to make them more obvious. Failing this, touch devices need to ship with a "how to use Windows Touch" tour. For those coming from the iPad or Android worlds, Metro isn't intuitive.
- Every non-windows RT Windows 8 need a very prominent "how to use Metro with a keyboard and mouse without going mad" introduction video. I know it's a complaint we've all heard a million times by now ... but it bears repeating.
- Revisit how you "throw away" Metro applications with a mouse. It is counterintuitive and difficult for some people. Older folks, those using trackpads, and individuals with motor control issues are all people I have witnessed having difficulty here. This is a QA problem that just didn't get solved.
- Fix Stylus support for Metro – it's pants. Specifically, I have an issue with the fact that you cannot drag the Metro screen around. Instead, you have to drag the magic, disappearing slider, and that doesn't work well.
No. Just No.
Some things get my goat on both a philosophical level and an end-user frustration level. If the above wasn't a deal breaker, each of these would be.
- Anyone willing to pay the fee to sign their application (because, frankly, if you are forcing a new walled garden UI on everyone, Metro apps should damned well all be signed) to create a Metro app. That includes browsers This is a dick move on Microsoft's behalf. I don't give a fig what their excuses for this behaviour are, before I put a single dollar into Windows RT, Microsoft needs to stop trying to restrict competition by turning away people who make a better mousetrap.
- No browser plug ins? No, No, and hell No. I am periodically exposed to the internet without shields; it isn't pretty. Why would you do this to us, Microsoft?
- Remote support for Metro to be completely reconsidered. Using Metro from RDP, Teamviewer, or any other remote-access or support application is horrific. Metro is a burden on support desk staff. Better client design can help, but I'd like to see the OS itself handle being windowed better than it does.
Living in the past
I realise that eventually you have to let go of the past. One day, even my beloved home XP VM will have to go. For some of us, however, living in the past isn't a choice.
Given how much out there is still completely reliant on XP, it would be a fantastic olive branch if Microsoft would extend downgrade rights to include downgrade all the way to XP. Application compatibility is still an issue for some of us. Many are dependant on applications from companies that have gone out of business, or don't have the wonga to re-purchase some $50,000 application that nearly broke the bank the first time.
Alternately, take advantage of Windows 8's Hyper-V to offer both "XP-mode" and "Windows 7 mode." This allows an interesting alternative to altering the downgrade rights; if you don't want to offer downgrade rights all the way to XP, then allow the operating system to be booted directly into either the "XP-mode" or "Windows 7-mode" VMs.
Call me paranoid…
I take issue with Microsoft's lack of engagement with the community regarding many of the more common complaints. I am not friends with their licenceing department. In short: I don't have faith in Microsoft.
For a while there, Microsoft was the good guy. I really felt they had changed; that as a small business admin, they had my back. I thought they were opening up to the open source community, that their move to open APIs meant a future of interoperability and mutual trust. I championed Microsoft when others derided them. That's gone now. Today, I rarely feel that Microsoft's decisions are taking the company's products in directions that work out well for me. I've thought a lot about what it would take to restore my faith.
Here it is:
- A switch in the operating system to restore the classic start menu and remove the hot corners. Simply licensing Classic Shell would do fine. If this is technically or politically impossible, then I will accept a binding commitment from Microsoft not to block Classic Shell (or similar programs) from working at any point in the future. I have had several people ask me "since Netscape, when has Microsoft actively tried to prevent applications from working?" The browsers thing above seems dangerously close to me. Even if that doesn't count, I still simply don't trust Microsoft not to turn around and block Classic Shell if the phone sales numbers don't pick up.
- In the same vein, I'd really love a binding commitment from Microsoft to maintain the classic desktop in all future versions of Windows for a minimum of the next 12 years. I don't buy Metro (especially with the 33/66 limitation) as the interface of the future. Given the decades-long lifespan of some applications - particularly those licensed at $50,000 or more per seat - for the first time I have concerns that there may come a time where a future version of Windows will simply not be able to run them, no matter how much tweaking is tried..
- A legally binding commitment from Microsoft to produce a Desktop version of any primary software they produce for Metro. Nobody cares about $widgety application. I mean things like Office, Lync, RSAT, Skype, etc. Critical productivity applications aren't amenable to 33/66 restrictions.
Why I'm walking away
It's no secret that the reason for forcing Metro on everyone was to acclimate us to the UI so that they should shift more phones. (Talk about abusing a monopoly in one area in an attempt to gain a dominant position in another!) I grok this. I can even respect it to a limited extent.
Unfortunately, as a "power user," it leaves me feeling as though I've been thrown under the bus in order to facilitate Microsoft's quest for piece of Apple's consumer pie. There really isn't anything quite like the stark refusal to give you even a hidden registry-setting "off switch" to make you realise how irrelevant you and your concerns truly are.
My views are unpopular, especially amongst tech journalists, analyst and large enterprise types who rely on Microsoft for their bread and butter. I accept that a lot of my concerns will end up being pretty niche. As a power user I live on the edge of the curve, not in the middle.
Like it or not, Windows 8 has a good solid technological foundation. If the biggest gripes that can be mustered are "look and feel," licensing and corporate attitude, then - power users or no power users - Microsoft will do just fine. There's no longer any margin in it for Microsoft to cater to folks like me. Ultimately the reason I'm walking away because what I need from a computer is not what Microsoft wants computers to become.
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