I installed the Windows 8 consumer preview yesterday.  My first impression of it is that it is clearly not meant for desktop/laptop computing.  If this an attempt to unify the desktop/tablet operating systems, and if this is anything to go by it will be a resounding failure.  This is not to say that I find it without merit.    I just don’t think that many desktop users will find it palatable.  The basic ui elements seem to be at a disadvantage if you don’t have a touch screen.

First let’s look at the start menu.  I won’t argue that there aren’t some aspects of the old start menu interface that couldn’t stand to be improved, but I will argue that the changes in Windows 8 aren’t what was called for. 

First there is no start button.  Instead a mouse gesture to the lower left hand corner brings up the start screen.    On this screen you will see groups of large clunky banner icons.  Now let me step back for a second. On my Windows 7 machine, I probably have 70 software titles installed, how much room do you suppose that will take on a 1920x1080px screen.  Let’s compare this to the start menu that takes up perhaps 30% of your desktop realestate.  “Not all users have that many applications installed,” you say.  I’ll digress. 

So on this start screen you’ll have access to all of the installed applications.  Some of them will open full screen and some will open in the desktop view.  If it is one of the apps from the “store”, it will open full screen, which you can’t control and can only be switched to and from by the metro launcher, but at least we’re free of that pesky task bar right?

WRONG!  If you launch a traditional desktop application, it’ll open in the desktop view and you can only get back to it through the traditional task bar there.  Note: unlike the other apps it will NOT be available through the metro launcher.  “So, you’re saying that if I switch applications there are 2 places that it might be?”  Yes I am.  In the days of hi-res monitors do applications really need to be full screen or not at all?  Apparently the answer is yes.

Let’s talk about switching applications for a moment.  So in the days of old, since Windows 95, switching applications was a straight forward process.  Click in the button you want and it comes to the front.  As long as you’re in the desktop view, this still holds true.  However, if you use one of the new fangled tablet like apps, this doesn’t remotely hold true.  It takes 3 mouse movements to get back to what you want to do.  You have to go to the lower left hand corner wait for start to show up then go to what you were doing then click on the app.  If it was in the desktop view, you then have to click again to get back to it.  This isn’t something that many people would think too much about, but I guess that’s my point.  You shouldn’t have to.

Let’s talk about closing applications.  In order to close an application you have to bring up the metro launcher and right-click and go to close.  I’m not even sure how one would do this on a tablet.  They could have better handled this better a lot of different ways.  They could have put in a gesture that would have brought up the close option, or they could have just had the desktop view handle everything.  They could have just put in things to make this view accessible to tablets.  Once again, I digress.

Getting to the control panel is tricky, and there is a stunning lack of customization possible with the new interface.   You can change the pattern to a list of pre-provided patterns and use one of the preset colors.  You can’t change the location, size, or orientation of the metro launcher.   I have not found any customizations to streamline the interface.  There are no hot keys that you can bind to make the unruly interface behave as desktop users have come to expect.

I’ll continue playing with it.  To be fair it’s in a very beta stage, and Microsoft may fix some if this as development continues.  So far this is yet another case Microsoft ignoring how people interact with their software.  As things stand it seems that they have glued two operating systems together in a jumbled up mess.

I’ll add some screenshots here shortly to demonstrate my point.