I remember initially hearing the news about the metro “Modern” UI on Windows 8, and to be honest, I was pumped. Although I have never owned a Windows Phone (the last mobile device I had on a Microsoft OS was an iPAQ h5455), I have used them and been very impressed by the interface. I thought it was sleek and stylish with its poppy colors, fast and functional with the inventive live tiles, and all around a unique experience that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. iOS on my iPod touch was feeling pretty aged, and paying for a smartphone contract was out of the question, so Windows 8 was supposed to be my chance to get a slice of that pie.
And then Developer Preview came out. And I loved it.
I had Windows 8 running on my laptop until about a week ago, when I popped my Windows 7 DVD in and downgraded. Why? Because Windows 8 seemed to progressively get worse and worse for me.
The novelty of the Modern interface faded quickly. I was running this on my laptop, and I realized that I only used a handful of the new apps. I could really tell that they were designed for touch input, and, even with multi-touch on my touchpad, they just didn’t feel right. I could get just about everything available in the new experience on the desktop in less time, with more detail, and better optimized for mouse-and-keyboard input. I used Mail, Calendar, and People until Office 2013 Preview rolled around. Outlook did everything that they did and much more. And, with the visual revamp of Office, it still had that fresh look and a lot of snazzy transition effects. Oh, and the apps weren’t even remotely smooth. My laptop is by no means high-end hardware; it falls much on the other end of the spectrum. However, if Windows 8 is supposed to be able to run on tablets, one might really expect Microsoft to have optimized its software to work well even on low-end machines. One big complaint I have about the Modern interface is snapping. Why? Because I couldn’t. Microsoft requires a screen resolution of 1366 x 768 in order to snap apps. What about the tons of laptops that run 1280 x 800? What about the netbooks at 1024 x 600? I honestly feel like Microsoft didn’t handle that very well. Plus, even when I hooked my laptop up to a larger display, the ability to snap two apps felt like a major downgrade from being able to have as many windows up as I could squeeze in.
Earlier, I said that the OS felt incrementally worse to me. That wasn’t just on my end. Each prerelease that came out continually detracted from the experience for me. Microsoft removed a lot of visual flare and some functionality that I had really been looking forward to. I knew that a lot of people were upset about the removal of the Start button in Consumer Preview — it had been a staple of the Windows brand for years and expunged the last sense of familiarity that this newest iteration possessed. I could live with a hot corner replacing a button, though. That was no big deal. What was a big deal, on the other hand, was the subsequent removal of a feature that I used all the time. You see, I like having two screens. I never used the highly advertised feature of Windows 7 where you can drag windows to the sides to tile them vertically because I could have two programs running full-screen right next to each other. In Windows 8, Microsoft added a feature where the Start button would turn into a screen icon and you could switch which monitor had the Aero experience and which had the Modern one. No Start button = no monitor switching. So this forced me to either have two screens on the desktop or one desktop and one Modern UI. Want to switch them? Now you have to dig through setting panels to do that.
The next disappointment for me rolled out with the Consumer Preview. There wasn’t really much noticeable change in functionality at the OS level; most of the change that happened was within the apps. While the Microsoft Essentials suite had some definite improvements from its version in the Consumer Preview, one of the first things that I noticed were toned-down graphics. In apps such as Weather and News, the background picture would move more slowly than the foreground, leading to an illusion of depth. It was gorgeous. And it was gone. Microsoft also changed some of the assets in the desktop to have a more Modern look. Basically, it took the shiny things and made them solid colors. The cursor’s loading icon had solid colors, the windows no longer had beveled edges, and the navigation buttons in system programs were now flat. I like the design choices in the Modern look, but mixed with Aero, it just looks out of place. You have a beautiful frosted glass design language and an inventive and simplistic design language. I love both of them. However, like chocolate milk and raspberry lemonade, they just don’t make a great combination. It was awkward enough having both experiences together in the same package, but now they were clashing with each other. Components of the Modern interface would be mixed into the classic desktop, and I even ran into some glitches where Aero windows would open on top of Modern apps.
Windows 8 just lacked the visual polish that I was expecting. I know it’s the first release like this, but Windows Phone 7 was also a debut, and I feel like the new design language was implemented much better on the mobile platform. On Windows Phone, the tiles have all sorts of neat little animations. Some are divided into 3×3 sections that flip with a nice little 3D effect independently of each other. The Xbox app has your avatar smiling back at you. The Live Tiles are literally alive with activity. On the other hand, on Windows 8, the tiles slide up to give you information. And then they slide back down. And that’s it. It’s just lacking the diversity that Windows Phone flaunts. The mobile OS managed to make some intricate animations without breaking the simplistic design mold. I don’t feel like it would have taken a lot of development to spruce up the Start screen a bit and really believe that Microsoft should have invested more in the visual department.
Even when I went for the retail upgrade hoping that the issues would be ironed out, they weren’t. It just didn’t feel complete. I encountered a lot of bugs with Windows Update and ran into more glitches. Throughout my Windows 8 experience, I ran into a lot of problems switching from the Modern UI to the desktop. Not issues with me, but graphical anomalies. I would switch from having a research website up in IE back to Word 2013 to continue typing a paper for school only to be greeted by a myriad of truncated bits and pieces of other apps I had open. The latest version of Microsoft’s flagship OS did have one thing that I have to quickly praise it for: the startup speed. The hybrid shutdown mode works marvelously, and even low-end hardware seems to get it up and running in just seconds.
Honestly, Windows 8 is just an odd mix. Users who use a mouse and keyboard will have little use for the new interface. I remember one of Windows 7’s advertising slogans being “Your PC. Simplified.” I feel like Microsoft has taken the success of that a little too far. Users who have a touchscreen will have little use for the Aero interface. If you have an all-in-one PC, more power to you, but I honestly don’t know a single person who does and I can’t see this catching on very well with the hefty price tag associated with touch-enabled PCs. The performance improvements are nice, but just not worth the hassle of dealing with useless and often frustrating new features that are being forced on users. Windows 8 is aiming to be something new, and consequently just can’t appeal to the majority of people who aren’t shopping for new hardware. It wasn’t worth the upgrade.
My name is Alex Griffith, and I’m a 16-year-old student in central Indiana who loves tinkering with gadgets but has to do so on a tight budget. I’ve always been primarily a PC user, and I keep a Ubuntu Live USB on me at all times, but I’d be open to giving OS X a try if it weren’t for the heavy price tag. I’m a member of the Sonic Paradox animation team and I help manage some of the more technical aspects of the group’s assets.