On Keeping An Open Mind When It Comes To Windows 8 - A Response

Mike Halsey MVP
Feb 7, 2012
Updated • Feb 7, 2012
Microsoft, Windows 8

Yesterday Martin wrote up his thoughts and concerns about the forthcoming Windows 8 operating system from Microsoft.  I've spent much more time with Windows 8 so far, have given talks about and I'm current writing two books about how to get the best out of it, one for complete novices and another for IT Pros and Enthusiasts.  I thought then that I might be a good person to respond to some of Martin's concerns and perhaps bring a different perspective to the discussion.

I don't want you to think though that I will be spouting Microsoft's official PR line, the company is perfectly capable of doing that on their own and they don't need me to help them.  What I want to bring to the discussion though are the thoughts from someone who has spent some time with the OS, knows perhaps a bit more about what's coming than I generally let on  ;)  and understands the different aspects of the OS in some depth.

Many of Martin's concerns centre around the new dual-interface between the desktop and the Metro UI.  This is a legitimate question about why we either need or should have a dual-interface in an operating system.  I feel that Windows 8 is a transitional OS between the way we've been doing things now for around 30 years and the way we'll be doing them in the future.  Anybody who has spent any time working with a tablet will intuitively use Metro and won't even think about the fact that they've only got one (or two) apps open at a time.  We've just gotten used to it.

Martin is quite right though that people often have other things running in the background such as messenger apps, multiple browser tabs and so on.  If you look at the way some tablet operating systems handle these you can get some idea of the direction that we're going in with Windows 8.  Don't assume for a moment though that Metro in Windows 8, as seen in the Developer Preview or as expanded in the Consumer Preview (beta) will be anything like Metro when Windows 9 arrives, or even Metro when Windows 8 Service Pack 1 is delivered.  As a UI it's still a concept, even though it's roots can be traced back almost a decade ot Windows Media Centre, and as such much is set to change and evolve in the next three years.

So how this multi-application space works in Metro with Windows 8 will be determined by how people and companies write their apps.  We will see a great many different ways of doing things as many imaginative people bring their own ideas and concepts to the Metro UI, and it will be interesting to see where these take us and what Microsoft officially adopt.

Ultimately then we will lose the desktop.  The fact that we've been using it for the last thirty years doesn't mean there isn't a better way of working.  Metro may not be it, but we have to start somewhere.  I'm not sure how much I'll use Metro myself but despite having a very uncluttered desktop, the prospect of having an interactive one that is telling me, all in one place, what my latest email is, who's mentioning me on Twitter, what the forecast is for tomorrow, what my next appointment is, the current currency rate between the £ and the US$ and more is very appealing.

Regards using the desktop, Microsoft have said that, even if it's just in group policy, you will be able to set the desktop as your default UI.  This will be important for people for whom all their software requires it.  While we've seen some very imaginative tablet apps appear such as Adobe Photoshop Touch, it will be several years before top quality professional-grade apps appear for Metro.

Martin also raised concerns about using Metro and the new Windows-orb'less desktop with a mouse and keyboard.  While Microsoft have not announced anything yet, they have said that everything you can do with touch you will be able to do with the mouse and keyboard.  Personally I'm looking forward to seeing what new mouse gestures they offer.  Also don't forget that very soon we will have monitors and laptops with Kinect sensors in them as well.

Martin is quite right though that as things stand the dual-interface, and how you switch between them and control them, can be confusing.  It's partly for this reason that one of my new books "Windows 8: Out of the Box" has been commissioned where it probably wouldn't have been for Windows 7.  On this we'll just have to see what Microsoft offer us to increase usability and to minimise the learning curve.

So what about the Start Menu?  Microsoft wrote a very long blog post detailing why they were making the changes they were back in October.  I am of the opinion however that the Start Menu should have been dropped when the Windows 7 taskbar was introduced.  These essentially offered us two completely different ways to find and launch programs.  All Microsoft need to do is find a way to control (or bucket) all the extra programs (uninstallers / utilities etc.) that appear in the Start Menu and all new programs should be pinned to the taskbar by default.  For my part, I won't be sad to see the Start Menu go.

To reassure you Martin there is a great deal more coming for desktop users and IT Pros, but that none of it was finished in time for the Developer Preview.  When the Consumer Preview is released in a couple of weeks we will all see what these features are but Microsoft have promised several hundred small and large features in total still to come.

Let's be honest that Windows 8, as I said earlier is a transitional OS, much in the way early builds of Apple's OS X were when the company was moving people off old PowerPC software.  It is probably going to be painful for some, but if there really is a new way of working ahead of us that can genuinely help productivity, usability and most importantly accessibility with computers, then I believe we should embrace it.  For a while though it will have to co-exist with the traditional desktop and there can never be a truly integrated way to do that.


Tutorials & Tips

Previous Post: «
Next Post: «


  1. Leslie said on February 9, 2012 at 2:00 am

    The only good thing about Windows 8 with Metro could possibly be that Linux will finally get a look in. I hope so because the arrogance of the out of touch people inside Microsoft today is astounding.

    I never thought I would say this as I am not a fan, but Bill Gates is desperately missed by Microsoft. His understanding of past versus new and the necessary tradeoffs was what kept them on top. It is certainly a downhill slide right now because 1 good version of Windows out of three versions (inc Win8 as is) is nothing to be proud of.

  2. Roman ShaRP said on February 8, 2012 at 2:55 am

    Sorry for duplicating, I spoiled citations in 1st comment.

    >>Anybody who has spent any time working with a tablet will intuitively use Metro and won’t even think about the fact that they’ve only got one (or two) apps open at a time. We’ve just gotten used to it.

    1) I spent considerable time with a few tablets. iPad 1 and 2, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0″, Blackberry Playbook. And you know what I say and repeat: Metro sucks.

    2) In their current form tables are devices for consuming or playing, not for working.

    Or, they may be good for browsing or watching videos in bed, but not for creating any text document of significant size.

    >>Ultimately then we will lose the desktop.

    As Morely the IT Guy said – than you lose us.

    >>The fact that we’ve been using it for the last thirty years doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way of working.

    Desktop is better than Metro for working, for sure.

    >>I am of the opinion however that the Start Menu should have been dropped when the Windows 7 taskbar was introduced.

    Errr… I use dozens of applications. More than one hundred in total. And better to have them sorted not in the taskbar. I really need some sort of start menu.

    >>us that can genuinely help productivity, usability

    0_0 What? How? I don’t see any help from Metro for software developers, testers, anybody who writes/edits documents.

    >>Nobody saw iOS as worse for web browsing or email, two of the most common tasks we use computers for.

    Nobody saw iOS better than desktop for writing long emails or office work with communicating.

    On desktop I can have
    – taskbar icons notifications
    – tray icons
    – pop-up notifications (tray and others)
    – launchers/gadgets/informers of almost any sort in any point of screen, with different reactions on cliks.
    – gestures and hotkeys

    Even in iOS there is a status bar. Metro doesn’t have even that status bar.

    My usual workflow includes office apps, SVN client, IDE, file manager, Skype, e-mail. And better to see all of them – I should answer both e-mails and Skype messages. When I work on two documents of different formats (word processor and spreadsheet) simultaneously, I can do it on desktop positioning their windows. And with Metro I get better what? Nothing.

  3. Dave Howes said on February 8, 2012 at 2:44 am

    Actually, it won’t be a bit of a learning curve for most of us because we simply won’t use it!
    Everything I’ve seen about 8, and everything I’ve tried in the preview, is a major step backwards.
    It’s a good job Microsoft don’t make kitchen equipment – they’d be busy trying to ‘unify’ the cooker and the freezer, and ultimately producing something that kept everything luke warm……..

  4. Jim said on February 8, 2012 at 12:27 am

    Hi Mike,

    I hope you were expecting some negative feedback. You sure got it. :)

    I appreciate your attempt to explain what MS is trying to do, even if they don’t know exactly what direction it will take them. It’s a pretty big gamble when you think about it. That means they’ve got some serious guts, a big dose of arrogance, or both.

    The first sentence of the last paragraph tells me all I need to know, “…Windows 8…is a transitional OS”. My desire to experiment with beta software is long gone. I’ll be skipping this one.

  5. Morely the IT Guy said on February 7, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    “Ultimately then we will lose the desktop. ”

    Then my company will lose Microsoft as the OS publishers.

    In order to function, my people need to have *at a minimum* our CRM, our ERP, and email open at all times, and usually you can add a spreadsheet, word processor, DB interface, and graphics design package as well.

    Metro UI would make that an excruciating, slow, and counter-productive experience.

    Either we keep the more-or-less standard Windows desktop, or we dump Windows. As an Enterprise customer, I expect Microsoft to be concerned with my *business* needs. If they can’t be bothered to listen to their biggest customers, we’ll go elsewhere. Virtualization makes it possible for us to use any OS we like, and there are plenty of options available.

  6. ilev said on February 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm
  7. sekoasa said on February 7, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Metro is perfect for a generation of comic book level readers just as the proliferation of visual media clips suits the lazy, uninformed, going-no-where-fast clientele of gobbledygook news sites whose mains creativity finds its expression in “attention deficit challenged” cell phone texters.

    I too need my two full size screens and I definitely refuse to let anyone decide on the content of the available space which is what Metro introduces among other impositions on the user.

    I consider that Microsoft, pushing its cumbersome and restrictive “libraries” concept, has already affirmed its policy of mucking with the UI, a process exacerbated in Vista, and has done so primarily to justify obsolescing hardware for the benefit of its manufacturing partners.

    Windows 7 would be a near perfect, solid and reliable OS were it not for the intrusion of “libraries” on all its interfaces.

    I choose to organize my material in a logical hierarchical order and need no interference by so-called junction point complexities exhibited on all OS windows in the form of domineering ‘libraries” links.

    Windows 8 looks like an infantile cartoon of a UI which probably meets the level of “facility” sought by a large segment of the populace reduced to one finger texting in 70 characters or less on screens designed for mini-midgets.

  8. Leslie said on February 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    “….but if there really is a new way of working ahead of us that can genuinely help productivity, usability and most importantly accessibility with computers, then I believe we should embrace it”

    and I do **not** believe we should embrace something that is worse than what we already have, certainly I am not willing for fork out $400+ dollars for the pleasure and banging my head against a brick wall.

    Yet again I read someone that obviously gives no thought to back office staff who are employed to enter data. Currently that requires a keyboard and a mouse. Can you honestly tell me that a touch interface will improve productivity and usability ? My mind flicks back to the 80s when R.S.I. became a real problem – I can only see that getting worse with touch. Perhaps when we get a foolproof voice navigation system in place then I might just agree that the keyboard is no longer required. That day has not arrived.

    My biggest issue is that for some reason there is a mindset stating that the “traditional” desktop does not work and needs replacing. Why is that ? Can you give me some concrete examples of why it needs to be replaced ? Sure the start menu can get cluttered but personalisation hides the entries a user never uses.

    The reality is that Windows is pretty much a finished product. Apart from improving what is already there and supporting newer hardware its done.
    They have done a great job getting us to cough up cash for all of these years but its glory days are behind it. It isn’t broken so don’t try and fix it. So lets all be honest here and realise that Microsoft are not doing it for our benefit, they are doing it for the money, no surprises there.

    Now if they want to create a new Tablet OS called lets say Microsoft Metro then I say go for it. Make it brand new and shiny and sure let applications written for Windows be installed. BUT never forget that it is a different beast and should not ever be intended to replace Windows.

    The problem with all of this is….. Users prefer the iPad, and Microsoft has missed the boat.

    1. Mike Halsey MVP said on February 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm

      @Leslie You’re making an assumption here that Microsoft see the future of Windows as being all about touch, they don’t. Touch will be significant in years to come but we will always need keyboards.

      You also say “and I do **not** believe we should embrace something that is worse than what we already have”. I don’t think we can make that type of judgement as this stage. We need to see what developers and Microsoft do with Metro and what it’s like to use in anger. Nobody saw iOS as worse for web browsing or email, two of the most common tasks we use computers for.

      I’m not saying Metro is great for IT Pros and data entry, but I am saying we shouldn’t pre-judge something that’s not finished and that we haven’t seen or used.

      1. Leslie said on February 9, 2012 at 1:48 am

        I *am* an IT Pro/developer and I am making my call based upon my experience.

        Win8 with Metro is a disaster and trying to replace the “traditional” desktop with what I have seen so far is well off the mark. I am irritated that what I need is an extra click away, let alone the feeling that I am being bullied into using what I consider to be a fad driven ideology which has no place on the desktop and with victory already won by Apple. Suck it up Microsoft.

        I stand by this statement but I am ready to be surprised when Microsoft splits Windows 8 into two offerings instead of shoving Metro down our throats when we do not want it.

        As an MVP you possibly have the necessary connections to get the nerds in Microsoft to listen to this type of feedback. I suggest they listen although I am not hopeful given that Vista happened.

      2. JohnMWhite said on February 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm

        I’ve used a touch screen and I’ve used Windows 8. I judge it to be a worse way of doing things. You can’t sit there and tell other people what to think, which honestly is what this is coming across as. The issue might be refined in time but honestly, it is fairly difficult to imagine it being anything but a hassle to lean over your desk and tap a screen that will get grubby within a day. This isn’t Star Trek. The Metro UI certainly is not *better*, so what difference does it make if it is unfinished when it just means clicking boxes instead of icons? The point is there seems to be no real benefit to this ‘new way of working’.

        And why is it wrong for Leslie to ‘assume’ but ok for you to make the assumption that Windows don’t see the future as being all about touch when they have said as much and are creating their new desktop OS specifically with a touch-oriented UI?

  9. kalmly said on February 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Windows 8 now sounds like a dual system. How gargantuan is it?

    I see lots of people using tablets – and smaller gizmos. Fine, I envy them not. I need a big screen to work with – two, in fact- and I don’t want fingerprints all over them.

    This is MS pushing the public where they want us to go – to “the cloud” where everyday a surprise awaits and nothing is your own.

  10. Yoav said on February 7, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    If I offer my clients a new product it is because this product will help them solve their problems, make their lives easier, increase their profit – something.

    The point is that you did not mention even one benefit of the new interface, one aspect that I can say: you know what, this was a problem in xp/vista/7 and now it is solved. I find that revealing.

    I also agree with Martin – I see very few people are using tablets, as of now.

    1. JohnMWhite said on February 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      Agreed. I think it is quite telling that the entire defence of Windows 8 had no actual data on what benefits it brings, just the vague hope that it might end up improving productivity somehow. I don’t think that’s how it works – productivity improves as people take advantage of new methods and resources, that’s true, but trying to design a whole new way of working by ‘simplifying’ an already pretty simple interface seems like putting the cart before the horse. I think what we are seeing here is ideology more than anything else. I don’t see an actual argument for why people should not be quite reticent about Windows 8, just assertions that it will turn out for the best after we go through some painful learning that, on my side of the fence, seems entirely needless.

      I also wonder how long Mike’s taskbar is if he thinks it’s a good idea to get rid of the start menu and start pinning every new app to it. That’s going to get real messy real fast for average users.

  11. Martin Brinkmann said on February 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Mike thanks for the response. I think one of the main reasons people are skeptical about the new OS is because of a lack of communication. If Microsoft would have confirmed in a blog post that it is possible to turn off Metro UI completely, then I think less people would actually have openly voiced their concerns about the new OS. (I have never seen that confirmation though, if you know of a source, let me know please).

    I’m also thinking that concentrating the majority of blog posts on tablets and Metro is not the wisest thing to do, considering that only a minority of Windows users are currently using Windows on a touch enabled device.

    Don’t get me wrong though; I’m looking forward to the consumer preview version to see what has changed in the meantime, and if I feel more at home using it.

  12. Yoav said on February 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    So basically you are saying that the new interface is so messed up that MS have already commissioned an entire book in order to explain it to people who have been using windows for the past two decades.

    How is that encouraging?

    1. Mike Halsey MVP said on February 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      @Yoav, no I’m not saying that (and my publisher for this book is O’Reily anyway). I’m saying that nobody expects any new interface to be got right first time. This wasn’t the case with iOS, WebOS, QNX or any other. We certainly understand much more about UI design than we used to, but it’s hard coming up with a new way of working. I’m just saying that I expect innovative apps to change the way we see and use Metro, and for the ideas and concepts from some of those apps to be picked up by Microsoft and integrated in the OS over time. :)

      1. JohnMWhite said on February 7, 2012 at 5:40 pm

        Actually I expect a new interface to at least be useable first time it is commercially released. It’s not going to be perfect, naturally, but Metro on top of the 7 GUI is just completely unworkable in a desktop environment. It offers no benefit and an extra headache. And there is zero excuse for this ‘two apps’ nonsense in 2012.

Leave a Reply

Check the box to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy

We love comments and welcome thoughtful and civilized discussion. Rudeness and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please stay on-topic.
Please note that your comment may not appear immediately after you post it.