windows 8 likes and dislikes

There’s a lot to like in windows 8 preview: it’s easy to see how windows 8 will be a hit on tablet devices; there’s massive synergy with windows phone; the built in windows live experience combined with your settings in the cloud, make it smooth to go from one device to another. But there’s other bits I’m not so fond of …

The Start Menu

Obviously the biggest change people first see is the start menu is now a start page. I like the concept but dislike the fine details on how it is implemented. At present to get to the start menu you have to move your cursor to the lower left of the screen; to see “running” apps you have to move it to the upper left then swipe down; to see all applications you need to right click to see the “toolbar” along the bottom of the screen and select all apps. It’s those details I don’t like. They aren’t intuitive, they aren’t obvious. People have to go through an initial period of disorientation: that’s a negative first taste for existing customers. What I’d much prefer to see is :

  1. Put the windows start button back: not the start menu, just the button. Call it branding if you like, but having the windows button visible always would make the experience a lot more intuitive
  2. Make the start screen a start portal, not just a start menu replacement. That is, get rid of the silly running application list on the left and instead have the start screen have three or four title style buttons along the top (similar to windows pivot app style) that would give you the choice of Favourites, Running and All. Perhaps even a Most Recent as well. The running app list at the side just doesn’t work well for me. They look too much alike, there’s no captions, and the space is limited. It’d make a lot more sense to use the whole screen for running apps, just like it makes sense to use the entire screen for the start “menu”. Currently there is a disconnect of design.
  3. When in desktop mode the start button would be there (see 1 above). Clicking on it would show you the start screen BUT not in full screen mode. Instead have the start screen appear floating: eg a 20 pixel margin all around and a drop shadow. It would make the experience feel more connected rather than the current disconnect.
  4. Allow metro apps to run in “windows”. That is you should be able to preference any metro app to run inside a window on the desktop. This should be a right click preference from the start screen, and likewise from the running app screen to move apps to and from the desktop windows experience. I think this is important for a lot of existing customers who will find themselves still on the desktop and currently experience a disconnect from the metro start screen.
  5. Better panel docking. It seems a step backwards when you can only dock as a thin pane to the side without being able to resize. This totally failed for me when I tried to have my mail on the left pane and my calendar as the main screen (try it: I couldn’t actually read the email). Panels should be able to be sized, apps need to be able to respond to that better than what’s in the preview, and most importantly you should be able to work with desktop applications (4, above would help solve this for metro and desktop apps working side by side)

Overall I kind of like windows 8: I’d like to like it a lot more but it just doesn’t feel as if it is there yet. I think the above list of changes would go a long way to bring in the new experience in a much less discordant way.