The Desktop User Experience & Business Use

While we’re primarily focusing on Windows 8 as a tablet OS since the hardware we used was a tablet, we also wanted to evaluate it some as a desktop OS. As the sample tablet was compatible with Bluetooth peripherals, we were able to pull out a BT keyboard and mouse and use it like a traditional laptop/desktop environment.  With that said I’d like to preface our impressions with the following: as it stands Windows 8 is clearly focused on tablets first and Microsoft’s presentation was equally tablet focused, and it’s almost certain the experience will change before Windows 8 ships.

Overall Windows 8 is extremely jarring right now from a desktop user perspective. Metro is the Windows shell, no ifs ands or butts. Metro applications can only be accessed through the Metro shell (i.e. the Start Screen), and the Metro shell is always what the tablet will boot up into. Explorer as we know it is the Metro shell – if you kill it, you kill Metro shell with it – so at this time it’s not possible to boot up into the traditional Windows desktop. Even if you could, the Start Menu is gone, replaced with Metro charms.

So what we’re really evaluating is the ability to use the Metro shell and Metro applications with a mouse. For all the good Microsoft has done implementing multi-touch, the mouse has clearly suffered as it currently stands. Click & drag does not operate the same as tap & drag, which creates some oddities when you want to scroll around. In fact scrolling is probably the biggest oversight right now, as the Metro style dictates applications are laid out left-to-right rather than top-to-bottom. The mouse wheel will (slowly) scroll through tiles on the Start Screen, but in other places such as the Microsoft BUILD application the mouse wheel is useless. In its place you have to drag a scroll bar around, which is about as fun as it was prior to mice coming with a wheel.

Internet Explorer is particularly weird. Because it takes the full screen approach there isn’t a menu bar to speak of, and the tabs and URL bar are hidden. Invoking them requires right-clicking, with right-clicking pulling double duty as a way to open a link in a new tab and invoking the various bars. This also means that right-clicking for other purposes (e.g. View Source, etc) are unavailable.

The good news is that most of the traditional keyboard shortcuts still work, including Alt-Tab, WinKey + D, WinKey + E, and Ctrl-Alt-Esc. You can even Alt-Tab between launched Metro applications. The Start Menu search bar is also faithfully replicated on the Start Screen, so when you start typing Windows 8 will start narrowing down results of things to open. So overall keyboard users maintain much of their advantage in quickly executing applications. At the same time we’ve encountered fields that we can’t tab to, so not everything is working as it should.

While we’ve only had a short period of time work play with Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard, at this point in time there’s not a lot to say that’s positive. Metro works well as a tablet interface, but with a mouse and keyboard it’s like using a tablet with a mouse and keyboard. Hopefully Microsoft will have a more suitable mouse & keyboard control scheme ready to go for Windows 8 farther down the line.

Windows 8 the Business OS

So far Microsoft has been focused on the consumer side of Windows 8, but business users won’t be left out in the cold. Windows 8 will also be the basis of a new version of Windows Server (also using Metro), and Windows 8 clients will have some new features.

The  business additions announced so far for Windows 8 revolve around Remote Desktop and Hyper-V. Windows 8 Remote Desktop includes proper support for multi-touch controls, so tablets and other touch devices will be able to RDP into other machines and correctly interact with them. Meanwhile Windows 8 will add support for Hyper-V (previously it was Server-only), allowing Windows clients to spawn virtualized instances of Windows through the Hyper-V hypervisor.

Microsoft also used their discussion on the business side of Windows 8 to announce that Windows 8 will support installation onto and booting off of a USB drive, allowing business users to carry their copy of Windows with them. This has been a repeatedly requested feature for many years from more than just business users, so hopefully it will be everything everyone has always wanted.

The Technical Side Of Windows 8: Cont First Thoughts
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  • martin5000 - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    I'm try to like metro, but I can't. I just hate it.
  • futurepastnow - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    Sadly, I agree. I hate this. I look at the Metro tiles, and imagine them on my 24" non-touchscreen desktop display, and it makes me sick to imagine using my computer that way. People described the more colorful Windows XP theme as "Fisher Price" when it was new, but this really is like a computer for toddlers.

    I like almost everything I've read about Windows 8- the new file copy window, the technical improvements. But I want the desktop and only the desktop. If I can't disable Metro- and I mean 100% never-have-to-see-it disabled- then I'm not using this on a desktop or laptop PC. It makes sense on tablets. Nowhere else.
  • crispbp04 - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    Live tiles are 1000x more useful than static windows 3.1 style icons. You're resisting progression. And as stated below it's just a shell. Microsoft always supports those who resist change, hence being able to upgrade from windows 1.0 through windows 7 and run the same 25 year old applications. You'll love and embrace windows 8.
  • Ratman6161 - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    If you multitask heavily (I currently have 13 different windows open) those tiles are going to spend the entire day hidden behind other windows aren't they? I don't even bother with background images on my system since I rarely see my desktop anyway.

    I think the task bar at the bottom of the screen showing all my open applications is far more useful than having to go back to the desktop for things.

    In the past, Microsoft came under a lot of fire on mobile devices because people said they were trying to cram a desktop interface into a phone or PDA. Now they are making the same mistake in reverse - trying to make a desktop look like a phone.

    I'm with futurepastnow - this will simply not work for me for the work that I do.
  • Alexvrb - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - link

    Then don't use it. Windows 8 still has Explorer. Turn Metro off.
  • DeciusStrabo - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    That's just it. You can't. It's starts Metro, and Metro in turn is your Start Menu and Launcher. Metro _is_ the Explorer. Literally. Metro resides in explorer.exe.

    I love the Metro UI. For mobile devices. For a desktop? It's more harm than use.
  • piiman - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - link

    According to MS you can turn it off.
  • BenDTU - Thursday, September 15, 2011 - link

    At least in the developer preview you can't. There's no option to do so. Metro is your start menu.
  • Wraith404 - Thursday, September 15, 2011 - link

    To Disable the wretched Metro failure, I mean feature:

    run regedit from the developer command prompt.

    set the key RPEnabled to 0
  • LoneWolf15 - Thursday, September 15, 2011 - link


    (I never use all caps, but this time, emphasis was necessary)

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