Last week, Microsoft launched the consumer preview version of Windows 8 to the public. As I was at the Mobile World Congress, I didn't get to install it until the weekend, but I've now been able to put it through its paces for the last few days and been using it as my main operating system for most of that time. Its split personality is driving me absolutely bonkers, however, and I'm not sure I'll extend this experiment much longer.
Windows 8 is a beautiful tablet operating system, but on a desktop – and especially with a multi-screen setup – it just constantly gets in your way. Thankfully, this is just a preview version and Microsoft still has a few months to iron out the kinks, but unless it makes some radical changes, I'm not sure I'll be able to recommend Windows 8 anytime soon. Microsoft says Windows 8 will offer the best of both worlds and in a way it does. It's just that these two worlds aren't meant to be squished into one single operating system.
The Split Personality of Windows 8
At least in this preview, Microsoft makes no attempt to hide the split personality of its new operating system. There's the metro interface, which you can't avoid, as it also now doubles as the new start menu, and then there is the traditional desktop, which can be best described as Windows 7.5. The two user interfaces have nothing in common with each other and try as you want, you can't just use Windows 8 like a Windows 7.5 because the tablet interface constantly intervenes. To launch applications from the traditional desktop, for example, you always have to go back to the Metro-style start menu, which features a great design for tablets, but makes utterly no sense when you use a mouse and keyboard.
Oh, and what about those two different versions of Internet Explorer? There's the Metro version, which doesn't support Flash and has a very stripped-down interface – and then there's the regular browser that runs in the desktop. How do you explain that to a mainstream user?
Got Two Screens? Windows 8 Wasn't Made for You
Worst of all, when you use a dual-screen setup right now, the second screen always shows the Windows 7.5 desktop and you can't even run two metro apps side-by-side on the two screens. To make matter worse, Windows 8 right now assumes that your primary screen is always the one with the task bar on it, so you can't even start any apps on the other screen while you are in Metro mode (unless you opt to show the same task bar on both screens, which also makes no sense whatsoever).
Great Tablet UI – Pointless on the Desktop
Microsoft has decided to privilege the tablet use case over the traditional desktop and productivity one. At times, this leads to non-sensical decisions like a login screen you have to drag up to get to the password prompt (okay – you can just hit enter twice, too, I think – but it's not like you will accidentally start your desktop or laptop in your pocket).
And what about trying to put your PC to sleep or turn it off? In Windows 8 right now, you have to first log out as a user, then pretend you want to log in again and the hunt for the shutdown button, which is hidden under your user icon (or you can try to bring up the "charm" that appears when you hit the right side of the screen with your mouse – but that's a bit hard when your main screen is on the left side and your mouse just moves over to the right screen).
Maybe there is an alternative universe out there where this makes sense.
Then, of course, there is also the question of why you would want to run these full-screen apps on your desktop in the first place. Apple pushed the same concept with its full-screen mode and just like Microsoft, it totally forgot about dual-screen users. I don't think I've ever run an OS X app in full-screen mode, as it just makes switching between apps too much of a hassle.
There's Still Some Time to Fix This…
Hopefully, Microsoft will continue to polish the edges of Windows 8 to the point where this disjointed experience becomes somewhat less disorienting and maybe even feel natural. I admit, I doubt it. And that's a shame. Microsoft made some really smart decisions with the Metro interface (including, for example, the ability to run two applications side-by-side). My desktop, however, isn't a tablet and instead of making things easier for me, Windows 8 just constantly gets in the way. Windows 7 does its best to get out of my way – Windows 8 instead throws some giant tiles onto my screen.