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I just LOVE Server 2012, but count me out on Windows 8 for now

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Sysadmin blog Overall, I think Windows 8 is a truly wonderful operating system. The under-the-hood changes make it a fantastic improvement over Windows 7. I am completely in love with Server 2012; I can't imagine the next few years without it. Despite being in love with the technology underpinning Windows 8, I ultimately have to walk away from Microsoft's new client OS.

The overwhelming majority of my Windows 8 interaction has been with it as a workstation operating system. With months of use, I've learned to beat the OS into submission. Tools are emerging to help, but some things still have to be done manually.

Using Windows 8 as a workstation and on my stylus-driven Asus R1F has proven to be frustrating. My brief interactions with it in touch mode have ultimately not softened my mood.

Touch uncertainty

Let's put aside both the sysadmin and tech journalist parts of my day job here. I want to talk end-user to end-user for a moment. I admit that I don't have a Windows touch device of my own to play with; my interactions in touch mode have been scattered and brief. I remain open to the possibility that further interaction with Windows 8 in touch mode could impart upon me the joy, wonder and excitement that so many others feel about this operating system. The truth is, I'll probably never know.

The Microsoft Surface is supposed to be the ultimate Windows 8 device. Only a select few tech journalists - those good at staying on message - have been invited to demo the device. I am not among them. When the reviews do hit the streets, I have serious questions about who among those privileged tech journalists I can trust to be running workloads remotely comparable to my own.

At $600 for the cheapest variant with its sexy keyboard case, it is simply too much money for me to drop on a device that may or may not meet my needs. Fondling it in the store for a few minutes isn't going to tell me much about long term use, so when my Asus Transformer dies it will be replaced by whatever the latest Android Transformer is. That thing's been good to me.

I love Metro Start, but I want it on my terms

I love Metro Start, but I loathe how it's implemented. Windows 8 is two completely different (bimodal) operating systems – one touch, the other a workstation. One should not intrude on the other. If I am in workstation mode, I should have to make the choice to enter Metro. If I am in tablet mode, I should have to make a choice to drop to the desktop. I don't care if that takes mandating a user-toggleable hardware switch on all tablets, we need to be able to set which "world" we are living in.

  1. File type associations need to be context-aware. If I am in workstation mode, I don't want anything opening in a Metro app, ever. I am in tablet mode I don't want anything opening in the desktop, ever. There of course needs to be a method to override "ever" for specific exceptions, but in general this holds true. For hybrid devices that will serve as desktops when docked and then tablets when undocked, the operating system need to switch those file associations from the desktop application to the Metro one.
  2. Give me more Metro Start! I hate that Metro Start is forced on me, but in truth, I love Metro Start. I want to be able to "pin" Metro Start to its own monitor so that it could sit there being a collection of live tiles providing always-updating high information density launch targets.

    While I find the "start menu replacement" part of Metro Start completely unusable, it's a replacement for the Quick Launch bar. If allowing me to "pin" Metro Start to one screen is too much work, let me "pop out" individual live tiles and affix them permanently on the desktop. 17 years later, Active Desktop done right.

  3. Allow me to "Window" Metro applications. I don't care if they aren't resizable, let me specify a resolution for "windowed" Metro apps and let's do this. 33/66 is not enough. I need a way to get at the soon-to-be-mandatory Metro applications in a manner that suits my workflow.

Aesthetics

I know that it's en vogue to gripe about Aero not being around anymore. If you want it, go install it. Like the missing Start bar, it isn't a big deal so long as third-party apps can still restore it. That said, there are some aesthetic niggles that I just can't get over.

  1. Provide a setting to make the Charms Bar a textual overlay with a transparent background. The "Big Black Bar" choice causes context switching when I go to pull up the control panel. Ultimately, it leads to me disabling hot corners; bad if you use your device as a hybrid.
  2. Let me log on in a manner that bypasses Metro. I shouldn't have to see Metro if I don't want to; it should be something I choose to use. When you are not in tablet mode, Metro should be a desktop app, not vice versa.

The learning curve

I've got "setting up Windows 8 into a desktop-only environment I can live with" down to a science, but I do not want to be working help desk the day this get rolled out to any of my clients. I've got four major gripes about the learning curve that I would want Microsoft to address before I am prepared to man the help desk during deployment.

  1. Revisit touch queues to make them more obvious. Failing this, touch devices need to ship with a "how to use Windows Touch" tour. For those coming from the iPad or Android worlds, Metro isn't intuitive.
  2. Every non-windows RT Windows 8 need a very prominent "how to use Metro with a keyboard and mouse without going mad" introduction video. I know it's a complaint we've all heard a million times by now ... but it bears repeating.
  3. Revisit how you "throw away" Metro applications with a mouse. It is counterintuitive and difficult for some people. Older folks, those using trackpads, and individuals with motor control issues are all people I have witnessed having difficulty here. This is a QA problem that just didn't get solved.
  4. Fix Stylus support for Metro – it's pants. Specifically, I have an issue with the fact that you cannot drag the Metro screen around. Instead, you have to drag the magic, disappearing slider, and that doesn't work well.

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