Windows 8: At least it's better than ‘not very good’
A night on the tiles
Something for the Weekend, Sir? By the pricking of my thumbs, and by the noisy crowd booking out half the pub, the wickedness of office party season has kicked in big time. Certainly, 'tis the season to be jolly and to suffer the indignities of itinerant workers debasing themselves in order to get invited.
The importance of networking: Another year at the Cheshire Cheese
Source: 20th Century Fox Television
Personally, I prefer industry get-togethers such as the annual all-afternoon piss-up for IT journalists held at the Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street. This year’s event was especially memorable for its aftermath as I was working a night shift immediately following my departure.
Normally, faced with an impending hangover, I would expect to sleep it off, so it was objectively fascinating to endure ten hours of excruciatingly gradual sobering up while fully awake.
Arriving at my desk a little squiffy, I experienced the usual chatty cheeriness followed by sleepiness after which my brain staggered into the unknown… headache, rabid thirst, dizziness, throbbing in my ears, another headache and rounding off with an intense stare that required the help of two strong colleagues to forcibly pull back my scalp in order to unfurrow my brow.
I suspect this may also be the sequence of afflictions that arise from using Windows 8 on a desktop or notebook PC while under the influence of a well-fortified mince pie.
Mmmh, so what's this all about?
Surely, part of the magic of Windows 8 is its clever invisibility trick – no-one ‘on the street’ seems to have seen it – and I’m still evaluating whether or not it’s pants, or indeed exactly how many pants. My own initial experience probably matches yours:
1. You begin by being charmed by the tiles
2. Then you’re frustrated that all your windows are full-screen
3. You discover legacy mode and things get better
4. You wonder what all that tile business was for.
This is very different from a year ago when early demonstrations by Microsoft had something of a ‘wow’ factor compared to today’s ‘whoa’ factor. But then it’s always the same when you demo things that are visually fantastic but that no-one would actually ever want to do.
I’m reminded of a demo soon after the launch of Windows 95 at which a slick presenter opened three video files (postage-stamp size, admittedly) in separate windows and ran all three simultaneously. It was a striking example but quite useless when you think about it.
Worse, the task was impossible to replicate on anything but the most powerful PC on the market. Typical PCs like mine were having enough difficulty keeping up with the constantly shifting swap file while typing a Word document, the interminable grinding of my hard disk sounding like a mini concrete mixer at my feet.
That's better... sort of
At least it wasn’t as bad as Windows 3. What a pile of shite that was. In a way, the concept of Windows 8’s Metro is reminiscent of that arse-wipe of an interface known as Program Manager in that it was specifically intended to get in the way, with the notable exception that Windows 3’s childish, space-wasting visual design could only have been created by a myopic two-year-old.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. I can still remember testing Ventura Publisher under GEM in 1987 on a PC whose obscene goldfish-bowl-like CRT display was so uncontrollably brilliant that I acquired a tan and almost burnt out my retinas.
Even the ability of Windows 8’s tiles to run like self-contained apps by showing information inside them reminds me of Microsoft’s attempts to persuade us in the 1990s to use Internet Explorer – the worst web browser in the world, remember (and given the dreadful shareware I’ve tried over the years, that’s saying something) – to embed its ghastly self into our desktops.
The thing is, when I said all this at the time, I was on my own. Everyone else loved Windows 3 and even more so 3.1, whose unique selling point was not being as shit as Windows 3. I’ve never been able to agree with my elders and betters.
And so this might explain why (roll of drums) I’m starting to warm to Windows 8. My frustrations are melting away and I’ve starting enjoying myself as I use it in anger rather than just playing around on it. Or then again, perhaps it’s just an extension of my waking hangover. Only a madman or a drunk would like Windows 8, surely.
And on that note, I hope your office parties go well. Let’s meet up here again in the New Year. ®
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He does not condone alcohol abuse. Getting drunk is neither big nor clever, and by a strange coincidence, the same can be said for Alistair Dabbs himself.
I think people moan about it because it should have never come to this. There is nothing wrong with revamping the UI and in many ways I like Metro. But it breaks the fundamental rule of UI design - if you rewrite the UI make damned sure that the new thing provides the same functionality or matches the workflow better than the old thing.
This is absolutely not the case in Windows 8 where simple tasks suddenly become an exercise in frustration.
E.g. Say I want to fire up a calculator to verify something in an app. I must either to go out to metro and show all apps or I have to make incantations on the right side of the screen until the bar appears, click Search, type calc, click. It takes clicks, gestures and choices to accomplish. It causes brainfarts because the desktop disappears while trying to launch the damned app and causing the user forget the reason they ran it at all.
Metro also suffers from a pathological case of dumbing down. I can't group tiles for example, or zoom out to show more tiles at once, or see recently used apps somewhere, or sort tiles in a group by name, or multi select and pin multiple apps at once.
I hope Microsoft realise how awful it is and set about providing a decent experience. It doesn't mean bringing back the start menu but it does mean addressing the very real needs of people who aren't stabbing the screen with big fat fingers and actually have to work in front of a computer and do stuff all day.
For me the annoyance (dislike) is caused because it takes much more time and effort to do the things I want (and need) than it takes me on Win7.
I'm an admin and thus often need to check up on servers and stuff. Mostly Linux (webmin / PuTTY) but also several Windows servers. So, lets start the day lazy and check any incoming eventlogs using MMC instead of PowerShell (typing). I click start, hover over to 'Management tools' (or close enough, I'm on a Dutch version of Windows) and there I find the event logs. Now I right click and use "Run as administrator". I need to because I'm logged on as a regular user, otherwise I won't be able to access the Security logs.
Guess what? You can't do this so easily from within the Win8 void. Not without polluting your desktop.
So now I've had my coffee, I checked the stuff and need to write my weekly report on performed server updates. I click start, I hover over Word, wait for my jumplist to appear and at the top sits a pinned template: "xxxx server reports". I click it and I immediately get a new document setup by my template.
Can't do that within the void, you need desktop taskbar pollution to pull this off.
Last week I've done more with remote server management (RDP), setting up an automatically updating Excel sheet on server statistics /and/ brushing up some (minor) logo's with Gimp. As a result Excel, Gimp & Remote desktop connection sit in my "often used programs" list. Next week I'll be doing more document writing, bookkeeping and doing some hobby-based program design in C#. SO by that time you can be sure that "Minipak", "VS Express C#" and "Visual Paradigm for UML" will have replaced the previous three options (maybe apart from remote desktop connection).
You don't get this kind of automated control within Win8. If you want to have your environment adapt to the way you work you'll just have to manually add and remove tiles from the void, or do some daily or weekly icon maintenance on your desktop.
Why would I bother with all the extra hassle when Windows 7 does it all out of the box ?
Probably needless to say but I don't use a touch screen nor do I have any desire to get one for my desktop environment. Another reason why I don't see any advantages.
How many things have you installed onto Windows 8 yet?
Of course if you really enjoy a massive, flat list of ico^Wtiles, then more power to you. If you like re-arranging TIFKAM every single time you install something, that's just gravy.. so long as you don't insist I be subject to the same crap. As for pinning shit to the start bar, that's damned retarded too. Sure if you only have one or two apps you play with constantly, but after pinning 10 or 11 apps to the taskbar just to avoid TIFKAM, it stops being a taskbar and starts being a big list of shit where it's not immediately obvious what's a running app and what's an icon.
Mind you, that's pretty much the same as TIFKAM, now. I'll decide when a program needs killing, TYVFM.