Have you upgraded to Windows 8 yet? We’ve published a lot of Windows 8 articles here at How-To Geek, and I’ve written many of them, but I haven’t. I still use Windows 7 on my PC.
This is just one geek’s opinion. I’ve been playing with Windows 8 for much longer than most people. It has been about a year since I wrote my first Windows 8 articles (using a prerelease) here at How-To Geek.
Mark has already written about how he learned to love Windows 8, so I thought I’d chime in with my own experience. I tried hard to love Windows 8, but I just can’t make it work.
Newer Isn’t Always Better
First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Bill Gates said “higher is better” when asked whether he used Windows 8, but this isn’t always the case in Windows-land. I remember Windows Me, which loved to blue-screen — I stuck with Windows 98. I remember Windows Vista, which couldn’t transfer files over a network at reasonable speeds — like many people, I stuck with Windows XP. Now a new Windows version shows up again and it’s time to evaluate whether this one is worth the upgrade (like 7 was) or whether we should stick with the old version of Windows once again.
I give credit where credit is due. Whatever you think of it, Windows 8 isn’t another Me or Vista. Both Me and Vista had stability and performance problems. Windows 8 is extremely stable and speedy. Windows 8’s problem is its vision, not its implementation.
It’s the Best Desktop Ever, But…
I’ve catalogued Windows 8’s many desktop features and security improvements. And yet, I still don’t want to upgrade to Windows 8 on my non-touch laptop. I’ve already listed the reasons why Windows 8 would be a worthy upgrade, but now I’ll list some reasons why I just don’t want to pull that trigger.
- You Will Boot to Metro, and You Will Like It – Microsoft was adamant that Windows tablet users would never have to use the desktop (although they’ve failed at this), but they clearly don’t think desktop users should have the ability to boot straight to the desktop. Sorry, Microsoft – I want to work at the desktop, I don’t want to consume content in the Modern interface. Many Start menu replacements allow you to boot straight to the desktop, but this only happens after a delay at login. Microsoft went out of their way to prevent instant booting to the desktop after people started doing this in a preview release.
- The Start Screen Imposes a Cognitive Burden – The Start screen forces a “context shift” in your attention, obscuring the rest of your work and everything else going on. Usability experts have said the dual (and dueling) interfaces impose a “cognitive burden.” Solutions like pinning every app you use to the taskbar just make for a cluttered taskbar if you use a lot of applications occasionally. Sure, you can install a third-party Start menu like the excellent Start8, but shouldn’t we send a message to Microsoft that we want Windows 8 improved, rather than upgrading, being unhappy, and plugging the holes ourselves?
- No Unified Search – Searching for a program or file in Windows 7 is easy. Press the Windows key, type part of its name or contents, and you’ll see all the programs and files that match your search. You can press Enter to open the searched-for item immediately. Microsoft has added an additional step in Windows 8. Searching will only search your installed applications by default, after which you have to click Settings or Files if you want something else. Some settings appear under Apps, some appear under Settings, and some appear under both. As a tech writer, this means I have to write out an additional step each time I tell readers to search for and launch something. Like lots of other things in the Modern interface, the search experience takes up the full screen and shows less content.
- The Windows Store is a Huge Missed Opportunity – When I first heard that Windows 8 would ship with a central app store, I was thrilled. After years of using Linux distributions, I knew just how convenient a centralized software installation and updating tool was. But Microsoft chose to only allow installation of Modern apps from the Windows Store, not desktop apps. Sure, a few desktop apps are listed in the store, but those are just links to download them – the store won’t handle installation, updates, or syncing apps between devices. The Windows Store could have been the biggest reason to upgrade, but it’s useless on a desktop (and isn’t too great on a tablet, either).
- Modern Creeps Into the Desktop – So you’ve installed a Start menu and enabled “boot to desktop.” Aside from seeing the Start screen and putting up with a delay each time you log in, you’ll see a lock screen for tablets each time you lock your computer. Disabling that requires a trip into group policy or the registry editor. You’re not done yet: The app switcher and charms appear when your cursor nears the corner of the screen, popping up and distracting you from whatever you’re doing. Good thing you can also disable the charms and app switcher hot corners. Even after this, you’re not out of the woods. Click the Wi-Fi icon and you now have a huge Modern-style sidebar for selecting your wireless network – the system tray is obscured, so you can’t quickly click another icon. Click the Sound or Battery icon and you’ll see the standard small system tray pop-up dialogs – it’s not even consistent. Other things are also Modern-style no matter what you do, like the action-selection dialog when you insert media or plug in a device. Oh, and don’t forget to change the default file associations, or you’ll be kicked back to the full-screen Modern interface when you open image, music, video, and PDF files.
Is the Modern Interface the Future of PC Computing?
Some people like Windows 8 so much that they insist Microsoft will be removing the desktop in the next few versions of Windows, moving us all to the new Modern interface. Many people may indeed be better off with the Modern interface if they just use their computers for general browsing, social networking, and media consumption, but this is pretty crazy to anyone who works on a computer.
The reasons why I haven’t switched to doing all my computing in the Modern interface should be pretty clear to anyone who’s used Windows 8, but I’ll cover them anyway:
- No Side-by-Side Applications – I spend a lot of my time working with a web page open on one half of my screen and a writing application open on the other. This isn’t possible in the Modern interface. You can have side-by-side apps, but one must take up a tiny sliver of your screen. Aero Snap was a defining feature of Windows 7 for desktop productivity, but the Snap feature in Windows 8 is clearly designed for chatting while doing something else, not for actually being able to view complicated content in two apps at once.
- Poor Support for High-Resolution Monitors – I have a 17” 1920×1080 monitor in my current laptop. Windows 8’s Modern apps make very poor use of this screen real estate. I can’t even have multiple apps on screen at a time. Windows 8 feels like it’s designed only for 1366×768 13” touchscreen laptops.
- I Don’t Want to Live in the Microsoft Ecosystem – Windows 8’s Modern interface takes us to a place where being a Windows user means using Bing, SkyDrive, and Xbox Live, playing mobile games from the Windows Store, buying music from Xbox Music, and renting videos from Xbox Video. If you use an online calendar, it better be Microsoft’s, because Windows 8 can’t sync with Google Calendar anymore. The Video app is more focused on selling me videos than letting me play the videos I already own. Do most Windows users really want this? I want to use Google, Steam, Rdio, Netflix, and whatever other services I prefer. I want to choose services based on their own merits, not be shoehorned into any one company’s ecosystem or forced to choose services with Modern apps. Many popular services, like iTunes, don’t have any Modern Windows 8 apps.
- It’s a Closed Platform – The Modern interface only allows you to install apps Microsoft approves. Sideloading is restricted to developers and corporate networks. Microsoft shouldn’t have a veto over what we can and can’t run on our computers. We’ve seen what happens with Apple’s iOS – games banned because of their content, a year-long delay on Google Voice so Apple could hamper a competitor, no competing web browser engines, and more. Imagine if Internet Explorer 6 was the only web browser that could be used on Windows XP and where we would be today – probably still using Internet Explorer 6. (And, under laws like the DMCA, bypassing this restriction to install unapproved software is a crime.)
- The Windows Store and Its Apps Are Bad – Even if the Modern interface was awesome, it wouldn’t matter. The Windows Store is a very sad place. The number of apps has improved, but quality is more important than quantity – and the quality just isn’t there. My PC doesn’t need crippled tip calculator apps, it needs powerful software.
Windows 7 is Still Pretty Good
After trying to like Windows 8 on the desktop, I came back to Windows 7. It immediately felt like an operating system designed for how I use my computer. It knows I don’t have a touch-screen and doesn’t act like I do. It presents consistent dialogs on the desktop. It doesn’t try to push Microsoft services on me. It’s a much more comfortable desktop experience that doesn’t feel schizophrenic like the “Jekyll and Hyde” Windows 8 interface does. I’m not forced to hunt around disabling things and learning to live with the things I can’t disable.
What exactly do I lose by sticking with Windows 7? The desktop may be a bit snappier, but I don’t notice that with a Core i7 CPU. Boot-up is faster, but I sleep or hibernate my computer when not using it anyway. Gaming performance is the one thing where increased performance could sway me, but benchmarks have demonstrated that gaming performance is about the same. File-copying is dramatically improved, but I don’t do much file-copying and TeraCopy works well for that. The new Task Manager is really nice, but I still prefer Process Explorer.
If you offered me a desktop-only edition of Windows 8, I’d be thrilled. But, for my desktop use, Windows 8 gets in the way more than it helps improve my desktop experience. Windows 7 is great, and there’s a reason businesses are sticking with it. Windows 7 is the new XP.
Maybe You Should Install Windows 8 Anyway
As tech geeks, many of us have an obligation to know about Windows 8 and how to use it. If you might get stuck supporting Windows 8, you should probably install it and learn about how it works. But, after writing scores of articles about Windows 8 for various publications and using it on-and-off for a year, I feel I already know Windows 8 very well. And I know I don’t like it — not really. Maybe I would enjoy it with a touch-screen or a convertible device that could be both my laptop and tablet. Convertible devices have a lot of potential, although the Modern environment doesn’t offer the apps that an iPad does or the openness and freedom to go outside the app store for censored apps that Android does.
Microsoft, listen to your users. Desktop PCs aren’t going away. There will always be people who need to use computers for work, and adding the Modern interface to the Server version of Windows shows us Microsoft just doesn’t get it. Let go, Microsoft. Convince us the Modern interface is better by actually making it better, not by forcing all Windows users to use it.
Word is that Windows Blue is fixing some of these issues, particularly by allowing Modern apps to snap in 50/50 view, allow for additional Modern apps on screen at once on higher-resolution monitors, and re-introducing a unified search experience. These are some good next steps, but the Modern interface will never match the flexibility of the desktop for power users because it’s built on limitations. The complaints of desktop users have not yet been addressed, even after consistent negative feedback throughout Windows 8’s public testing process.
Perhaps I’ve just become stuck in my ways and resistant to any change at the ripe old age of 26, but I don’t think so. Change can be good, but change isn’t inherently good. I think a lot of other people feel similarly about Windows 8, and that’s why we haven’t seen the adoption, line-ups and positive press that accompanied previous versions of Windows, such as Windows 7.
Feel free to chime in with your own experience and opinions. I know a lot of you (or at least a vocal minority) feel similarly about Windows 8, and I’ve seen it in some of the comments when writing about Windows 8. At the same time, I know some of our readers love Windows 8 – and some of our writers do, too. We’ll continue to write about Windows 8, but I’ve confined Windows 8 to a virtual machine until it learns its lesson.
Image Credit: Windows Me screenshot from Wikipedia
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 04/12/13