Windows 8 needs help

Author: Steve Martin

Let me start by saying that I am a pretty big Microsoft user. Windows is what got me interested in computers. I found it extremely useful and I could use it to get so much done. There were so many applications available to do the things I wanted to do. Because of my interest in Windows, I went on to become MCP, MCSA, and MCSE certified. I now take care of the servers and workstations for small and medium sized businesses. So, I’m no stranger to Windows. It has been my livelihood for many years. So, I feel that I am allowed an opinion of the new Windows 8 as I have been using, configuring, maintaining, updating, and customizing Windows not only for myself but for my clients since Windows 95 (I even played with Windows 3.1 a little bit).

I don’t know what these guys were thinking when they set out to create Windows 8 but productivity wasn’t really part of it. I get that touch screens are the new thing and totally different and require some modification to the traditional Windows environment but I think Microsoft missed the mark in many areas. I think a lot of things were changed just for the sake of doing things differently without much thought in making them better. Change for the sake of change is dumb, unless it makes for a better and more productive user experience. I think Windows 8 needs to be tossed out and started over for the next release. This is not just a rant posting. I would like to point out some of the things that I hate about Windows 8 and how I would have done them to make things better and more productive. If something used to take me 3 seconds but now takes me 5, it was a bad idea. I’d like to get rid of the “bad ideas” in Windows 8 because productivity should be the MOST important factor when re-designing anything in Windows.

Completely Disjointed – Microsoft wanted to re-invent Windows for the touch environment. Guess what Microsoft, most of your users sit at a desk with a keyboard and mouse all day long. Your new touch features are pretty useless to ALL of these users. Windows 8 is broken into 2 unrelated areas, the traditional desktop, and Windows 8 Apps. They don’t work well with each other. They are too separated and disjoined. It seems you should work in one or the other. The desktop is kind of like the traditional Windows environment, familiar  (once you add a third party start button), productive, and easy for most people to use. Everything else is Windows 8 Apps. They take up the full screen, have very few options for customization and have much fewer features. Whenever I am in a Windows 8 App, I feel stupid, like Microsoft thinks I am 4 years old and too much customization or features would make me cry.

My Fix – Marry the two. I don’t want to feel like we have abandoned the Desktop in order to go into a Windows 8 App. For example, by default on a fresh Windows 8 install, PDF documents will open using a Windows 8 App called “Reader”. I don’t think this app was made by Adobe. It doesn’t open a new “open program” reference in the taskbar like traditional Windows applications. So, to go back and forth between your newly opened PDF document and, say, Outlook, you have to leave the desktop to open “Reader” in full screen and then come back to the desktop. Once you are back to the desktop, there is nothing visible that would tell you that the “reader” app is even running, even though it is running in the other mysterious Windows 8 App area. You have to do this swipe action from the left side of the screen to see those Windows 8 Apps that are mysteriously running in the background. It would be easier to click or tap the “open program” reference in the taskbar the way the traditional Adobe Reader application works. In fact, I installed Adobe Reader XI from Adobe so I could get this functionality back. Having to switch back and forth from the desktop to a Windows 8 App reduces my productivity and makes me feel like I’m working in 2 different worlds at the same time.

Useless Metro Screen – The Metro Screen is what Microsoft has replaced the traditional start button with. So think of it as the new start button. I hate it for so many reasons. I try to avoid it if at all possible. They advertise this metro screen as a wonderful place to access your Windows 8 Apps and get updates from your live tiles. Ok, seriously, you really think I’m going to get much info out of these tiny tiles which are spread out a mile wide on the Metro screen? They can’t display much info. And what, am I supposed to spend my time staring at these tiles waiting for the next update instead of getting my work done? Right. Like I said, I avoid this useless screen as much as possible. The organization of these tiles is equally horrible. Sure, you can group them into categories that you want, but each and every tile is displayed at all times taking up additional space in the Metro screen. So, to have all the apps accessible, you have a LOT of tiles on your metro screen. This causes you to have to swipe and swipe and swipe and swipe through all those tiles until you find the one you are looking for. If you miss it, you swipe and swipe back and hopefully spot it. It is a waste of time.

My Fix – First, change the metro screen entirely. I HATE leaving the desktop to go to this other screen that shows a bunch of tiles. If you want to re-imagine the traditional start menu a bit, that is fine but don’t make me leave the desktop entirely to swipe through a hundred tiles. I’d say we still have a “start” button that opens over the desktop (can still see the desktop behind the tiles). I would want to see all my tiles on a single swipeless screen. I would go for more of an Android approach (I use an Android phone). On the Android phone, You can have a single square or “tile” be a holder for a group of other tiles. When you tap the grouped up tile, it opens to show you a bunch of other tiles that you have grouped together. I have a games tile, a finances tile, a church tile, etc. when I tap on one of these tiles it opens a bubble which shows all of my tiles that I have grouped into that tile group. So, when I tap on the finances tile, the bubble opens to let me tap on my American Express app or my bank’s mobile deposit app among others. So much cleaner and so much more organized. No swiping and swiping and hoping I don’t miss that ONE tile I’m looking for. I know exactly which tile group I saved my stuff in and exactly where inside that tile group I placed each tile. I can find things quicker. Forget this swiping through an endless sea of tiles.

Notifications are non-existent – Microsoft likes this new full screen for every app approach. That’s fine and all but it blocks everything else out of view. I can’t see when a new e-mail arrives if I’m working in the Internet Explorer 10 app because it takes up the full screen. I need a notification bar that is visible at all times or at least most of the time. Then I can see when a new IM comes in, or that important e-mail I’ve been waiting for. If I’m in some other full screen app, I would be able to tell when a download that I started in IE10 has finished so I can use it. I can’t think of very many apps that NEED to have complete use of every pixel of my screen. Most apps would do just fine if we left a little area available at all times to display useful info in order to keep me as productive as possible. If my only place for notifications is the new Start Metro Screen, I’m screwed since I always avoid it. Also, I really don’t want to swipe miles back and forth to check my “live tiles” for updates all the time.

My Fix – Keep the taskbar showing at all times. But, I would change the taskbar a bit. Instead of taking up the entire row along the bottom, let’s move it to the left hand side of the screen by default (we can let people move it to the right if they want or if anyone REALLY wants it, they can still have it on the top or bottom). Since screens are mostly widescreen these days, taking up a row along the left side of the screen doesn’t really take much screen real estate since the screen is so wide. We would then move the Windows 8 Apps back into the desktop and have them run more like traditional Windows programs. You can still call them Apps if you want to and still make them available through the Windows App Store. Why are we trying to ignore the desktop so much anyway. I feel like Microsoft kept it there because people would throw a major fit if they didn’t, but they ultimately wanted to get rid of it (thank goodness that guy didn’t get HIS way). No Microsoft, the desktop IS Windows. You can change it and improve it, but stop ignoring it and minimizing its importance by trying to make everything run OUTSIDE of the desktop. Embrace the usefulness of it and simply improve it. It allows excellent multi-tasking and super quick moving from one app to another to copy and past data. Switching between apps would be a simple left thumb tap. Let’s keep our Apps visibly running in the task bar along with the clock and notifications from whatever programs have a notification to display. I hate having everything hidden so I don’t know what is running, what is happening and can’t quickly access the data I want. Even the Android phone does a better job of displaying notifications. On the top of my phone I have a skinny black strip that gives me info most of the time. It tells me when I have a new e-mail, an app update, the time, wireless strength, battery indicator, etc. I like having my info visible at all times, no extra swiping and searching needed. Stop hiding everything from view. Let’s let Windows be windowS not Window.

Switching Between Apps – Again, this is kind of disjointed. On the one hand you have the desktop and it runs its own applications, then you have all the other Windows 8 Apps that run outside of the desktop (stupid). The desktop and all of its running apps is treated like a single app. Microsoft made it so that you can swipe in from the left and it will switch to the next open app in line. Swipe again and the next app shows up. If you have 10 Apps open, it would take 10 swipes to go through them all and one more to get back to the one you started with. If I just wanted to use this approach to switch between my e-mail program and some other document to copy and paste info back and forth, I would start in e-mail and swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe until I landed on the app I needed, paste my data and then swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe until I was back to my other app and can copy some more data, then swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe my way back. Does this sound productive to you? Me neither. And yes, I know of the other approach. Swipe in from the right, then immediately left and a list of the running apps is shown on the left hand side of the screen. Tap the one you want and you are switched to it. You can do that again to get back to the list and choose the other app you want. Still tedious, still unproductive.

My Fix – What if we had that taskbar sitting on the left hand side of the screen like I mentioned earlier. All I would have to do is single tap the running program I want, then single tap back to the other app. Nice and fast, no swipe, swipe, search, tap, swipe, swipe, search tap. Lets get back to being productive and let me rest my hand from all that swiping.


Things I LOVE about Windows 8

It’s not all hatred with Windows 8. There are some things that I really like about Windows 8. I am hoping that these things can be improved on even further while Microsoft is busy fixing the items above. The things I really like in Windows 8 are as follows in no particular order:

1. Resumes from sleep in a mere 8 seconds. It is actually only 5 seconds most of the time but it has never taken more than 8 seconds to resume from sleep so far. I absolutely LOVE this. With my old Toshiba tablet that I had installed Windows 7 on, it would take about 2 – 3 minutes for the computer to fully wake up after re-opening the lid. It would take just about as long to actually go into sleep mode. With Windows 8 it is so much faster. 5-8 seconds to sleep and 5-8 seconds to wake up. Microsoft, keep improving on this one, it might just be my favorite improvement.

2. Very Fluid – Even though I am not a big fan of the navigation with all the swiping to find things, I must say that the swiping and pulling in from the right and left sides is very fluid. We have a couple of Kindle Fires and they tend to have a more jerky experience when scrolling and swiping and such. Windows 8 is extremely smooth.

3. Better performance – This is only partially because of Windows 8. I’m sure they have streamlined things a bit so that Windows 8 runs better and more efficiently, but it will also be partially due to the fact that my new tablet has a solid state hard drive and better processor. I still like the direction of better performance regardless of what the cause is.


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