Why I do not like Windows 8 (aka Metroface)

September 14, 2011

Today, I’ve had some time to install Windows 8 in a Virtual Box to get a first impression of the Developer Preview.

And I am not impressed!

The Metro User Interface (Metroface?)

A tile based interface is probably a great choice for a phone or may be a tablet, but tiles don’t seem to be a good fit for the desktop experience.

For once, they all look alike. They don’t have clear characteristic properties that make them distinguishable. And animations make them even harder to remember.

And then, they are edged, which goes against every design study I’ve ever read about. Rounded corners are easier on the eye and resemble forms that occur in nature. I personally would take it even so far that I feel “offended” by this razor sharp user interface that may attack and cut me the very next moment.

The Full Screen Start Menu

Well, that is just another name for the Metro interface, Microsoft decided to remove the start menu and replaced it by the Metroface. Which means that every time you need to search for an application or a file, you are forced to switch from your desktop to Metroface in full screen. This happened all the time while I had my first Windows 8 session. I don’t want to imagine how much of a cognitive burden this would put on me when I use Windows 8 on my 3 screen setup. Fullscreen flash to Desktop, flash to Metro and back. Disgusting. Microsoft should not have removed the classic start menu from Windows 8 Desktop.

Update: Here is a tool that enables the classic start menu in Windows 8

Mouse Usability

The Metroface can not be effectively used with a mouse. There are (pretty ugly) scrollbars everywhere and the distances you need to move the mouse are often too far. And because everything scrolls in the horizontal direction, the mouse wheel can not be used to scroll the pages. Microsoft should have either supported direct mouse-down and drag gestures or vertical scrolling pages like in the WeTab user interface.

And the back-button experience is entirely confusing. Some apps do support a back button, but they only work inside the application, they never lead back to the start menu from where you started (or entered?) the app.

And on the desktop, even if no touch device is connected, the title bars look huge and ugly and the usually small title bars of the toolbar windows are as big as regular ones.

Development

Microsoft has created a completely new set of APIs to program against the Metroface. I think that Microsoft is making a huge error here by introducing yet another XAML API. They claim that one of their choices were that it is harder to create vivid apps with a managed language and so needed to create a new API that is accessible from the CLR, native C++ and JavaScript. But I doubt it. While JavaScript is a great language for making small apps in the short term, everything breaks down in the long term.

They should have used Silverlight as their base for Metroface, but I guess the kids that Microsoft employed to create the Metroface were just cheaper and more proficient in JavaScript. I hope that this does not end up like every large JavaScript project I’ve seen: as unmaintainable spaghetti code.

What I do like

The Explorer got its parent button back.

The Task Manager is better structured and cleaned up. You can see network traffic and IO transfers of each application individually in a well-arranged grid.

Conclusion

Either the Windows 8 Developer Preview is a very early beta, or Microsoft is taking a huge risk to introduce the next Vista. For a desktop user, the alieness in usability and style of the Metroface feels intensely distinct to the normal desktop experience and should not have been integrated into Windows at all. A better option would have been a clear separation between the two user interfaces. The Windows Phone 7 operating system and its Silverlight based application framework could have been extended to make a great tablet OS. And honestly, who wants to use Windows desktop apps on a small tablet screen?