Windows 8 and Metro – an analysis
I have had a chance to use Windows 8 for awhile and here are some of my impressions of it.
I downloaded and installed the Windows 8 build preview on both my ExoPC tablet and a desktop PC (Dual Core Pentium D 3.2 ghz with 2 gig memory). I found the tablet the best experience and the desktop was not too bad. While it isn’t always the most intuitive with a mouse, it does work fine.
I later downloaded the Consumer preview and RTM preview versions as well.
Now I have upgraded to Windows 8 on my tablet (the $40 deal was well worth it) , but after dealing with a issue or two with drivers, I wasn’t so sure about upgrading any of my desktops. The ExoPC ran fine with Windows 8, but the Microsoft video drivers for the Intel onboard GPU did not support OpenGL and defaults to software emulation, rather than using the hardware. Basically that means OpenGL was useless. Even though I bought the ExoPC with Windows 7 on it original and it isn’t even a year old (bought it from Microsoft Store), ExoPC does not make it any more and you can’t get OEM drivers for Windows 8. Microsoft should have done a better job of providing drivers in Windows 8, especially since the tablet I have was purchased from the Microsoft Store and yet the Windows 8 upgrade did not even have the correct drivers (for OpenGL). I went to Intel’s web site and download the generic drivers for the GPU and I got OpenGL back running at the speed it should.
All in all though, I am happy with Windows 8 on my tablet. The operating system was designed for mobile and it shows.
Now because of the concerns about getting drivers for Windows 8 for my desktop PC’s, I opted to forgo upgrading but instead purchased a new laptop which came with Windows 8. At least it will have all the drivers. Now while I didn’t mind Windows 8 on my desktops (when testing the preview versions) and I got around some driver issues by using the Vista drivers for it, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of the upgrade. IMO if one wants Windows 8, I think one would be better to buy a new PC with it than to try to upgrade, unless you recently purchased a Windows 7 PC and then the upgrade may make sense. I really don’t think it wise to upgrade from say Vista or Windows XP, to Windows 8. I would worry about driver issues and the license for the upgrade basically says that once you upgrade you lose the right to use the old version of Windows, which I read as “you can’t go back”.
Now while I really like the laptop I got, I am not really happy with how Windows 8 works with a touchpad. Actually while I didn’t mind it with a mouse, I think a touchpad is a totally different animal and Windows 8 was poorly designed for touchpads. Why ?
In my case, the touchpad supports a form of ‘swipe” similar to what you do with a tablet. You can swipe from the right side to display the charms bar. The problem is that the touchpad drivers are too sensitive to swiping and I end up having the charms bar pop up when I don’t want it to. I tried changing some settings , but still can’t solve the problem. Now I am a computer programmer and if I find it difficult to figure this out, I am sure the average consumer won’t be happy with it. I may have to try different touchpad drivers to solve the problem. The laptop is new and made by Lenovo, a major company, so you would think they would have tested this out and made sure it works right.
Also Windows 8 needs some good tutorials and I don’t mean that little “Hello I am Windows 8″ mini-tutorial when the computer is started the first and Windows sets everything up for the new user. There should have been a bunhc of quality videos provided to teach new users the “tricks” of Windows 8.
Now how about Metro (or whatever they are calling it now) ?
While I like Metro apps on the tablet and I like how easy it is to download apps from the Microsoft store (a lot easier than Android), that is about as far as it goes. I have no desire to offend Microsoft, since they have put a lot of work into Metro, but I have to say it gets boring after a while. App navigation is not intuitive. It seems every app (no Games) you have to keep clicking a BACK button all the time. There is too much open space in Metro apps, as well and desktop apps when run using touch are not going to be a great experience. Controls like the combobox don’t work well with a touchpad (again maybe I have a driver problem). Now Metro is better suited to touch, which is good, but I don’t really feel the overall software experience to be anything great.
Now I really don’t like the flat look of everything in Metro. Now consider why the Metro concept (signs for travel) was developed. When you travel down a highway at 70 miles and hour, it is important to be able to read a sign while moving fast. The flat design and simple colors of road signs make sense when driving. But when you are using a computer or even a tablet, you are not moving 70 miles per hour. You have time to take it all in. Colors and 3D depth make software appealing and natural. Metro with its flatness makes it boring and unappealing.
Now this does not mean I think that Metro is a failure, nor do I think it is doomed. Metro has a lot of nice features about it. I just think that Microsoft should back off a little bit and stop defing how a user interface should look. Now it makes sense for some UI elements to be similar among apps (ie. how it responds to touch or a mouse), but the look and feel should not be dictated. That stifles creativity.
I have downloaded a number of free Metro apps and I have yet to be impressed. At least the non-game apps anyway. Games, don’t have the typical Metro UI. They use DirectX and the UI is dictated totally by the software developer. Non-DirectX stuff though is a bit boring, IMO. A label control and a button look just alike. There is a reason Button controls have always had a 3D look, so they stand out.
So what would make Metro better ?
Loosen up on the UI design rules. Allow and encourage developers to be more creative with the UI.
Don’t forget the desktop !
The Desktop can be just as “fast and fluid” as a Metro app. They also can be touch enabled.
Is Metro a failure ?
Absolutely not ! Metro will though be a learning experience and in time its weaknesses and strengths will become more obvious. If Microsoft is willing to “go with the flow” and make changes as it becomes obvious when they are needed, Metro can expand and grow into well rounded environment.