Disclaimer: Gartner analysts use their blogs to share their personal views and opinions on subjects close to their hearts.
Welcome back! Today is day four of my series on Windows 8. We’ve discussed Windows 8 as a business decision, what it’s like from a tablet device, and what it’s like from a desktop device; today we are going to focus on the OS itself. To start that off I want to address a question I heard the other day: ”Is Windows 8 the next Vista?” While some might disagree with me, I’ve got to say this question is ridiculous, and to justify that statement lets take a trip down memory lane…
Windows 8 vs Windows Vista
There are only three things I need to remember about Vista to compare these two operating systems.
- Hardware. When I first downloaded Vista, I had a heck of a time getting it to install on any hardware I had. If it did install the chances of my drivers working were slim to none. I remember raking through vendor sites trying different versions of drivers just to get a NIC to work or a graphic card to display properly. Either vendors weren’t ready for Vista or something was just majorly wrong with it (I don’t know which).
- Software. On the off chance I got Vista working in these early days the next step was getting my applications to work. This was hit and miss, when it failed chances where good vendors would point their finger at Vista and say they don’t support it on that OS.
- Buggy. This includes both of the above, but overall I’d just say the OS was buggy when released. Maybe it was rushed, I don’t know, I wasn’t an analyst at the time, I was an IT professional trying to determine if Vista was right for me. It wasn’t, I waited for Windows 7.
- Hardware. I have some random hardware sitting around my house and I’ve loaded Windows 8 on everything I have. In fact I just built the machine I’m currently working on a few hours ago and loaded Windows 8 on it. Everything works, my NIC works, my high end graphic card works, even my random USB devices I have plugged into it, which currently includes a Webcam and a wireless headset. All of it works without a single Google search for a driver.
- Software. I’ve loaded every peice of software I need on this desktop to do my job. Given I don’t have the greatest of software demands to write for a living, but I’m an IT guy first an analyst second, so I have lots of random apps, all of which work. I don’t think my apps realize they are on a new OS.
- Buggy? I’ve been running this OS on a slate device, in a VM, and on typical desktop hardware and I haven’t had the OS crash on me yet. I have had some Metro apps crash on me, but Microsoft doesn’t write those, whomever’s game I downloaded wrote it. As far as I can tell this OS is solid.
Sorry to keep saying this but I really like this slate device, it lets me be a tablet when I want to be a tablet and a desktop when I want to be a desktop, the only problem is that Metro doesn’t understand that difference. I see myself reaching for my slate device more than my iPad these last few weeks. I like the Metro interface on it, its quick, its easy to see my apps, and Cut the Rope is addicting. When I’m in a tablet scenario (bed, travel, the loo) I prefer a tablet, which means I prefer an interface like Metro. Any issue I have with Metro is something very minor (such as I’d like a background of my choosing on Metro) for the most part I like Metro. But I’m not always in the loo, in fact I tend to work from my desk 90% of the time, its these times that I’d like Metro to bugger off (or at least change).
Screen Real Estate
On my dual screen, I don’t like that any Metro app dominates an entire screen, when I click the Windows key to launch Metro it takes an entire screen to show me maybe 20 application shortcuts, so metro wastes my expensive real estate. I read a study once (not a Gartner study) that said having two monitors can increase productivity by 60%, I don’t know how accurate this is but I believe there is definitely a productivity increase by having multiple monitors. It seems a bit out of touch with reality to devote an entire screen to a Start Menu, or to only allow a Metro app to run full screen (I can play Backgammon in a window). I’m using a Windows Phone these days and I think the UI on that could be mirrored for Metro when I’m docked, in that UI I can see all my applications on a screen width of a few inches. I don’t think Metro needs to go away completely, I just think it needs to recognize when I am docked and value my screen space.
Metro is the replacement for the Start Menu as such we no longer have a Start Menu like we’ve had since Windows 95 (Remember Rolling Stones “Start me up!”), nor is there a nice doc with everything you need like OSX. Instead when in the desktop mode on Windows 8 you have a task bar that you can pin things to, this basically forces you to use Metro, and Metro is so designed for touch that using it with a mouse seems like a waste of effort. I don’t like scrolling around for things, I bought a huge screen so when I work in Excel I can see everything at once. Metro forces me to scroll to much, and I know how petty that sounds but its all the petty things that we don’t put words to that when added up explain why we use a different vendor’s product. Having metro use less real estate and again mimic what I see on a Windows Phone, would be less of a learning curve and be less dragging of the mouse all over the screen (here’s a video of this). If this could happen I think it could be beneficial to pin the Metro icon where the Start button used to be.
Corners vs Keyboard Shortcuts
The Charms menu (or the thumbs menu as I’ve been referring to them) are the menus that are easy to access with a touch device by flicking your thumbs on the edges of the screen. The main way to get around needing to use the mouse is by learning the Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts. I’m a huge fan of keyboard shortcuts, but my wife still doesn’t know what Alt-F4 does. How many average users out there know what Alt-F4 does, how many want to know? Keyboard shortcuts are not a new idea, they’ve been around for a long time, but the only people I know that use them tend to be power users. I don’t think people will want to have to learn all of these shortcuts, but to navigate Windows 8 with just a mouse and keyboard its pretty much a requirement. I think this issue is resolvable by slightly tweaking the UI and I hope Microsoft does this before it goes GA.
Boot to desktop
I’m also testing Windows Server 2012, but any information on that will be communicated via Gartner.com. One thing I want to point out is the Windows Server does not default to Metro, it defaults to the desktop. I think this “feature” will be highly requested by Microsoft by enterprises that don’t want to force Metro on their user-base. I’d like this feature on my desktop, because the first thing I always do is launch my desktop I shouldn’t have to click to do this.
Its always easy to point out the things that you’d like improved and all to easy to by pass the things you love so in closing today I’d like to just bullet list the things I really like about Windows 8:
- Boot time. It’s crazy fast!
- Metro (from a tablet) is very easy to navigate and the easy to learn.
- Dual background images. I used to have 3rd party software that enabled me to have different background images on different displays, now this is a function of the OS.
- Search. Massive improvement on previous versions of Windows search, and I know the joke is that anything is an improvement on Windows search, but I do mean it, search has been greatly improved.
- Microsoft ID. I like that when I log into any of my Windows 8 desktops at home I get the same persona thanks to the Microsoft ID and SkyDrive.
- Appearance. Everything about Windows 8 is an improvement on appearance, the login screen stands out with its attractive date/clock and rich use of images.
- Taskbar on dual screen. I like that I can access my taskbar on both screens, so I no longer have to drag my mouse to my main monitor. (I realizing I have something against a lot of mouse movement.)
- Explorer. Not IE, just E. It got a face lift and I like it.
- RemoteFX. RDP8. Oh RemoteFX how far you have come. I have a ton to discuss on RemoteFX but that’s a Gartner client privilege, sorry tweeters.