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Windows 8 Review – Part 4: A closer look at the OS

by Gunnar Berger  |  July 19, 2012  |  10 Comments

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
Now lets compare this to Windows 8
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
So is Windows 8 the next Vista? Absolutely not! Windows 8 is a risky move by Microsoft to blend two markets, the desktop market and the tablet market. As you saw in my post on the tablet use case I think they succeed, it’s the desktop side that gives me pause. The good news is most of the things I focus on tend to be surface things, things I honestly hope Microsoft improves before it goes GA. The issues aren’t some major failure of the operating system, they are ease of use issues. This was not the case when Vista was released.
That being said, I think ease of use issues are important aspects for Microsoft to focus on. By moving into the tablet market Microsoft has purposely put their OS up against iOS, which is all about design and easy of use. What follows are some of those issues I don’t find so easy to use, especially if I’m on a desktop and not a touch device.


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.

Start Menu

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 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.
Tomorrow will be my final post on Windows 8. It won’t be nearly as long as today’s post I promise. I’ll be doing a quick recap of everything I’ve discussed this week and I have one last closing thought that I hope will spark some good conversation and maybe a little controversy. See you then.


Follow me on Twitter: @gunnarwb

Come see me at Gartner Catalyst Conference 2012



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Category: sbc  shvd  vdi  

Tags: catalyst-na  win8  windows-8  

Gunnar Berger
Research Director
1 year at Gartner
14 years IT industry

Gunnar Berger is a research director for Gartner's IT Professionals service. He covers desktop, application and server virtualization ...Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Windows 8 Review – Part 4: A closer look at the OS

  1. “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.”

    Well said! I am in love with Windows 8, but this is one quibble I have. Not a deal-breaker, but a way to have a truer “desktop” experience when docked (or running on, you know, an actual desktop) would be nice. Again, it wouldn’t stop me from running it on a desktop. But this would be a nice improvement. Maybe for SP1? Or Win9?

  2. Josh McEachran says:

    “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.”

    This is the dealbreaker for me. I do not wish to be coerced into signing up for a server-side authenticated Microsoft ID whenever I boot up my computer.

    And if I’m using cloud services, I’m not using Microsoft’s.

    Also, Metro is just too awkward for non-touch desktop usage. Horizontal scrolling. Lock screen. The entire experience is best summed up in a word: ‘schizophrenic’.

    Even the hardware is schizophrenic. Surface comes in two flavors: Intel chip and ARM chip,

    I know what Microsoft is attempting: have a unified UI across all Windows devices, entice developers to utilize Microsoft’s app store with the bait of legions of Windows users, visually ‘propagandize’ desktop users into buying other Windows 8 devices (phones, tablets).

    Time will tell if Microsoft will be successful with this plan. From the abysmal market share of Windows phones thus far, the inevitable aversion from enterprise to upgrade to Windows 8, the improbability of Windows 8 tablets making a dent on iPads market dominance, I say no.

  3. Mike says:

    You are not forced to use a Microsoft ID. You can log in with a local account.

  4. Terri main says:

    The reasons for failure may differ, but I think this may well be another Vista style failure. You are looking at this like an IT guy. That’s fine, but I’m a non-tech techie. I know my way around computers and software, but my background is the humanities. I’m a writer at heart and I care more about what computers can do to make my life easier than I care about what’s under the hood. It’s like my car. I want it to look nice and when I get in it, I want it to be easy to operate and get to the place I’m going and then forget about it. I don’t care about how many litres the engine has or it’s tuned suspension, yada, yada, yada. What does it look like? How does it run?

    Looks may seem superficial to some, but as someone who spends several hours a day in front of a computer screen eye candy is important. Secondly, how does it run? What you have identified as “minor” ease of use issues are major for most non-tech computer users.

    Most people come to the computer barely computer literate. Even young people. I taught college for 30 years and most of the 20 somethings are just barely more computer literate than their parents. They are more smartphone literate, but once they enter the workplace, it’s going to be a computer (maybe laptop, maybe some hybrid tablet, but a computer with apps like word processing nd spreadsheets, not angry birds and text messages) that is going to be the focuse of the significant work they will do like writing reports, tracking spending, designing, crunching numbers for research, etc. You can’t even design an app on a tablet for a tablet.

    As such the average computer desktop user needs something easy to use with a mouse and a keyboard. You can’t write a 30 page report or build an integrated circuit design using your thumbs.

    Ease of use, is important. You can have a stable product. It can run wonderfully under the hood, but if it is hard to use, people will not take to it.

    I have yet to test drive Windows 8. I’m thinking about seeing if I can beta test it on my secondary laptop. But from everything I see in the blogs, Metro looks ugly and confusing to use for the desktop/laptop user and MS needs to remember, that’s the core consumer they have.

  5. Jeff Hall says:

    Just need a single single keyboard shortcut to switch from Metro to standard PC view so you can easily ride between tablet and PC modes. Very simple thing to fix.

    And Gunner, why in the world would you put that Alt-F4 thing in the middle of your blog? If people happen to be reading your blog that don’t know what that does and they try it. Do you think they are coming back to finish reading or will ever read your blog again? Childish and not very smart.

  6. Chris Quirke says:

    Scrolling is to user efficiency what paging to disk is to system efficiency, i.e. Bad.

    Stuff that wastes screen real estate is to the user what programs that lock down large amounts of non-pageable memory are to the system.

    The new UI doesn’t make me think of Vista, but Win3.yuk Program Manager.

  7. FredBloggs says:

    Have to disagree with most of your ‘likes.’

    * Boot time? Who cares? I reboot Win7 about once a month, usually when I’m testing some new bit of gear. On my cheap SSD it takes just seconds to come up.

    * Metro easy to navigate? True… until you’re dumped back to the desktop for some configuration option, or just to copy a few files. Then things get really painful, unless you have a mouse and keyboard handy.

    * Dual background images? Are you kidding? If a major, hugely disruptive OS update is being judged on this kind of piffle, it’s really in trouble. Especially as many, many other nagging Windows problems have not been fixed.

    * Microsoft ID? A privacy nightmare. I don’t mind it on my tablet, a consumption device. But I find it pretty offensive on my work PC.

    * Appearance? Thumbs down. Metro is too gaudy, the new ‘flat’ look desktop too drab. Office 13 is eye-searingly hideous. I don’t like where this is going…

    * Explorer? Not ruined. But not improved, either. The Ribbon is just as idiotic as it’s ever been. Things like viewing options are now compressed into a tiny little scrolling window, instead of being instantly available. And just TRY and hit those tiny little Ribbon icons with a fingertip!

    In short, Windows 8 as a tablet OS shows real promise, but is dragged down by reliance on the desktop. Windows 8 as a desktop update is all minimal gains versus major losses… and strongly suggestive of worse horrors to come.

    After working with this OS on various devices, I see just one promising use case: tablet with dockable keyboard. (And then only assuming the supply of apps improves rapidly.) Win8 is nice enough on a tablet, but you have to have a keyboard some of the time. Win8 on a desktop is best avoided, agonizing out of the box, and largely inferior to Win7 even after major tweaking.

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    742733 622233I believe 1 of your advertisements triggered my internet browser to resize, you may want to put that on your blacklist. 24376

  9. Whoa! This blog looks exactly like my old one!
    It’s on a entirely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design.
    Outstanding choice of colors!

  10. Si. Porque bastantes dueños de c6 han comentado en este mismo blog que el motor de gasolina no es más que un generador de ruído y consumo. Frase para la posteridad: Las ventas totales del C6 marcan un dato: el número de personas en el mundo que entienden de coches”. Experiencia en posicion identica(Supervision responsable de equipo) en depositos Centros de Distribucion.

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