A Serious Plan to Fix Windows 8

Microsoft didn't fail to execute a good plan; it succeeded in executing a horrible plan.

Windows 8 needs much more than a cosmetic upgrade

Windows 8 is a big flop. Its Frankenstein interface combines two fundamentally incompatible operating systems (Windows 7 and Metro) with two interaction styles (mouse/keyboard and touch). Sadly, Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8.1 "Blue" doesn't address these fundamental flaws.

Windows needs a basic reset, not cosmetic changes. That's why InfoWorld has designed the next edition of Windows for Microsoft. We call it Windows Red, a serious modernization of Windows that would move the platform forward and satisfy desktop and tablet users alike -- both at work and at home.

The detailed Windows Red plan. | All our Windows Red, "Blue," and 8 analyses.

Mockups: Ben Barbante | Contributors: Woody Leonhard, Doug Dineley, and Eric Knorr

Introducing the three versions of Windows Red

Windows 8's bad pairing needs to be jettisoned. Windows Red comes in three versions, to avoid such mixing:

Windows Red Pro: The PC version of Red is designed solely for keyboard and mouse interaction; gone is support for touchscreens, which are ergonomically dangerous on PCs. Based on Windows 7, Windows Red Pro uses Metro's cleaner design cues, runs Metro applications alongside legacy Windows apps, and uses the Metro concept of live tiles.

Windows Red Mobile: The tablet version of Red is an enhanced Windows RT, the Metro-only version of Windows 8 designed for touch environments. It runs only Metro apps.

Windows Red Duo: A dual-boot version of Windows Red for hybrids.

Touring the Windows Red Pro Desktop

Windows Red Pro is the next generation of Windows 7: the familiar interface with several key improvements. Foremost among them is the ability to run Windows Red Mobile (Metro) apps in their own, resizable, movable windows -- a technique pioneered in Stardock's ModernMix. Windows Red Mobile apps are available only from the Windows Store, but are accessed like any Windows application via the Start menu, Program Files folder, and desktop icons.

Gone are Windows 8's Charms bar and Start screen. The Start menu remains your central control, with the taskbar for favorite and running apps. Windows 8's true goodies remain: multiple copy threads, enhanced Task Manager, built-in Microsoft Security Essentials, improved system recovery, Hyper-V, Windows to Go, and so on.

Run Metro apps in Windows Red Pro

Windows Red Mobile (Metro) apps run in windows like other apps. Windows Phone apps also run in app windows, though they are not resizable.

For consistency with the traditional Windows UI, Windows Red Mobile apps' Application bar moves to the top of the window, similar to the traditional Windows menu and ribbon bar placement -- not at the bottom as in Metro. The Documents bar, for those apps that use it, appears below the Applications bar, again in traditional Windows UI style.

App-specific functions such as search, sharing, and device access (to printers, for example) are handled via a Red Mobile app's Application bar, not through the separate Charms bar as in Windows 8 Metro.

Use live tiles in Windows Red Pro

Metro's live tiles are a hallmark of Windows Phone, and it made sense to bring them to Windows 8 Metro. Windows Red Pro thus supports live tiles.

Windows Red Mobile apps that support live tiles appear in the Live Tiles tray at the right side of the Desktop. (They're also accessible in the Start menu.) Pull out that tray to see all active live tiles. You can also drag a copy of a live tile to the Desktop, where a larger version appears for always-visible access on the Desktop.

Windows Red also retains Windows 8's notification alerts that appear briefly at the upper right of the screen. If you missed them, they're available in the Live Tiles tray, in an expandable section at top.

Make it easier to organize the Windows Red Pro Desktop

Windows 8's Metro Start screen introduced the concept of organizing apps in groups, rather than folders. That makes it easier to find the desired apps and is more efficient than opening and closing folders. Windows Red Pro has a similar concept, based on the Stardock Fences utility, that lets you organize not just apps but apps and documents as desired.

It's a much more intuitive way to organize the desktop than, say, OS X's Mission Control feature and would give Windows users a real usability boost.

Bring the People app to Windows Red Pro

Windows Phone's People app is an intriguing concept -- a central place to keep up with the people in your personal and work live across all their communications and social channels. Windows 8 Metro has the same app, reworked for a tablet screen.

Windows have the same app, but designed for the Windows 7-style UI of a PC. So Windows Red Pro adopts the People app.

Embed shared services into Windows Red Pro apps

Apple's iOS and OS X apps offer shared widgets such as to tweet content from any supported application. Likewise, its iCloud bookmark list allows shared content bookmarks across devices. Windows 8 partially adopted that notion as the Share and Devices charms, but you have to leave the application context to use them.

Via its Share widget, Windows Red Pro provides standard services -- such as Tweet, SkyDrive, Print, Share Screen, Pin, and Bookmark -- to any app whose developer wants to use it.

Windows Red Pro keeps the syncing of app state and preferences introduced in Windows 8. It retains integration with the SkyDrive cloud storage service and allows third-party cloud services to be integrated into the Share widget.

Build a better Control Panel in Windows Red Pro

Microsoft's Control Panel is an out-of-control mess, with multiple selection methods (buttons, links, and tabs) and a confusing organization sure to hide key controls from users. Windows 8 worsens this confusion by putting some settings in Metro's Settings charm and some in the Desktop's Control Panel (which Windows "Blue" is supposed to fix).

The PC Settings part of Metro's Settings charm is a better model for Control Panel, especially when combined with the compact yet clear organization through tabbed panes used in OS X's System Preferences. Thus, Windows Red Pro redesigns Control Panel to have a more consistent, organized UI that ends the settings confusion.

Touring Windows Red Mobile

The Metro environment in Windows 8 and Windows RT goes a long way to satisfying the needs of a tablet's touch environment, so Windows Red Mobile is essentially an enhancement to Metro. Think of it as Windows RT but with support for standard Microsoft enterprise connectivity and security, including Group Policy, domain joins, Exchange ActiveSync, and BitLocker.

Windows Red Mobile uses the same tiled Start screen as Metro. But gone is the Charms bar; its services are integrated into apps, just as we did in Windows Red Pro.

To shut down or restart, press and hold the physical power button, as you would on any smartphone. For devices with a physical Start button, pressing it toggles among the main Start screen and open apps.

Get rid of the Charms bar and make Snap View more flexible

Rather than residing in the separate Charms bar as in Metro, Windows Red Mobile's controls for search, sharing/device access, and app settings are now available directly in the Applications bar. Windows Red Mobile retains Metro's dual-app capability, known as Snap View, but lets you resize the window by dragging its divider.

Systemwide search is handled in its own app, with its own Start screen tile. Like the Search function in Windows 7, you can set search parameters such as file type, date, and location (local, networked devices, and/or the Web).

We hope that making Windows Red Mobile a real OS in its own right will prompt developers to create the rich apps that Metro so sorely lacks.

Deliver a true tablet version of Office for Windows Red Mobile

Microsoft should be ashamed that it has no tablet-savvy version of Office. After all, Apple has iWork for the iPad and Google has Quickoffice for the iPad and for Android tablets as examples of how a true Office-style app should work on a touch-oriented tablet. If its competitors can deliver office productivity for tablets, so can Microsoft.

So big adieu to the neither-desktop-nor-tablet UI of Office 2013 in Windows RT and say hello Microsoft Office for Windows Red Mobile.

Create a Settings app for Windows Red Mobile

Systemwide settings are accessed in the new Settings app, which replaces the PC Settings section of the abandoned Charms bar.

The Settings app is essentially the same as in Windows Red Pro, except the UI elements are sized for touch-based access, using the clean design of Windows 8's PC Settings. Also, a set of commonly used controls is always at top, such as for screen brightness, network selection, airplane mode, mute, screen mirroring, and rotation lock.

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