Microsoft has been praising Windows 8 as a reimagining of Windows, but CIO.com's Shane O'Neill can't see past the shoddy design of the Metro start screen.
Eye on Microsoft
By Shane O'Neill, CIO
The expression, “It’s the start that stops most people” is widely attributed to Anonymous, but whoever said it had keen insight into the fits and starts of everyday life.
I thought of this motivational quote about the difficulty of first steps when I downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview last week. The first thing you see after signing in is the Metro tile-based Start Screen, and for me it’s a stopper.
Windows 8 Metro-based Start Screen: Too dumbed down?
For what it’s worth, I am accessing the Windows 8 beta on a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop, so there is no touch functionality. Touch on tablets, in all likelihood, will make Windows 8 and Metro a more dynamic user experience.
But on the desktop, the Windows 8 Metro Start Screen is the start that stops most people.
Why? The problems have more to do with aesthetics than navigation features.
Visually, Windows 8 Metro design is not a pretty sight. I’m no designer nor do I claim to be, but a mishmash of solid-colored tiles and a flat, blocky design don’t exactly stir the soul. There’s none of the shading, soft edges or translucent colors that make the Mac OS, and even Windows Vista and Windows 7, so easy on the eyes.
What we get is an assortment of unsexy square tiles for broad categories like People, Calendar, Maps, Photos, Weather, Store, Music and so on that look like they were designed for a first-grader. In a review of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, ExtremeTech’s Matthew Murray slams Windows 8 Metro, comparing it to the elementary design of children’s toy company Fisher Price. And, sad but true, he’s right.
I do admit that when you start to add information like your email, photos, calendar items, and apps from the Windows Store the tiles start to come alive and make more sense. However, Microsoft could have tried harder with the look and feel of the Windows 8 Start Screen. Not matter how you dress it up, it still looks like a rough draft.
Yet Metro is not without merit; as the interface for Zune and Windows Media Center, Metro created some sleek visuals. Metro is currently the face of Windows Phones and works well on those small screens where usefulness trumps aesthetics. But spread across the screen of a laptop or desktop (or a tablet I fear) the tiles look even more crude and unimaginative.
There is an exit strategy if the Metro skin makes your skin crawl. A “desktop” default tile brings you to a traditional desktop screen that looks exactly like the Windows 7 desktop (just without the Start button in the lower left). But you can’t boot directly into the desktop — at least not in this beta version; you have to go through the Metro Start Screen.
As for navigation features, the main challenge is that moving around the Metro landscape via mouse and cursor is a tedious and frustrating affair. Windows 8 was clearly designed for touch on tablets, but the ability to navigate comfortably with a mouse, which is what most Windows 8 PC users will want to do, has fallen by the wayside.
In addition, the “charms” on the right side of the screen (Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings) that are allegedly supposed to speed things up are clunky and require extra steps to do things that used to be a click away, such as powering down or adjusting the volume. Internet Explorer 10, which operates like a smartphone browser, is also a huge departure from what Windows users are accustomed to when browsing.
I do not want to sound like someone who is allergic to change and wants Windows to keep the same infrastructure forever. Windows absolutely needs to change to accommodate the move to mobile devices.
But Windows 8 is not the kind of change we can believe in. Microsoft has been chanting that the new OS reimagines Windows for a new era. But I don’t see how filling up your desktop with a slapdash start screen based on a failed design interface is a “reimagining.”
Maybe Microsoft will add design flair and smoother navigation to Metro before Windows launches this fall. Though I’ve heard nothing indicating that will happen.
For now, the Windows 8 Metro Start Screen is what it is. It’s a skin, and it’s skin deep.