I work with a couple of committees at Microsoft for developing the future “story” of some of their key technologies. So I’ve been able to participate in some fun closed focus groups for things like ASP.NET, WCF, Windows and Visual Studio 2012. The gist of it is that the guts of Windows 8 are superb. It is extremely optimized, and the OS has a much lower memory footprint. This was the core of their focus when developing Windows 8, because they need it to run on tablets. That means battery life is paramount. In fact, Windows 8 will run better than Windows 7 on the exact same computer. That’s a first for MS, and it’s pretty incredible.
Sadly, that’s where the incredible ends. I’ve been using the final RTM bits for a bit now, and there are a few problems really need to be addressed SOON. Some you’ve heard, some you probably haven’t. Here’s my current gripe list.
1. Two Separate Browser Processes
When you launch your browser from the Desktop, it feels like every version of Windows you’ve been familiar with since 1995. When you launch it from the Start Screen (the Modern UI), it launches a separate parent process, which is the full screen “immersive” browser. The 2 parent processes are separate, and it creates many, many problems. For one, now you have 2 sets of tabs. So when you have that article you open, and want to get back to reading later, you have to try and guess which browser it’s in. You can never see the 2 browsers on the same screen at the same time. You can’t move tabs from one to the other. In fact, in the Modern UI, you can’t even pull tabs out of Chrome at all. So if you wanted to pull that YouTube video out and watch it on the 2nd monitor, while you continue to do something else on your primary monitor, have fun copying and pasting both urls, going to your desktop, logging in to both sites (again), and finally pulling the youtube tab out. And I hope you don’t trust your browser to properly restore your tabs, because it fails. Hard. You’ll be lucky if you can restore the tabs from the LAST browser you closed. And since most people don’t Alt + F4, you never really close the Start Screen browser. It just gets suspended. Also, have fun logging in to every site TWICE, once in each browser. Logged into Gmail on the desktop Chrome? Log in again on the Modern Chrome. Oh, and don’t unpin the Start Screen IE from your Start Screen, because you can’t get it back. Ever. If you add IE back, it will only launch in the Desktop (which honestly, is what you probably want anyway).
2. Full Screen Apps
Apps created using the WinRT, designed for the new Modern UI (launched from the Start Screen) launch as a full screen process. I’m sure we’ve all accidentally hit F11 in our browsers, when we’re really trying to hit F12 to pull up the dev tools. WTF? Why is my browser full screen? Oh, F11. Oops. Well get used to it. When you launch an app from the start screen, it’s full screen. No border. You can’t resize it, minimize it, close it, move it, or look at anything else at the same time. You can’t see what other apps are running at a glance, or see your battery life, check the time, or see any tray icons. If you’re on a 3G device, you won’t be able to see how many bars you have, or if you’re even connected. Sure, you can try to drag it and snap the window to the side, so you can try to look at 2 apps at once, and maybe that’s a neat gimmick for tablets, but this is the DESKTOP. And you can’t even decide how wide to make the snap-in sidebar. Oh, and you know the little Gmail chat windows? Go ahead, try to click the “pop out” link, I dare you. It opens the chat in a new tab. And since you can’t pull the tabs out, the chat will now be the only thing you can look at, fullscreen. You can’t even pull the tab out to dock it in the sidebar. Forcing people into a full screen window with no option for arranging their work environment is many, many, many steps back, and overall just a huge insult to desktop users.
This is a quick one, but it’s still annoying. Open a website in your Start Screen browser. Pull up the “charms” menu (move your mouse to the top right of your screen), and click Share. You can share a link to that site via Facebook, Twitter, Email, whatever. Now go to your Desktop browser. Or really, any app on your Desktop, and click the same Share button. “Nothing can be shared from the desktop, EVARRRR”. Ok, maybe I added the EVARRRR, but that’s what it feels like. So why even show the button? Related to this gripe is the Settings menu item in the Charms menu. It does different things depending on if you’re on the Start Screen or the Desktop. Annoying. Like, you can’t access the Control Panel unless you go to the (oh so outdated…) Desktop first. But who needs the control panel! It’s not like I need to install IIS or anything…
4. Two Taskbars
When you’re on the Desktop, you have your trusty taskbar. Even if the Start Menu is absent, at least you have shortcuts on your taskbar, and you can tell which of them are running, and which haven’t been launched yet. You can access MRU and jump lists by right clicking on them. It’s easy to spawn a second process, close multiple windows, or run something as an administrator. Oh, but it WON’T show you any apps that you’ve launched in the Modern UI. Those have their OWN taskbar. Move your mouse to the top left of your screen, and then pull it straight down. Bam! The sidebar pops out from the left, and shows you the tasks running in your start screen. Oh, and go ahead, try to alt+tab. You’ll see a list of DESKTOP processes, but none of your smart screen processes. You know what would be more convenient than 2 taskbars? Win7 in a VM on a Win7 machine. Hey, then you’d have TWO start menus! Way better than zero of them.
5. Two Operating Systems
Windows 8 just has this over all split personality feel to it. I’ve been using it daily, for both work and play, and it doesn’t get easier. It doesn’t start to feel more natural. It just gets more frustrating every time I have to look around for a while before I can find that browser tab I left open, or discover that it’s gone, because only half my tabs were restored. It gets more frustrating when I try to get back to an app with alt+tab, don’t see it in the list, and then have to check my SECOND task bar (which has nothing in common with the first one). It’s frustrating that I can’t have 3 or 4 windows on my screen arranged in a way that optimizes my workflow. Apps have to be fullscreen, you can’t look at 2 at the same time (sorry, their stupid docking thing is so effing broken and worthless it doesn’t count), and you can’t arrange anything. It’s no joke. This is two operating systems in one, and it SUCKS. HARD.