Microsoft is betting the business on Windows 8, the upcoming one-size-fits-all operating system. However, while Microsoft promises the Metro UI is usable with both touch interaction and a keyboard and mouse setup, it’s in no way natural and definitely ineffective with a keyboard and mouse.
Microsoft claims there’s no compromise whether we are using Windows 8 on a tablet or a desktop. Well, after one day of using the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on my main laptop, I couldn’t disagree more.
1. Menus and buttons are decentralized
On a keyboard and mouse setup, the right mouse button is still surprisingly useful in the Metro interface. Just like in the desktop interface, the right mouse button is primarily used to bring up context menus in the Metro interface, except the menus are now presented at the bottom of the screen, instead of next to the cursor.
If you are interacting with elements that are at the top of the screen, that’s a lot of mouse travel, especially when you need to access the menu repeatedly. Simple tasks like removing tiles from the Start screen becomes really tedious for this reason.
Also, it’s not possible to drag and highlight multiple tiles like we can on the desktop. For mass tile removal, your best bet is to hold the CTRL key while left clicking on tiles that you don’t want and then click on the “Unpin from Start” button at the bottom.
Oh yeah, the delete key won’t work as well.
2. Metro Apps are ineffective and disrupts workflow
Metro apps are really beautiful and elegant, no doubt about it. But is it the most effective way to get things done on a keyboard and mouse environment? Not at all.
Firstly, Metro apps take over your entire screen when launched. Depending on your system’s capability, the splash screen could stick there for quite a while. That’s time wasted, no matter how insignificant it appears to be.
On the desktop interface, apps could take as long as it wants to launch, but it wouldn’t bother you with any splash screen. You can continue whatever you’re doing, like writing an article, while waiting for Photoshop to load. That way, your workflow will not be affected.
Second, Metro apps will launch in full screen every time. There is no way to launch it in a minimized window, since there’s no window. Yes, you can drag it to the side so that it will only take up a quarter of your screen’s real estate, but that wouldn’t be possible until the app is fully launched.
Closing an app using the mouse is not straightforward either. There’s no “X” button or anything like that. To close a Metro app, you either drag it from the top of the screen to the bottom of the screen, a “gesture” that should be more natural on a touch-based device. Or, press the good ol’ Alt-F4 on the keyboard.
3. Switching between Metro and Desktop apps
Microsoft has implemented a new way to switch apps in Windows 8, called the Switcher. Using a mouse, that is the only way to switch between Metro and desktop apps. However, the Switcher is Metro-biased.
It’ll only allow you to hop between Metro apps or directly to the desktop. There is no way to jump to a specific desktop app from the Metro interface.
Likewise, the desktop taskbar will only list desktop apps. To effectively switch between specific Metro apps and desktop apps, you can either utilize both the taskbar and Switcher, or the Alt-Tab. The Alt-Tab switcher is the only switcher that lists both Metro and desktop apps in a single place.
Conclusion: Windows 8’s refreshing Metro UI is redefining Windows as we know it, but it’s not necessary for the better. While it’s visually appealing, the interface is unsuitable to be used with a keyboard and mouse, unless you’re using your computer solely for entertainment and content consumption, with no concern of productivity.
However, despite all the weaknesses of the Metro UI listed above, I’m still pretty much in love with Windows 8. All the above is avoidable, provided that you avoid using any Metro apps, and only use the Metro Start screen as the launcher of desktop apps.
Looking beyond Metro, Windows 8 is a huge improvement over Windows 7. What takes minutes to boot up now takes only about 16 seconds, and you can’t say I’m not impressed. And did I say the Task Manager is so much prettier and useful now?