Microsoft Blunders Keyboard and Mouse Interaction for Windows 8

Windows 8 LogoMicrosoft 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

Right-click context menu on Window's 8 Metro UI

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

Weather app

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?

4 Responses to “Microsoft Blunders Keyboard and Mouse Interaction for Windows 8”

  1. I don’t understand how a huge company like MS can screw up something this bad. Every single review I’ve read online has been negative in terms of the Metro UI functionality on the desktop.

    Doesn’t MS have all kinds of focus groups to test this stuff out first? Don’t they realize that by already having to “defend the Metro UI,” they’ve already lost the game? I’ve been using Windows 7 for two years now and it’s been great – no issues, no bluescreens, no problems at all. If MS doesn’t make it easy for users to “revert to Windows 7 look,” in Win8, then it’s a no-go for me on the desktop.

    Yesterday I had the opportunity to use a new Apple Macbook Pro for the first time ever. I played on it for three hours and it was the greatest three hours of compute time I’ve ever had. I even used Office for Mac on there – it was great. If I weren’t such a cheapskate, I’d fork over the cash for one in a minute.

    • As long as you stay in the desktop environment, it should work almost the same as Windows 7. You can even bring back the Start button and menu with third-party software. Windows 8 is really fine, the boot time has been tremendously improved, and the task manager is so much better now.

      Don’t give up on Windows 8 just because of Metro!

  2. I agree that the metro ui looks impressive, but for me it is useless. I can’t find programs I have installed and not having the start button is completely ridiculous. I would prefer to be able to completely disable the metro UI for my disktop. I am using a hi def TV for my monitor, and I can’t even imagine how much it would cost for a large screen touch screen, or how useless it would be to have to move from one end to a 65 (or 80) inch touch screen even if one existed.

    • Microsoft’s refusal to provide such option offers an opportunity for third party developers to fill the gap. You can try Stardock’s Start8 to bring back the start menu and boot straight right to the desktop. It costs $5, but if you spend more time searching, I guess there will be freeware that does the same thing.