Why Microsoft’s Windows 8 will fail on the desktop…

I’m not one for picking sides when it comes to my Operating System, if I can work on it, play on it, browse the internet etc then it does what I need but it always makes me laugh when a new Operating System rears it’s head and the avid supporters of each OS either shoot it down in flames for no apparent reason or show a devotion to it that would make religious fanatics look like athiests.

I recently installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview into a virtual machine so I could try it out. Installation was a breeze; very quick and many of the old installation steps have been merged to make it more streamlined: so far so good!

Once installation has completed however, things start getting a bit confusing. Instead of loading the desktop most windows users are so comfortable with, we now have Metro, a collection of coloured tiles grouped together to form a new type of interface.

Nice isn’t it? I love the way Metro looks, its slick, easy to scan and uniform, it also works beautifully on a touch screen, its intuitive, smooth and most of all modern! But not everyone has a touch screen and not everyone who will upgrade to Windows 8 will go out and buy one and this is where the coloured tiles suddenly become drab and instead of slick become cumbersome.

So what’s it like with a keyboard and mouse?

Shocking. It is no where near as intuitive as the touch interface, and this is where I see a lot of problems for your average Joe. Let me explain first about the kind of people I describe as average Joe’s. I often sit down with colleagues, friends and family members to help them with computer issues, and it’s amazing how many people don’t know the basic principles of operating a computer. The browser is a good application to draw examples from. I have seen a great many people use google to find a page even when they know the correct URL. Instead of typing or pasting say: www.bcc.co.uk into the address bar they first type or paste it into google, hit search and then click the link, why do they do this? Because they don’t know any better, even though the address bar has sat at the top of every browser since the 90’s they just don’t realise they can interact with it.
When the user needs another browser window open, do they open a new tab? No. a) because they are using an antiquated browser that hasn’t been updated because it came with the PC when they brought it and never knew it could be upgraded and b) because they don’t know they can do it so they just open another instance of the browser. Its balmey, but it explains a lot.

How does this relate to Windows 8? Most people don’t care about new interfaces, they might want the latest thing but they don’t like change, look at Facebook as an example, every time facebook change their interface there is a public outcry and everyone threatens to jump ship and the same applies to operating systems.

So, lets say you’re an average Joe and you’ve just installed Windows 8 on your desktop computer. Installtion was easy but now you are faced with the following screen:

This is the Windows 8 Lock screen. Don’t confuse this with the logon screen which you now need to find. I know I set up a user account when I installed Windows 8 so how do I access it? If I click on the pretty image it does a little jump, if I double click on it spasms a bit but it stays in place. Hmm. Right clicking does the same. Lets move to the Keyboard: Enter – hey presto! it slides up! What if I try another way. Click and drag up with the mouse. That works as well and what a great idea (no sarcasm this time) gestures with mice! Superb! (Don’t get your hopes up though as thats all there is). You can also use the mouse wheel to hide the lock screen, but without touch I think a simple click would suffice as this will just confuse normal users.

Now you’ve logged in to the Metro style interface, you can see a Desktop tile and thankfully after a quick click it takes you to the desktop you are so familiar with. How do you open your applications? You can’t open them using the start menu as that has now gone. You could manually open them by browsing to the executables or you could return to Metro and launch them from there. Lets do that then. But I’m an average Joe, I don’t know that by pressing the windows key it would open the old start menu, so how do I get back to Metro? There is no back button, backspace doesn’t work, I can’t click anything, if i move my mouse down to the very bottom left corner a thumbnail appears labelled start, clicking that takes me back, but that’s a bit out of the way. Why not just put the icon back?

I’m back in metro then but how do I find a specific application when it’s not pinned to the start screen? If I move the mouse to the edges of the screen nothing happens – but there is a pathetically small icon that appears in the bottom right hand corner when I move the mouse (we’ll come back to that in a minute).

To get to your apps you will have to right click (an interaction that has for years brought up context sensitive menus). This brings up a bright blue bar with a single icon (by default).

Clicking the All Apps link will present you with an exhausting list. Select the one you want and you are done! To be fair, to make it easier next time, you could right click on an app and select Pin to start so its easier to get to next time.

Alternately you can just type on the start screen and that will be classed as a search which makes things a lot easier.

Lets try something every user will have to do at somepoint, Shutdown.

You have finished your first Windows 8 session and its time to go and throw iStones at Apple fanbois but you need to shut your pc down first – being an average Joe and not knowing that I could just press the power button to turn it off – where do I start? If you are on the desktop you are out of luck, the start menu as mentioned before has gone and along with it are the shutdown, hibernate and restart controls. It must be in metro then.
I’m back in Metro (I’m starting to miss my desktop) where do I shutdown, I move my mouse around and out of the corner of my eye I see that tiny icon appearing at the bottom right again (told you we’d be back).

This is the smallest button in the world! Its a measley attempt at creating functionality for a keyboard and mouse that was designed for a touch screen. Oops. The image below is the actual size.

Clicking this infinitesimal button resizes my tiles so that I can see the groups of apps available to me. Microsoft, would it kill you to add a larger more prominent icon?

But what happens if I hover over this diminutive icon? a menu appears – what Microsoft is calling the Charms bar (oh dear).

Now you have hovered the button (it might as well be a spec of dirt on your monitor) for 500ms a menu appears, don’t hover too long though otherwise it will disappear and don’t move the mouse off the menu or it will close; now select settings (why is power off in settings?) and select power and then select shutdown.

To sum up, Metro is radically different to anything Microsoft has done before and I applaud them for trying something new and it does work on touch screens but for mainstream and corporate users which make up much of Microsoft’s marketshare, it’s going to be a steep learning curve, productivity will take a drop as people get used to how the new interface works and businesses may hold off on upgrading for that very reason.To Microsoft I would say this, don’t change too much too quickly, if your going to insist Metro becomes the main interface at lease give us a Windows 7 style desktop so we have a comfortable area to fall back on while we get used to Metro and that means bringing back the start menu.


  • A nice looking interface.
  • Slick and fast animations.
  • Completely different to anything else (well apart from Windows Phone 7 and the XBox dashboard)


  • The majority of users will struggle with the huge change in interface.
  • Removal of the start menu will have a negative impact on user experience.
  • Lack of mouse gestures.
  • Menus should pop out from the edges when near them.
  • Some popular functions such as shutdown should have more prominence.

Update: Chris Pirillo’s Dad uses Windows 8 for the first time

In this Video Chris Pirillo’s Dad is sat down in front of Windows 8 for the first time and is not given any help. All he is armed with is his knowledge of using old Microsoft operating systems.

Turns out there are a shed load of similar videos on you tube.

8 thoughts on “Why Microsoft’s Windows 8 will fail on the desktop…

  1. This should not be called Windows 8 but Windows for Tablets. It seems that the tail (hardware sales) must wag the dog (software development),

  2. I have been working full time on a Windows 8 application for the past month now, and yes, it did take a bit of getting used to, but now I am growing to love it.

    What you have to remember is that this is only a preview version. So feedback from people like me who are using it on a daily basis will give them the information they need to improve it before the release date later this year. I am expecting many advances/improvements for the final release. But as a free preview version, I think it is great! It has made me very excited for the final release.

    I would have to disagree with your comments to the lack of mouse gestures. Yes, I do have 2 touch screen monitors, but I barely use them as it is more productive to use the mouse (plus my arms would drop off after 8 hours work!). I have not found using the mouse hinders my experience of Windows 8 in any way.

    As for the average Joe, well I am sure that I will have to teach my parents the basics. Trying to explain to my Mother that she can use my Dad’s pc to view her Hotmail is hard work! She thinks she can only view her Hotmail emails on her laptop. But once I have shown her which icon on the start page is IE, and then teach her how to find the shutdown button, then that is all she (the average Joe) will need.

    For people who use a computer for more than just internet browsing, knowing an important simple short cut for the search (Windows key and q), will prevent you from missing the start programmes menu. The search is amazing. You just start typing whatever you want and get it instantly. You can also find the search from the Charm.

    Plus, Windows 8 is making all applications work in a more consistent way, which can only improve things for the average Joe. Functionality such as the windows search is used throughout all applications. It is strongly advised against adding your own search facility into your application. Hooking into the windows search is how it should be done. Then the end user will only need to know the ‘windows q’ shortcut or ‘windows c’ to get the Charm up to search. Search is the way to go.

    Another major plus point is the sheer speed of the whole system. It reboots in seconds. It searches and finds things in an instant. I am able to run several instances of Visual Studio 2011 as well as Blend 5 Beta at the same time!!! And it doesn’t crash! My windows 7 machine can’t cope well with that at all.

    Oh, and I love the snapped view. I use it all of the time. I can remote desktop my windows 7 machine and have it in snapped view for easy access to my Photoshop and emails etc. I’m thinking it is the best thing since sliced bread!

    Don’t forget that you can still use the old Desktop view. For Visual Studio and Blend opens up in the Desktop. With my 2 monitors I can have my Metro apps (with my snapped view) on one monitor while I have Visual Studio on my second monitor. Though it is still very managable with one monitor, as I have worked from home on my laptop flicking between the Metro and the Desktop with little trouble.

    So please don’t give up on Windows 8 yet. Give it a chance and try using it properly, or waiting until they release the final version before you make any decisions on it. Feel free to come over and take a look at my machine. I would be happy to show you.

    1. I’ve used it extensively both installed as a virtual machine at work and on a separate partition at home. I think it will work well as a tablet OS but not as a generic retail OS. I know its a preview and things are likely to change come the final version, however, you are a technical user and the majority of people out there aren’t. Your average business user, your average person who goes into PC world and buys a new PC with windows 8 on will really struggle with it without a touch screen. I’m looking at it from joe user point of view, they won’t read the manual, they will expect to be able to use it like they used windows 7 with a start button etc, not to have to switch between metro and the desktop. The snap feature is great I agree and that is a good reason to upgrade, but if you change fundamental functionality between versions it will confuse people.

      Perhaps the title of the argument should be Based on the pre-release version Windows 8 will fail on the desktop.

      1. My Dad got a Windows 7 machine last year, which was a big jump from his Windows XP machine. I do believe that I had to show him where the Shut Down button was, as it had been moved from where is was in XP.

        All new OS versions have changes that the end user will have to familiarise themselves with. Most new software are the same! I remember spending ages trying to find things in the new Outlook when we first got Office 2010.

        The average Joe office worker will be quite used to pressing Control + Alt + Delete before they are able to enter their password and log on. Well that functionality still exists. Just because it doesn’t tell you to press Ctrl + Alt + Del, I’m fairly sure most people will do it out of automatic habit. You don’t have to be technical to know that. So the need to know how the mouse gestures works isn’t even a requirement. The log on screen works exactly the same as Windows 7 without a touch screen.

        I do agree that it is a little long winded to get to the Shut Down button, as well as moving from the left hand side of the screen to the right is a big change. But I do not think the average Joe will miss the Start menu. The Start menu is now the Start Page. It works the same way, just in a nicer, prettier way. So if you open a programme, then its Tile will appear among the other main Tiles of the Start Page. The same would happen in Windows 7, though it would just appear in the Start Menu instead. You also have the ability to pin favourite programmes to your Start Page, again, this is the same functionality that the current Start Menu has. You can also still pin items to your Desktop Taskbar.

        The only difference with the Start Page is that you have to click around a bit to discover that you have to right click the Start Page to find the Show All Apps button. But non-technical users like my Mum are very good at over clicking and randomly clicking until something happens. But as I said before, the search facility is supposed to be used for this. And I know that no one will read the manual, but the average user is capable of Googling where something is, and it will tell them how to get to the search. Simples. No need to manually scan through all of the apps to find what your eyes will take forever to locate.

        I do think that you don’t give the average Joe enough credit. The average office worker will be capable of opening Word or Excel, or whatever programme they use all day whilst being an average non-technical Joe.

        Since you are so concerned with the average Joe’s user experience, then perhaps your next title and question should be ‘What will Microsoft have changed and hidden in the new Office 2012 due out later this year?’ Screenshots that I have seen so far make it look cleaner and more Metro like, so I am sure there will be a bigger outcry from users trying to find the Spell Check button in Word, than their confusion over the Start Page and the old style Desktop.

        And as I said in my first comment, people like my parents who have very limited computer knowledge will simply use the Metro side of things only. Boot up, click on the big E icon Tile and Google the BBC (they would never try to type http://www.bcc.co.uk into the address bar, cause they have no idea what BCC is! :-P) . After they have finished their web browsing, they don’t have to bother closing IE, and if they struggle to find the Shut Down button (even after I have obviously taught them, as they would never walk into PC World and buy a computer and expect to use it straight away without any form of instruction from either my sister or I. Plus, they would never actually buy a computer without our advice anyway!), they can simply press the Power button on their computer (in the Power Settings in the Control Panel, you can set what action you would like the Power button to do. By default it is set to Shut Down. This feature is not new one, as I have the same facility to change the same setting in my Windows 7 Power Settings).

        So the average Joe is unlike to struggle due to a lack of a touch screen.

  3. To be fair, if you read Microsoft’s positioning on Windows 8, Metro is one part of the product release and is not aimed at replacing the desktop.

    Windows 8 desktop and Server 8 are still core product and includes massive updates (load times, reduced memory footprint, ReFS, ISO and VHD data, credential manager, UEFI, power management, multi-threaded aero, typography, task management core/UI, Hyper-V, USB 3 …. ). Metro is an exercise in device and processor targeting along with unification of cross platform UI standards and cross platform hardware. In fact you can easily boot to desktop and never have to interact with Metro post login! ARM support aside, this is a massive feat of software engineering.

    Metro is not the desktop and is not replacing it now or anytime in the near future.

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