Windows 8: Blood from a Stone

Ordinarily, I’m a big believer that it is important to keep up to date with what every piece of software which competes with yours is doing, to remain educated on the latest concepts. Sometimes, there are concepts that get added which are definitely worth ripping off. We’ve ripped off plenty of the better design choices from Windows or Mac OS, over the years, for use in the Free Desktop.

So, what about Windows 8, the hip new OS on everyone’s lips?

Well, here’s the thing… I’ve been using it on and off for a few months now for running legacy apps, and I can’t for the life of me find anything worth stealing.

Let’s take the key change – Windows 8 has apps built with a new design paradigm which definitely isn’t called Metro. Metro apps don’t really have “windows” in the traditional sense – they’re more modeled on full-screen apps from smartphones or tablets than on Windows 1.0 -> 7. Which is fine, really, if you’re running Windows 8 on a tablet or touchscreen device. But what if you’re not? What about the normal PC user?

As Microsoft themselves ask:

How do you multitask with #windows8?

The answer to that is, well, you sorta don’t.

Metro apps can exist in three states – fullscreen, almost fullscreen, or vertical stripe. You’re allowed to have two apps at most at the same time – one mostly full screen, and one vertical stripe. So what happens if you try to *use* that? Let’s take a fairly common thing I do – watch a video and play Minesweeper. In this example, the video player is the current replacement for Windows Media Player, and ships by default. The Minesweeper game isn’t installed by default, but is the only Minesweeper game in the Windows 8 app store which is gratis and by Microsoft Game Studios.

Here’s option A:

Unusable Windows 8 option 1

And for contrast, here’s option B:

Unusable Windows 8 option 2

Which of these does a better job of letting me play Minesweeper and watch a video at the same time?

Oh, here’s option C, dumping Microsoft’s own software, and using a third-party video player and third party Minesweeper implementation:

Windows 7 flavour

It’s magical – almost as if picking my own window sizes makes the experience better.

So, as you can see above, the “old” OS is still hiding there, in the form of a Windows 8 app called “Desktop”. Oh, sorry, didn’t I say? Metro apps, and non-Metro apps, are segregated. You can run both (the Desktop app can also be almost-fullscreen or a vertical strip), but they get their own lists of apps when multitasking. Compare the list on the left with the list at the bottom:

Needs moar task lists

And it’s even more fun for apps like Internet Explorer, which can be started in both modes (and you often need both modes). Oh, and notice how the Ribbon interface from Office 2007 has invaded Explorer, filling the view with large buttons to do things you never want to do under normal circumstances.

So, that’s a short primer on why Windows 8 is terrible.

Is there really nothing here worth stealing? Actually, yes, there is! After much research, I have discovered Windows 8’s shining jewel:


The new Task Manager is lovely. I want it on my Linux systems. But that’s it.

6 Responses to “Windows 8: Blood from a Stone”

  1. Copy files and replace files dialogs are also nice. But other than that… W8 < my Ubuntu with GS+extensions.

  2. @Passer by, whoa shit, yes, I forgot, the new copy progress indicator is great too

  3. KSysGuard is quite comparable to the Win8 task manager, albeit quite a bit older at this point. There are a few missing pieces, for example sadly the fragmentation of init systems on Linux (with most distros using systemd and Ubuntu+derivs using upstart, while some smaller distros holding out on either) seems to have stymied any attempt at anything that could be used as the equivalent of the “Services” tab.

    But mostly, Win8’s desktop is just catching up to what KDE got to at the start of its 4.x series. (The other big example of this is the file-copy graphs.)

  4. You know you can drag the dividing line and make the apps (or the desktop, for that matter) half and half?

  5. @Dore, not in 8. This is a proposed feature in 8.1

  6. Excellent choice of video!

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