Windows 8 split personality confusion: what to do and what Microsoft should do

win8startshortcutWindows 8.  Talk about split personality.  On the one hand, you have the sleek, modern and sexy ‘RT’ interface. On the other hand, you’ve got the comfortable, somewhat aging and mellow Windows Classic interface. As with everything, ones acceptance of something new depends on how easily one can adapt. For some, this has been a real problem with the RT side of Windows 8. Others, like myself, have had little to no problems adapting.

Windows 8 RT, with the standard mouse and keyboard (i.e. non-touch) is pretty easy to use.  At least, once you understand a few things first. Same for the touch side, though I think the mouse and keyboard are easier to learn whereas touch is easier to use-once you LEARN it.

So, for everyone with a mouse and keyboard, just remember: the upper left, lower left and lower right of your screen are hotspots. All the cool new stuff can be accessed via those three corners.  Click in the lower right to activate the Charms bar.  Charms are simply context sensitive icons that let you access things like search, device settings, Windows settings, etc.  Lower left activates a toggle. You can toggle between the RT start page and the most recently used application, including the Windows Classic desktop. The upper left corner does two things: hover over it to show the last application used, hover and move the mouse down to reveal a task bar showing the last few apps used.  If you grab the top of the screen by moving the mouse up to the edge and hold down the left mouse button while dragging all the way down, you close the current application.  Right clicking will expose a button bar with more options, if any, for the current application.

Of course, there are similar gestures for touch: swipe down from the top of the screen to close the application; drag from left over most of the screen to switch to the previous app; drag for a second and let go to reveal the list of previous apps used; drag just a bit from the top to reveal options for the current app.

The not-so obvious thing, however, are the gestures-be it from the mouse or your finger. It is not intuitive and this is the hard sell for Microsoft and Windows 8. Once you show someone what to do, they generally get it. However, someone just starting and not having any advance knowledge will, likely, not know what to do.  And that’s the problem.

I almost missed the little movie that shows how gestures work because, once the operating system started to do its thing on first boot, I did other stuff. It was only when the video was nearly over did I actually see any of it.

Word of mouth and knowledgeable friends and family will help, but Microsoft needs to do more. A series of commercials that, you know, actually show people using the product is a good place to start.  Maybe something on Microsoft.com.  Certainly, more than a short video on first boot.

I find myself gravitating toward the RT side. It’s easier to use, looks much, much better and, frankly, isn’t as bloated as the Windows Classic side of the house. It makes Windows Classic look sort of dated.

The dual personality is both a plus and a major negative. It’s a plus in that you can still take advantage of what ever Windows software you have, be it Office, Visual Studio or that particular game you like.  It’s a big negative because the transition between RT and Classic is jarring, even after you have used the OS for a period of time, that unexpected transition when you forget that a function is on the other side of the house.  Microsoft made it somewhat better by getting rid of Aero (the cool, glassy look introduced with Vista-and something I miss) and replacing the ‘chrome’ chromelessbuttonsbits with RT like buttons (i.e. the title bar buttons for close, min and max.)  However, it still can be a jarring experience.

Of course, I have been writing about full on Windows, be it Pro or just Windows 8 (the ‘Home’ edition in previous releases.) Windows RT, which still has a desktop mode, is not as bad.  Windows RT (not to be confused with the RT interface) was designed to run on ARM processors (and Intel based chips as well) so your classic applications will not work. Nor should they. 

Windows RT is a shift in operating systems.  Yes, it requires you to buy or acquire all new software.  But, then again, if you bought an Android or iOS based device, you have to do that anyway. (And that’s a big problem that Microsoft needs to address: why is it OK for you to have to buy new apps for Android or iOS, yet it isn’t for Windows RT? Microsoft needs to point this out more.)

I’ve had an Asus VivoTab Smart tablet for awhile now.  I use it everyday. It is Windows 8. Not RT.  However, I find myself using the IE10RT, OneNote RT, the very addictive Wordament game, the RT video player and a number of RT apps.  I do go into the desktop, but not really as much as I thought. When I get into full Windows 8 development mode, of course, I will be in desktop much more, but for my daily use, an Windows RT tablet would probably do just fine.

surfacertI suspect most people, especially those who would buy an iPad, would get by just fine with an RT tablet.  The app selection is steadily getting better, RT is very robust and RT tablets are a little cheaper than the full Windows 8 tablets. Microsoft sold out of its Surface Pro tablets, yet the RT tablets – while popular – did not. While the Pro tablets are nearly twice as much, there is far more interest in them than straight RT tablets.  I think they are pricey and overkill for most, but, because of the software compatibility issue, most will believe that they need the Pro when, likely, they do not.

MIcrosoft, you need to get the word out about RT. And fast. If you want RT to succeed-and kill of classic, then you need to do better. Much better.

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