Windows 8 CP: To touch or not to touch?

Disclaimer: I have not touched any build of Windows 8. Judgment is based on screenshots, videos, many articles on Windows 8 CP.

With the news of Windows 8 Consumer Preview finally passing, there’s been a lot of negative concerns about the upcoming version of Windows. Commenters and bloggers appear from what I’ve seen to have a mostly negative reaction towards Windows 8, in particular, the new Start screen and Metro design.

I am open to changes, I like the Metro design principles (implementation is another story), but there are some chief concerns I have with Windows 8 that I think everyone is hung up upon. Let’s address them:

1. Can the Start Screen’s design work well with all available input?

It wouldn’t be straying too far to consider that the Start Screen is heavily influenced by Microsoft’s belief in ensuring their OS is wanted for those tablets, laptops and and all-in-ones that come with touchscreens. From the consensus, it does indeed work very great with touch. However, does it work well with mouse and keyboards?

Mouse input has far greater reach in pinpointing small buttons. Touch isn’t. Touch needs enough room to avoid errors of bigger fingers. This generally requires bigger icons. Mouse users don’t care for having bigger icons, because it can generally mean having to move the cursor a greater distance, than it were if the icons were smaller. It also means less information is available at one glance, and you have to scroll around for more. Keyboards have it harder. Metro in the past (think Windows Media Center, 1st and 2nd gen Zune players) would work great with directional input (up, down, left, right), an enter key, and a back button on a keyboard. But being touch-friendly doesn’t confine it to that. Now elements can be placed in many areas, and keyboards may have to resort to using Tab to go around elements. Also, multi-touch gestures won’t work on keyboards period, and some mice or touchpads may not support it if an app requires it.

Voice input is still a mystery and not reported on anywhere I’ve seen. Only decent input on this piece is just a muse by this guy. Microsoft’s implementation for Metro in the Start Screen seems to favor touch, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The Zune software clients on Windows works very well with a mouse, and though I’ve never tried, I think it could also work well with touch as well.

2. Does Metro design mean a ‘dumbing down’ of applications?

The idea behind Metro is for simplicity, but simplicity can also mean getting rid of functions that could be handy. Comparing Windows 8’s Mail, People, and Calendar apps to those of Windows Live Mail, Contacts, and Calendar app, you can see a lot of features have been dropped down to only ones that are deemed essential. (It should be noted that these apps in Windows 8 have a big “App Preview” mark at the top of the apps, so maybe my mention isn’t something to consider too harshly). It appears the same with Music and Video too however. Hopefully Microsoft and developers can achieve a great balance in simplicity and functionality where functionality is still key, but simplicity is something that is attempted to be improved upon.

3. Should the Start Screen be a ‘screen’?

Proponents of Microsoft’s choice to make it a screen point out that it gives them far more viewing room to see more results and content, rather than confine it to a small space like Windows 7 and Vista’s Start Menu. They claim it doesn’t take any longer to search for something on the Start screen than you would on the Start menu, it’s just bigger. Metro apps should be full screen to utilize the most touch space.

On the other hand, detractors point out that searches may involve keywords from windows they currently are viewing but can no longer see thanks to Start being full-screen, full-screen is distracts away from what you’re working on. Plus a lot of results aren’t as good as having the best results show up in the first handful of items shown. Metro apps should be windows like desktop apps, and placed for easy access in the taskbar like how touch already works in Windows 7.

Search-wise, I’d have to agree with the detractors and prefer that searching does not require so much space, and the indexing will place the best results (maybe based on past history and such) towards the top in each category (maybe a left/right key toggle for different search categories?) and being able to type in keywords based on open documents by just a glance, without having to go in and out of full-screen Start. Metro apps though, I think could either way as far I cared. I can see the appeal of putting them full-screen to avoid having to see the cluttered taskbar, or I can see the appeal of just making it windowed and just easy to manage via the taskbar.

4. Does the use of both Metro and Aero in Windows 8 seem too unappealing?

On this issue, there seems to be a general consensus yes. Going past the obvious respect that not everyone likes Metro to begin with, a lot of people do not like how very clumsy and jarring it seems to transition from Aero on the desktop to Metro in the Start Screen. There are Metro elements in Windows 8’s more refined Aero, like simple sharp corners (rather than rounded ones), and title being centered (rather than left-aligned) to name some. But the glass look doesn’t seem to fit with Metro back-to-basics, and the chrome side and bottom edges continue to take up unnecessary pixel space. Scrollbars are still too ugly looking, the Ribbon UI doesn’t take any Metro hints, and desktop Control Panel and Explorer don’t have the Metro touch either. If anything, Microsoft should get some hints from this Sputnik8 on The Verge forums. I have minor qualms in some aspects of the shots, but overall, I feel it’s in tune with what a proper Windows 8 with a real Metro design should be like. 

5. Will game developers leverage the store to appeal to hard-core gamers?

Games demoed so far appear to be on the rather simple size, and touch friendly. Unfortunately, most hard-core PC games tend to rely heavily on the mouse and keyboard combo. Will developers even consider putting such games in the Windows Store? Even with the Xbox Live integration, there’s no indication whether the Start Screen will be attracting any hard-core games to it.


Overall, I believe these are major issues regarding the GUI of Windows 8. Looks are important to users. Windows 7 had the Aero touch that everyone seems to have had no complaints about, but Windows 8 with the Metro touch is throwing a lot of haters out there. Microsoft should definitely take into consideration of whether they should make the Start Screen optional for end users, because the polls and comments don’t seem too happy. These are Microsoft’s most vocal users and these people may discourage their friends and family from Windows 8 on non-touch desktops and laptops.

What do you guys think?