Choosing between a PC or laptop operating system, we’ve come to expect a look and feel that facilitates an easy way to launch applications and multitask between them. It would seem reasonable that any operating system, regardless of the device, may also consider this as useful design consideration. However Microsoft Windows 8 seems to have taken a different approach. Is it the right operating system for you?
Let’s begin with the iconic start menu. Since Windows 95, the start menu incremental introduced easier ways to organise and find installed applications. Since Windows Vista, the start menu became notably less intrusive allowing me have a video running while I start up a quick game Microsoft game.
In Windows 8, the start menu has been reformed into a full screen titled selection with a little arrow that lists the installed applications. The operating system does not offer any alternatives and perhaps this would be sufficient in other devices such as a mobile phone or tablet. The application list is fairly well presented: you’re still able to search for applications, you’re presented with different sorting preferences, and you can right click on an icon to pin or uninstall the application. However, in different use cases, being able to collapse applications in the same category might allow faster access times.
It would have been the perfect addition to the desktop if it came bundled up on the existing start menu as an expander button and perhaps the choice of which mode to display the start menu when first activated. The start menu resembles the Ubuntu Unity dash which in my opinion has done a better job allowing for both customisability and usability on a desktop environment.
Let’s conclude with full screen applications. Reasonably so, many applications have a full screen mode, however, forcing a full screen does not cut it. Again, there are third party applications that allow the new metro applications to run in a windowed mode. Microsoft did add support for side-by-side full screen applications but this certainly derails probably the most important strength of desktop computers: the ability to easily run multiple applications at once.
Microsoft is trying to create a unified experience across their devices but this does not mean everything needs to behave in the same way. The user interface should take complete advantage of the hardware and screen resolution much in the way that, Gmail for example, offers different functionalities on a tablet and a phone but maintains a consistent look and feel. A user interface to rule them all is probably not the right approach.