For those of you curious about every aspect of my technological life, I will note here a slight change to my UI experience of Windows 8, namely that I’ve installed Stardock’s “Start 8″ program, which reinstates a Windows 7-like start button and menu to the desktop, and banishes Win8′s Start Screen into an optional little area you can visit if you like, and not if you don’t want to.
I did this because simply put I’ve come to believe the Win 8 start screen, and the whole environment it propagates is just terrible UI for those of us who actually use their computers for work, rather than using them just to play games and get on Facebook. When I’m working I often have several programs open in several windows, and have those windows up where I can see them all, because each window has information relevant to what I’m doing. If I need to access additional programs, I don’t want to have to leave that environment; it messes with work flow.
But in Windows 8, that’s exactly what you have to do: You have to stop what you’re doing, fire up a separate screen that obscures everything you’re working on, and locate a program in a tile (you can also type in the program name and then click on the result, but you still have to first leave your work environment). It’s a hassle, but more than a hassle it’s an arbitrary imposition of the UI on actual workflow. Or to put it more bluntly: Windows 8 is wasting my time, and for no good reason.
When I started working with Windows 8, I didn’t think this would bother me too much, but I wrong. Even something as trivial as pulling up the Snipping Tool (for screen captures) or the calculator became a production, and I found myself getting annoyed at my sparkly new computer because of it. It’s not the sparkly computer’s fault, it was Win8. So now I’ve fixed that part of Win8 that was annoying me. The Start Screen is still around and I can access it if I want to, but I don’t have to go there, and that’s a good thing.
While I’m on the subject of the Start Screen and the new app environment it’s part of, I’ll make the observation that I suspect that the Start Screen and the apps probably make better sense on a laptop, which has a screen between eleven and fifteen inches wide, than it does on my monster 27-inch screen. As an example, when you’re using an app, if you want to close it, you swipe downward on your screen from the top. Probably not a problem on a small screen, but on my Dell XPS One? That’s a whole lot of real estate to drag through, and it quickly becomes impractical. As do fullscreen only apps, which would be more practical and useful in a smaller window. This is one of the reasons why on a day to day basis I don’t use any of the apps at all and stay in the desktop environment almost exclusively.
What it really seems to come down to — and I don’t think there’s a nicer way of putting it — is whether you’re using your computer as a work tool or a toy. If you’re using it as a toy, and as an entertainment machine, then with Win8 Start Screen and apps are probably cool and fun. If you’re using your computer as a tool, they’re just in the way. And now I have them out of my way, so I can do my work.