Monday, 20 August 2012

Windows 8 - First thoughts and future telephone support issues

Now that Windows 8 has been released I've been having a play with it this weekend. In terms of usability I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it currently. On the one hand I'm sure in time I could come to get used to the new way of doing things, and the workarounds to enable the old ways, but on the other I can only imagine the pain and misery to come from trying to do telephone support for it.

The key problem I see is with the schizophrenic nature of Windows 8. Having two completely different UIs within a single OS will at best make things interesting, at worst confuse the hell out of people.

It's not helped by a lack of distinction between the two in regards to names. For instance, now that it's no longer officially called Metro, we have the Desktop and the Modern UI, but the latter isn't a name it's a description! The Desktop UI doesn't exactly look dated either, in fact I'd say it was positively modern. What will we call it in several years time when the "Modern UI" is anything but? It's not helped by many sources also referring to it as the Windows 8 UI, therefore throwing three different names into the mix.

Then there's Internet Explorer, with two essentially different applications using the same name. They function differently, have different options and ways of doing things, yet how do you easily differentiate them verbally? I've seen enough users struggle to understand what IE is at the best of times, but at least then you can tell them to look for the big blue "e". Now you also have to check which UI they're using, otherwise your instructions will be meaningless.

Internet Explorer also handles downloads differently, which could be fun for anyone using a remote support application (eg, getting the client to go to a URL, enter some details, and run a program to give you remote access to their machine). Since IE 9 the download dialog window has been tied to the window that initiated it. If the download was initiated via a popup (eg it provides the download link to click), and that popup closed once the download started, the download dialog would disappear once completed. Fortunately you could bring it back by pressing CTRL-J, and then choose to save or run the download. This still works in the desktop IE 10, but doesn't in Metro IE 10. Instead you get a dialog appear for 2 or 3 seconds giving you the run / save / cancel options, and if you don't respond in time it vanishes. Thus far I've been unable to find a way to retrieve it other than running the download again.

All that said, I have found a few handy features.

Windows + D - Show Desktop - Nothing new here, but importantly it will get you out of Metro to the normal desktop UI.

Windows + C - Charms menu - This is the Metro menu you get by hovering to the right hand corners to access things like settings, shutdown/restart etc.

Windows + Z - Tabs / Address menu in Metro IE and All apps from Metro start page - Again, saves messing around with tricky mouse positioning.

Finally, while there's no way to disable Metro on startup, there is a work around to make getting to the desktop easier. On the metro start screen, drag the Desktop tile up to the top left hand corner (eg top row, first column). Now after typing your password and pressing Enter to login you can immediately go to the desktop by pressing Enter a second time (since the top left tile is automatically selected).

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