Windows 8 screen shot

Why Windows 8 Drives Me Nuts

Windows 8 screen shotI had a hard drive fail in a couple-year-old ThinkPad this week, so I decided to use the opportunity to install Windows 8 on a completely clean system. The installation was painless except for a bit of difficulty in getting Wi-Fi working. But there was one problem. The system was annoyingly going to sleep after too short an interval.

I’ve changed this setting dozens of times on previous versions of Windows. In Windows 7, you select Control Panel on the start menu, choose Power Options, and click on “Change when the computer sleeps.” This works, albeit in a clunky way, in Windows 8. You open Desktop, bring up the Charms bar, select the Settings charm, and click  Control Panel. It takes a few extra clicks and is not at all intuitive, but it’s not too bad once you have figured it out.

But it seems to me that if Metro–or whatever Microsoft wants us to call it–is the user interface of the future, there ought to be some way to perform a basic function like this without falling back on the desktop. This is especially true on a Windows 8 tablet, where the touch-unfriendliness of the Desktop becomes a real issue.

The best I could do to stay in Metro was: From the Start screen, bring up the Charms bar and select the Search charm. Pick Settings as the search domain and start typing “sleep.”  “Change when the computer sleeps” pops up; click it and the control panel opens. Of course, at this point, you are back in Desktop. Again, this method to perform a simple task seems totally unintuitive, especially since if you type “screen” or “display” in the search box you are not offered the sleep option.

This is just one more example of how Windows 8 often feels like two operating systems roughly bolted together. If you could work consistent in one of the UIs, say Desktop on a conventional laptop and Metro on a tablet, Windows 8 wouldn’t be bad. But if there’s a way to avoid jumping back and forth (without resorting to third-party UI modifications), I haven’t found it. And it makes Windows 8 a trying experience.


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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

21 thoughts on “Why Windows 8 Drives Me Nuts”

  1. The more I write about tech, the more I think that each device should be evaluated in its default configuration. We’re tech geeks and we love to tinker. But I doubt that applies to even 20% of the computing population. All the gyrations that Steve did to fix his Windows 8 computer – the average Joe and even the above average Joe is simply not going to do it. This applies to Android, iOS and every other OS too. More often than not, people use the device the way it came to them out of the box.

    If you look at operating systems, iOS is probably the simplest. Tech geeks call it boring and simplistic. Regular folks call it easy to understand and use. Android allows for a lot more tinkering and while some people love that, others get lost in it’s intricacies. The worst may be Windows 8. It has a lot of hidden power. But its dual operating system may prove to be far more of a burden than a boon.

    In the history of computing, has a dual operating system ever been successful? I can’t think of a single example. Can you?

    1. In general, I agree. However, there will always be settings – like Steve’s screen delay – that will be OK for some, but too long or two short for others. Call it the The Goldilocks and The Thee Bears Syndrome.

  2. Well, here’s hoping it gets figured out in the long run, but as I see it the “Desktop” should just be renamed to “Workspace” or something else…it’s sole function in my eyes for Windows 8 is simply for system configuration and tools or legacy software functionality. It is a sytems administration configuration space that exists to access the higher level functions of a computing environment on the devices which you are using. Taking away that kind of ability really doesn’t benefit anyone, regardless of how “jarring” everyone seems to find it… =

    1. The problem is that Desktop is required for all but the very simplest of setting changes. Here’s an example. Say you are having a network problem and want to check your settings. In Metro, you click the Settings charm, then “Change PC settings.” An icon indicates your current connection. Click it and you see a panel listing available connections. So far, so good. But to drill down further, you have to right click a connection, choose “View connections properties” from a context menu, and bang!, you are looking at the Network Properties panel in Desktop, which, by the way, probably does not give the information you most likely wanted, such as whether you have been given a valid IP address. That requires the Network and Sharing Center control panel.

      Too geeky? How about adding as printer, since the ability to print is supposed to be one of Windows 8’s big advantages over iPad. In Metro, I went to PC Settings and checked the devices list. No printers showed. I clicked Add a Device and nothing turned up in the search. So I opened desktop, and opened the Devices and Printers control panel. Add a Printer quickly found my LaserJet 2015n and installed it. After that, the printer was available in Metro and showed at the top of the device list.

      If Desktop were needed only for rare system administration tasks, I wouldn’t mind so much, but in fact you need it all the time. And on a conventional PC, “legacy software functionality” covers pretty much everything you’d actually want to use a PC for, at least until Metro-fied versions arrive.

  3. Sorry to ask the obvious, but how exactly would you move a couple billion computers over to a touch interface OS without providing a desktop to run legacy applications? If MS went 100% to the touch interface, nobody would buy it because software vendors haven’t written their software to run using a touch interface yet. MS has to give it’s software vendors time to re-write their software using an OS that is fully developed while still providing functionality to the everyday users of the OS.

    As time goes by and software gets updated, you will see the desktop less and less.

    For now, I use the start screen as simply a large start button menu. I spend most of my working day in the desktop view using icons and programs pinned to my taskbar. If I need to open something that isn’t on my desktop, I hit the Windows key and select the tile. I hope software vendors get moving and write their software to function better with the touch interface, but blaming software vendors’ slow response time on Microsoft seems a bit harsh.

    As far as usability, computer settings, and functionality go, try Windows key+x. This simple key combination gives you direct access to most computer functionality through a pop-up menu. Yes it dumps you to the desktop, but for me, I work on the desktop anyway. My ultimate hope is to use my existing 2 monitors exclusively in desktop mode while setting up a touch monitor for the start screen and touch apps. It will probably take some time to get to that point and maybe a service pack or 2. For now, I can’t even buy a good touchscreen monitor anywhere, so why complain about a lack of touchscreen options.

    Point is, give it some time. I love W8, and only see it getting better with age.

    1. For users of conventional laptops, I would give them the option of turning off the Metro interface and working exclusively in Desktop. Having to jump back and forth is simpy annoying.

      But my real concern is for tablet users even though my testing was on a laptop. They should be seeing the desktop rarely if ever because the interface is awful with touch. The problem is that the Metro UI simply does not have enough functionality to do this. And I am talking about the functions of Windows itself, not the failings of ISVs (whom I cannot blame for failing to rush out products for the minuscule Windows 8/RT tablet user base.)

    2. “How exactly would you move a couple billion computers over to a touch interface OS without providing a desktop to run legacy applications?”

      There’s a right way and a wrong way to do that. A lot of people seem to think Microsoft chose the wrong way.

      1. I’m not sure if there even was a right way to “move a couple billion computers over to a touch interface”. The Apple iPad may simply have put Microsoft in an untenable position with not obvious ways out.

    3. This is an issue in Healthcare migration to Electronic Health Records as well. The dream is outpacing the development. In the rush to be poised to stay on top of the market, there are large holes of resources and functionality that take awhile to be filled in.

  4. “Metro is the user interface of the future”

    I sure am looking forward to looking at my 30″ or so of giant empty pixel in the future. Thank you based fullscreen app-only on desktop paradigm.

  5. Actually in Windows 8 you can get to Control Panel by right-clicking the bottom left corner of the your screen. No need to use the start screen or charms bar.

    1. You can, but two thoughts: One is that this is about as intuitive as getting there by standing on your head and wiggling your toes. I’d love to see this one in a usability test. Second, and more important, is that lengthy context menus are seriously evil in a touch interface. Do you see context menues on iOS? No, because Apple has actually thought about this.

  6. I’ll try keep this as simple as possible:
    -8 and RT should be named more differently (probably sounding too much like Apple).
    -Windows 8 should’ve been a desktop OS featuring the capability to run touch metro apps.
    -Windowed apps on the desktop should be a feature.
    -Does it hurt to have a start button?

    I agree with the dual operating systems bolted into one. That’s why I only have one app snapped to the side and spend the rest of eternity on the desktop.
    Definitely great on dual screens, must applaud MS for thinking about us dual screeners.

    1. No. There is NO harm in empowering users with a start button that is needed to perform a lot of basic operating system functions. Someone was scheming, dreaming and out of their mind
      in app land.

    1. In the start screen, if you type Cont… it will bring up the Control Panel in App search (how much you have to type depends on what other apps you have that might start Con… This, however, does not work in Desktop, where typing outside an application that expects keyboard input does nothing at all. There you must use the Charms approach. (Weird, typing works in the touch UI, but only “touching” works in the mouse-keyboard UI.)

      And my point here is not how many clicks are needed or which clicks, but the total inconsistency of the two UIs and the need to use both of them frequently.

  7. The think that absolutely drive me nuts about Windows 8? (I have Classic Shell installed and only use the desktop)… is “hybrid sleep”. I would let out a long string of expletives if it were not so inappropriate. You’ll be working along a top speed and under the gun, and voila!!! The screen goes dark, the power save functions take over and you’re out of commission for several minutes – because now you have no option by to wait. Excuse me for believing that power save should only happen if the computer is inactive. Someone forgot to progam that option in, probably thinking all about the wonderful apps, and forgetting system operation. Arrrrr!

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