Computerworld have an interesting  feature today in which some prominent tech authors voice their opinions on Windows 8. A majority of the 14 quoted say they spend all their time on the desktop and never touch the Metro interface which is what greets you on the standard Win 8 start screen. While reading I suddenly realised I do exactly the same. I’ve never really thought about why I do this . . . can what’s available by default on the start screen really be that bad? I decided to spend an hour revisiting the start screen which comes out of the box and reappraising . . .

For the record I’m running: Win 8 Pro 64-bit on a home system not a tablet with 4GB RAM and an Intel Core i7 CPU, 1 x SSD for the OS and 1 x IDE for files).

Disclaimer: I have become increasingly belligerent with applications over the years — this could be age, I grant you — but I blame my own background in app dev and reluctance to tolerate poor coding and rubbish interfaces. Also sharing the blame is Steve Jobs whose culture of making things easy and smacking down coders whose desire to show off outweighs their desire for stability/ease-of-use/nice experience appeals to my sense of software justice: if your Gran don’t get it then it should never have been released.

1. The Mail app

The tiles are enticing, I’ll give the designers that, great big blocks to click on, so why not try the Mail app sitting invitingly up there on the top left? I’ve been using Outlook Express on another machine for ages so it seems the time is ripe to switch to a fancy new version of that venerable old app. So I clicked. Unfortunately when you access the Win 8 Mail app you are asked to sign into Microsoft. No problem I thought, I’ll just hit cancel to get past that, I surely don’t need a Microsoft Account to fix up my computer to my POP3 provider . To paraphrase an angry Andy Garcia in Godfather III. . right? RIGHT?


Now it could be my impatience getting the better of me here, perhaps if I go through the hassle of signing up to an MS account and relaunch this app there will, somewhere deep inside its innards, be an option to let me get my POP3. But somehow I doubt it . . . and frankly, I don’t have the time for a misnamed app that seems to be nothing more than an attempt to get me to sign up for another corporate web site whose password I will inevitably forget. Lame.


2. The Games app

Nothing could be more innocuous than a PC game — remember the superb Pinball game that came with XP?  So I clicked. I am immediately presented with a fetching XBOX-branded portal . . . there are a few choices down on the left, Pac Man catches my eye, I spent a large part of the late 70’s playing the table-top original of this game (did you know it was marketed as Glutton in the UK?) so why not give it a whirl. The result is dispiriting:

It’s a measure of how little I care than I cannot even be bothered to google this error and find out why it’s not working. If, as the message seems to suggest, I need another app to get this app to work — or perish the thought a new piece of hardware — then this is shoddy. Perhaps the Pac Man icon was simply a placeholder reminding me to get the real thing from the MS store . . . either way the error is poorly constructed (it’s not really an error). I don’t even bother to try some of the other games listed. Onwards . . .

3. The Travel App

A pleasant surprise. This app takes me to a nice horizontally scrolling portal with some ready made choices although I don’t understand why the choices presented are there: Los Angeles & Thailand first two? Do they change each day? Is someone paying to get their location to the top of the list? I click on Thailand and am pleasantly surprised to see some well-written text courtesy of Frommers and some nice pictures all about that fabulous country. There seems to be a problem with search however, I drag to the top right, get the search box & type in ‘Scotland’ . . . no results. Hmmm? Must try a wider cast so I type in ‘UK’ and get a travel destination up of Ukhahlhamba-Drakensberg park in South Africa. This seems to be a tailored search   . . . I don’t see the benefit of this over simply running a browser and typing in ‘Thailand’ to Yes, I’m aware there’s probably very good content and unique features deeper inside . . .  but to get me to drop Chrome they’ve gotta grab you straight away.

4. The News App

The app picks up that I’m in the UK (using IP address?) and presents me with the ‘Bing’ top story of the day. In other words this ‘app’ seems to be another tailored search and clicking on the ‘about’ tab reveals this app is powered by Bing . The sources tab seems to have a very limited supply. Not much in the way of non-MSM news sources. Again: why should I use this instead of my favourites list in Chrome?

5. The Music app

I plug in my MP3 disk and cannot wait to try this. First off it tells me there’s an update to the app with the cryptic comma misplacement of: “To sign in, get the latest version of the app”. I don’t want to sign in to get an app update because I don’t have an account so I try clicking update anyway and whoa . . it turns out I’ve 15 updates waiting! Kudos to Microsoft for not forcing down these updates by default  like some – well done. I click all of them off apart from music, let’s not get too ambitious. The update opens up the Store app & goes well and is surprisingly fast. The new app plays my MP3s no probs. I quite like the look and feel of it. The auto pull-down of album art doesn’t seem to work for my own music lib though.


By now I’m a little tired. Yes, some of these apps have a gorgeous look to them but everything I have done  I can already do from the desktop and furthermore, from the desktop I have much more control over the app’s behaviour, e.g. when I ALT-F4 from a Metro/Tiled app I’m never really sure the app has quit . . . is it gone or has it just backgrounded? Again, I could probably find this out on the Web somewhere but why bother, the desktop gives me what I want already. It’s gonna take a lot more than this to drag me off it.

One other thing, Win 8 64 has proved remarkably stable. I’ve had no major crashes and I’m using a no-name home-build system with various bits n bobs from all over the world (Lian Li chassis, Corsair PSU, ASUS MB). This is an achievement in itself and makes me pleased I finally moved off XP . . . oh, and for the first time ever my system goes into hibernate mode without any horrid side effects. Well done.



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