Feeling more Metro-politan : 10 things the Windows 8 Consumer Preview has made clear to me

Having played with the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 for a few days, I’m beginning to pick up a feel for it:  indeed, more than that, for the first time in years I’m beginning to feel like I want to own a windows desktop PC, because for the first time I’m realising I really want to develop software for Windows.  Its all down to the Metro interface – and how much smoother it has become to use since the developer preview.  I thought I would list 10 things I have come to understand about how Metro works – and how you work with it:

1) You live your life in Metro.  The desktop is a distraction.  You avoid it when you can.  Metro is where you prefer to spend your time – at least when you’re working with touch.

2) But the desktop now works with touch.  Unlike the developer preview, where I had to keep reaching for a stylus to do anything desktoppy, I can now control desktop applications with my fingers.  Touch works on the desktop – you’ll probably use it instead of a mouse most of the time, if you have a touch enabled monitor which is comfortably positioned.

3) You’ll probably wind up treating the desktop a bit like Metro.  When you pin the desktop to the side of your screen, you get each application listed separately.  Now, to be fair, you’ve had this with alt-tab for a while, but now you just touch to get to where you want.  It feel natural to treat each desktop app like a full screen application.

4) Linking online accounts works wonderfully, but feels a bit creepy.  I installed W8 on a VM, and logged in with my live id.  My face grinned back at me – a photo I had taken months ago with the developer preview.  I didn’t expect it to be at work.  Similarly, various apps started sucking information from google, facebook, linked in.  I had given them permission, but it all integrated too well – better than I had come to expect from my phone.  It crossed that line into feeling like I had less of a computer than I did a stalker.

5) But, that said, the ‘People’ App shows exactly how integration can be effective – and how Metro is meant to work.  I look at a live feed of my twitter and facebook statuses, seamlessly integrated.  Sometimes I click on a link someone has posted, and I’m taken to the web browser.  I may surf onwards, doubling back by scrolling to the left, and then when I want to get back to the People app, I drag it on from the left hand side – which is exactly where I expect to find it.

6) Metro is made for dashboards.  Right now, the only dashboards we are given are people (a social media dashboard), weather and finance.  Weather and finance are very similar, and probably shows what an awful lot of Metro apps will look like.  You scroll left and right to see the data you want, use semantic zoom to get to a table of contents, data is updated live from the net, you can flick between certain displays of data by touching onscreen buttons, and a summary of the most important facts are shown on the live tile when you return to the start screen.

7) There is no good way of taking notes – yet.  Evernote for metro is available, but doesn’t work in portrait mode (which is the most comfortable way to hold the tablet and type).  You can use your favourite desktop application, but for me, that’s gvim, and the touch keyboard doesn’t have an escape key, which kills its usefulness.  The skydrive version of Word doesn’t work properly (it won’t bring up a keyboard when you want to write), so right now, I’m left with either notepad, or Google docs.  Neither are a great choice.

8 ) In fact, there is still quite a lack of useful apps all around.  Hopefully this will be fixed soon.  Things I’m missing are:  A notepad.  A hypercard style thing for creating my own metro dashboards (as described above) and books.  A decent version of Amazon Kindle which takes advantage of Metro… right now I find the windows app running in the desktop to make particularly poor use of the tablet’s screen.  A metro calculator (in fact, I would quite like python and Idle for metro.  That’s probably a wish too far – especially as the lack of special keys on the metro keyboard is quite limiting).  A metro version of explorer.  A metro version of powershell.  And finally a metro iPlayer.

9) Lots of things are quite tricky to find – especially power features.  I tired to change set the APN so that I could use a data sim .  I managed it, but it took a lot of looking – and the old windows way of doing it no longer worked. (incidentally, for folks in the UK with a Build developer preview tablet, if you want to use mobile data, a giffgaff pay as you go sim works well in mine now I’ve figured it out)  Unpinning and uninstalling metro apps is easy once you know how [touch and hold a tile, drag it down slightly so it gets an orange border, then use the bottom of screen menu] – but I had to search the web to find out how to do it.  The menu bars remain quite unintuitive… they’ll probably get better as I get more used to it, but I can’t help feeling the design reflects how the Metro framework works internally more than what a user might want to do with it.

10) Ultimately, it feels good to use.  The developer preview didn’t.  Some of this is due to stability.  Some due to performance.  Some due to the ‘right click’ touch gesture is now far easier to do.  I’m not sure how convinced people will be when Windows 8 replaces their desktop, but for people coming in to Metro as a touch first interface, I expect it to be widely considered a good thing.

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