Windows 8's Competing Interfaces Will Double Your Effort, Halve Your Fun

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Windows 8's Dueling User Interfaces

Like a Miley Cyrus / Hannah Montana concert,  Microsoft's new operating system promises the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, after manically switching back and forth between Windows 8's new tablet-inspired Metro UI and traditional desktop mode, users will feel like they've accompanied the teen star on a bad Salvia trip. Microsoft is making the right move by offering a touch-friendly interface for tablets without abandoning its long-standing windowed desktop, but users should be able to run all their programs in the single environment of their choice.

Using the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 is an exercise in frustration because there's no way to live exclusively either in desktop or Metro modes. When I installed the OS on my dual-screen PC, the Metro UI only appeared on my primary display with the traditional desktop on my second monitor. Apparently, there's no way to extend Metro across more than one screen. In fact, every time I clicked on my second monitor's desktop, Metro disappeared from the primary screen, leaving the desktop in its place.

Clearly, if Metro were meant to be used as your only environment, you'd not only be able to run it on multiple displays at once, with different apps open on each screen, you'd also be able to run all of your software in it. However, as of today, a lot of the most essential apps kick you over to desktop mode the minute you tap on their tiles. Whether you want to browse your hard drive with Windows Explorer or scribble in Windows Paint -- both programs that come with the OS -- you're sent over to the desktop where these applications run in their own windows.

If you want to change operating system settings, there are two different control panels. The Metro "PC Settings" application lets you control some basics like which wireless network you use, what home groups you join, what peripherals  you have attached and what your lock screen looks like. However, if you want to play with the big boys and control your Windows services, schedule tasks, resize your paging file, add fonts, uninstall software or repartition your hard drive, you'll get kicked back to the desktop and its more robust control panel.

Just as you can't live in Metro all the time, you can't avoid it and just use the desktop. When you first boot the Windows 8, Metro's tiled UI is staring you in the face and you have to click a tile to get to the desktop. When you're on the desktop and want to launch a new application, there's no more Start Menu orb. To see a list of all your installed applications and click one, you have to leave the desktop and go to Metro, your new full-screen start menu.

Sebastian Anthony of ExtremeTech sees this move to Metro as a positive trend, writing that "we should view the Start Screen as an improvement on the Start Menu. Icons can be dragged around and grouped, and live tiles are a much-needed overhaul to the system tray, an element that has gone virtually unchanged since Windows 95." But finding an application shortcut should be a quick process that doesn't require you to switch UIs.

Using Metro to launch desktop applications is like renewing your license at the DMV, a seemingly simple process that has plenty of extra steps thrown in for the heck of it. Imagine that you're using Word and want to launch Excel so you can see your spreadsheet right next to your quarterly report document. With the old-school Windows Start Menu, you could see a hierarchical menu of all your applications, without hiding work area. Now, unless you've placed an Excel shortcut icon on your desktop or taskbar, you have to leave Word, cover over your document windows with the Metro UI screen, and then locate the Excel shortcut by scrolling through the tiles or typing "excel" into the search box. Talk about placing tile over substance! 

Most frustrating of all is that the two environments don't talk to each other. If you're in Metro and you get an instant message on the desktop version of Google Talk, you won't see a flashing alert on the screen, though you will hear the beep if you have sound enabled. If you're in Metro, and you open the list of thumbnails that shows all your open tasks, the entire desktop is presented as a single task, even if you have a million different applications running on it.

It almost goes without saying that, right now, 99.9% of software is designed for the traditional windowed environment, but that's no reason for Microsoft to prevent them from running in Metro. Back in the early 1990s, most applications were written for MS-DOS and its command-prompt UI. Nevertheless, early versions of Windows made it easy to run these otherwise full-screen programs in their own windows. I have fond memories of running the old blue-and-white WordPerfect 5.1 in one window while I ran a DOS game in another.  

There's no good reason why Windows 8 could not run so-called "desktop" apps in Metro mode. Yes, a lot of these apps won't look perfect in Metro as their menu bars aren't touch-friendly and some, like Photoshop, contain daughter windows and tool bars that are tough to drag around with fat fingers. However, making the user switch environments won't solve a problem which has more to do with the apps themselves than the UI which surrounds them.

By the same token, Windows 8 should allow users to run its new class of HTML 5 "Metro" apps in their own windows on the desktop. Right now, there's no way to use new HTML 5 programs like the USA Today or Bing Maps app from Windows 8's desktop mode; you can't even create shortcuts to the apps and place them on the desktop. However, Microsoft has no good reason to stop you. If I want to look at the new People app in a resizable, draggable window, I should be able to.

Windows' greatest strength has always been its flexibility, the flexibility to run thousands of different apps in an environment that's open to unlimited customization. Microsoft needs to continue this rich tradition by giving Windows 8 users the ability to choose between either desktop or Metro UIs, with the ability to run any app in either UI and a full, old-school Start menu for those who choose desktop mode. Forcing us to use two disparate environments at the same time is a recipe for confusion and lost productivity.

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
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  • Leary Says:

    an whats with the terrible media apps in the metro ui? you get lost in them, its difficult to close the apps.. thank the heavens for VLC player

  • Michael Says:

    In the final version of Windows 8 many of the "problems" have been corrected:

    1) You can move the Metro screen to any monitor in your multi-monitor setup.

    2) You can dock (one) Metro app to the side of any of your screens. So you could have a Metro Twitter app open all the time, for example. (I'm not 100% sure, but I think you can also leave the Metro screen open while you work on the desktop on the other monitor(s).)

    3) If you have multiple monitors, the active corners of each screen are six pixels by six pixels and they stop the mouse cursor. Therefore, if you move your mouse to the right upper corner of the left screen, the mouse will stop there so you can easily open the charms bar. You practically cannot miss these active corners! It's very easy to use.

    4) The Taskbar in desktop mode extends over all the monitors and on each monitor it shows the icons of the applications that are currently running on that particular monitor.

    So I think, Windows 8 with Metro is actually very nice, once you get used to it. Like someone else said: Spend 5 minutes to learn the 4 active corners and maybe a few keyboard shortcuts and using Windows 8 will be a breeze!

    The new start screen is basically just a combination of the old start menu and a dashboard. When you log onto the system it shows you quickly the most important things that are going on: new mails, news, the current weather, tweeds and other messages from friends, etc.
    As a power user, after having checked some messages and mails, you simply click over to the desktop and use all the regular applications that you're used to. You put links to those applications on your task bar, so you rarely have to go to the Metro screen, unless you actually want to use a specific Metro app.
    In Windows 7 I very rarely even use the start menu, because the applications that I most use are linked on the task bar.

    And to those people complaining that touch on a 24'' screen doesn't make any sense: True, touch doesn't make sense there, but a device like the LeapMotion controller ( would make a lot of sense!! You could probably stop using the mouse for most scenarios. You just have to lift your finger a little bit off you keyboard from time to time. Much more efficient than the mouse!

    So before badmouthing Windows 8, please try it out for more than 5 minutes. You'll find that you can use it just as easily as Windows 7 - probably even easier and faster. Plus it brings a whole new ecosystem of apps additionally.

  • Derek Says:

    Windows 8 Metro UI blows chunks and sucks big fat donkey kong balls!

  • Brian Says:

    As a Microsoft developer, I really do not like this interface. I am sick and tired of all the dumbing down of everything. 20 years ago, this might have made sense, but if you consider the average user, they are quite knowledgable compared to 20 years ago. Kids as well as grandmothers know how to use the windows interface and it just doesn't make sense to go to a touch interface on machines that don't have a touch screen. I don't like that they've done a similar thing to xbox live. It now takes me 5x as long just to find my downloaded apps as it used to. This is a bad idea. Leave it to the phones and pads.


  • Benny Profane Says:

    Everything about it sounds absolutely terrible!

    " Talk about placing tile over substance! "

    You should be ashamed.

  • Fred Says:

    Metro is just an oversimplified desktop. Why MS thinks it will be better than the full featured one everybody use? Go figure.
    While the concept is different, the efficiency recalls me of Bob.
    The concept of running programs in their own windows is an excellent one and I doubt something will replace that one day. Running several apps side by side, or multple instances of it, drag-and-drop, copy-paste, manualy recopying from one to another,... the list of reasons why is endless.
    Mettro may be good for poeple who always use their computer for the 3 same taks everyday: Check their social network, check their e-mails and play a game.
    For them Metro may be more user friendly but it should come as a gadget window on the desktop, not as another desktop.

  • Paul Says:

    As a developer who largely uses the Microsoft stack for developing commercial applications, I dread having to work on a desktop with massive, space-wasting icons/gadgets. Truely, I would hate that. Why is MS so blind to this point of view. I keep the app icons that I use the most on the taskbar. The desktop is where I do my work. I do not wish to look at animated icons/gadgets that I am not using.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not a Luddite. I have a wonderful HTC Evo Android phone, with lots of apps and a few gadgets, that I love more than ANY other tool that I use. I prefer it, for non-work, over my laptops. I LOVE it.

    But for work, the last thing I want is a metro-style presentation. I want fast, info-packed, minimum-space, minimum distraction knowledge. I do not a screen full of distracting, space-wasting, consumer-focused crap that is touch-based.

    I hope the metro presentation on laptops and desktops fails spectacularly until we are given control of our workspaces. We are the consumers. Why doesn't Microsoft know this? If I wanted to be treated like Apple treats its consumers ("They don't know what they want until we tell them what they want...") then I would buy an Apple.

  • Juli Says:

    So Windows is finally trying to catch up with Mac, and doing a poor job of it. We are surprised, why?
    I love how every new thing has people bitching and griping, but two years after it comes out no one will remember the old system anyway.

  • Chris Says:


    2.5h and its Diablo3 time...

  • Mattaaaah Says:

    Honestly, I've been using the consumer preview, and I have no idea what the author is talking about. For me, and how/why I use a computer, tablet, and phone, windows 8 is MUCH easier and much faster.

  • Roderick Says:

    as a user who runs windows on a single large television monitor (computing from the lazy-boy) i like the metro UI and it seems pretty slick.

    couple problems though... metro is VERY slow to navigate if your target is not readily searchable.

    if the item you are looking for is not on the front page of the UI, the fastest way to get to it is to type it out in the search box. over time though, as you have more and more documents and applications, you will likely have documents and apps with similar names or apps/files that have been moved to different locations but their old shortcuts still exist.... at this point the search feature becomes annoying because you have to wade through similarly named files folders and apps to find the one you are searching for.

    This condition is inevitable for apps with similarly named folders (adobe- brings up all adobe folders and apps) or users who save files with a naming convention (students who save word docs with their name in the title for online submission), and it basically makes searching a chore.

    In win7, this is no big deal. the user knows if the file name he is looking for is common and can opt to navigate the start menu or windows explorer to find his target. in win8, scrolling through metro is a PITA. It would also be nice to pin metro apps to the desktop in the same form they display in metro (example: the weather app, a newsfeed or reader app, messaging/email). this way you could see new stories / messages embedded on your desktop (like current "widgets") without having to reopen the metro-menu.

  • derkaderka Says:

    I miss Windows 98. There was nothing wrong with it.

  • Travis Says:

    As a developer I have two monitors. The current preview of MetroUI is horrible. To my right I am shown half a desktop. A desktop that is useless. To the left I have MetroUI. If I click on the desktop, to the right, MetroUI disappears and I am given the entire desktop. Too make matters worse, if I wish to interact with MetroUI, on the left, I am forced to scroll horizontally to see all my tiles. Seriously, I must scroll left and right on a single monitor when I have two perfectly fine ones side-by-side. Also, these four hot spot corners are great if you have one monitor. A mouse will stop on its own when it reaches a corner. With two monitors however, the inside corners which rest next to the second monitor are not defined. Your mouse just breezes on past the very tiny hotspot and on to the second monitor. This is close to being as useless as anything I've ever seen. It renders two hotspots, which are so small, nonfunctional; unless of course you pay extreme attention to your cursor and are a whiz at pixel perfect placement at high speeds.

    As a developer, I am disappointed that these two different worlds; MetroUI and the Desktop do not work well together in mulit-monitor setups.

    As a Microsoft Technical Advisor, I am upset that MS did not listen to valid critiques and address this issue. I am actually dreading the release as I will be forced to spend countless hours defending it to consumers who are pissed and turned off.

    At any rate, no good criticism only shares the problems, it should provide a solution as well. So, here is mine. I run RocketDock at the bottom of each of my monitors on the desktop. I have all my applications either directly on the dock or in stacks on the dock. I use it instead of the Start Menu. In order to work seamlessly and effortlessly I must avoid MetroUI completely. While I looked forward to the MetroUI tiles, I will wait until someone writes a patch which will force it to extend across both monitors.

  • Marvin Says:

    He's adding to the OP in making a case that the metro interface is a separate entity and not M$'s new take on the start menu. He claims he doesn't use the start menu now and instead uses the taskbar and bins. After 1upindustries updates his bins what would be different? He still doesn't have to use the start menu (metro) . But he insists he will rip out mtro hisself if it isn't disabled. Why, if its not even used? He then agree with the OP again with needing metro (I assume he wants muliple "metro's" open on the individual monitors) open on all monitors. My point or question still is, does your current start menu open across all your monitors? If It doesn't why expect this one to do it just because its designed diffently. Once again its a metro styled start menu not the metro ui like in wp7.

  • Marvin Says:

    @ James, I read the whole post. Whats your point?

  • James Says:

    Quote: "....I now have to respond to you elaborately contrived post which said absolutely nothing yet took up a whole lot of space"

    Did you only read the first paragraph of his post too?

  • Marvin Says:

    @ Michel while I do apologize to the OP for calling him an idiot, I now have to respond to you elaborately contrived post which said absolutely nothing yet took up a whole lot of space. I just have one question then you can respond then I'll respond back. This way our posts don't turn into essays. Here goes. If you were programming, doing remote system maintenance, web development, etc. could you do all of that with just the desktop "side" of windows 8?

  • Michel Says:

    1. Quote: "I stopped reading after the second paragraph because your obviously an idiot." /Quote

    I could have stopped reading your post right there, but only idiots base their opinions on half read articles and posts. Furthermore calling someone you don't even know an idiot, based on one article he writes, discredits you more than it does him.

    2. Quote: "First it’s an unfinished product I.E. developer/consumer preview." /Quote

    You are right about that, but MS offers it to download for a good reason, and that is to get feedback from a broad audience. Negative feedback is probably more important to them than praises. One learns most from ones mistakes and judging from the huge amount of criticism on the internet it seems that Metro for desktops, WITHOUT CHOICE is probably a big mistake.

    Quote: "Second the Metro UI is used on windows phone 8, not Windows 8. Windows 8 uses a metro ui styled “Start Menu”. Maybe that would explain why its separate? /Quote

    This is just plain nit-picking and not accurate on top of that.
    So, he got the exact name wrong, so what? And it's not separate, it interferes on several levels with the desktop environment. That's the point of his article, but you didn't read it!!

    Quote: "Does your current start menu fill your dual monitor setup?" /Quote

    No, nor does it fill his whole screen!!! What's your point?
    You seem to be as schizophrenic as Windows 8 itself, because you first tell the author to deal with having Metro in his face, and when the guy then decides, ok, let's forget the way I worked with the startmenu and try having it on all my monitors, you yourself remind him of the old startmenu not being on all monitors to, and use that as an argument.

    Quote: "And third you don’t leave your regular desktop to go look for your apps in metro. You go to the start menu just like you do now. I can’t understand what people are complaining about with Windows 8. Its Windows 7 with a new start menu."/Quote

    Wrong again!
    When in W7 you want to view a picture, does it show it to you in the startmenu?
    When you open a music file, does it open a player in your startmenu?
    Do you have to click on a link called “desktop” in W7 startmenu to go back to your desktop?
    You see? Your arguments just make no sense.

    Quote: "If you don’t like Windows 7 that’s another story" /Quote.

    No it's not another story.
    He probably likes W7 a lot, and he probably likes most things in W8 because it's basically all the good stuff of W7 with some important improvements.
    He is just not happy with Metro, just like a couple of hundred million other people on this planet.

    And he is cautioning MS to not make the mistake to force Metro onto people but to make it optional.

    My opinion about you: I can't Judge whether you are an idiot or not, because I don't know you.
    If I were like you, I would probably have called you a moron or idiot, but I'm glad I'm not you.
    From your post I did learn you
    1. you are the kind that likes to insult people
    2. you base your aggressive posts on one chapter of a guy’s elaborate article are opinionated without having the intellectual capacity to back it up
    4. use Windows at low end consumer level and have no idea about how people try to be productive on their desktops.
    Well, that's enough about you for now.

    I do everything with the W7 taskbar combined with Bins from 1upindustries and hardly use the startmenu. For my kind of activities on the desktop (programming, remote system maintenance, web development, graphic design, etc..) Metro is totally useless. So basically I'm waiting for an update from Bins to run on W8 and then I will rip out Metro myself if MS doesn't give me the option to disable it.

    The OP has a valid point when he says he wants Metro on all of his monitors. This would give him the option to start a different program from each monitor without having to drag his mouse over to the first screen.

    When MS decides to do that, they might as well expand the taskbar to all monitors when in multi monitor mode. Now that would be a powerful tool.
    Oh, and make that optional please, cause I wouldn't want to shove it through the throats of users who don't want it.

    And that my friend is the heart of the discussion!
    The reason I never went to Apple is the freedom of choice Windows represents and the level of customisation you can achieve on it.
    Take that away and you take away the last reason not to switch to Apple or to stick with XP and W7 for as long as possible.

    Bottom line, I concur with the OP.
    Microsoft take heed of the warnings from IT professionals and power users. Don't stupefy your desktop OS to Phone level.
    At least give the user the choice. That made Windows so popular in the first place.

  • Ralph Says:

    No the writer is right metro blows for PC's with mouse and keyboard interfaces that want to create content (ie: work).

    I tried the preview and everything about it is for a tablet- even the fact that people are writing articles about how bad it is and how to skin win8 to look like win7 screams "windows ME" or vista in its spectacular fail.

    Win8 is not going to win hearts and minds with a boring flat, Schizo UI over a cool glossy OS5.

    I believe until voice recognition needs to get much better along with retina recognition to replace keyboard and mouse on a desktop before you can go into a full on touch interface without the touch. I can never see 24" screens going touch because that would change how you even sit at a desk as desks now would be obsolete- try holding your hands up for 8 hours. people now cannot even move a 6oz mouse 4-5 inches on a flat surface.

    I windows8 or win9 continues on this way I might as well go out and get a mac because they are failing too with their new OS on the desktop. There is plenty to improve upon in win7 without having to pander to a market share that you currently have 0% of. (hint: pick up where longhorn was going to go)

    In conclusion, MS must heed the huge warning signs of articles and customer backlash if they want to keep market share.

  • Bob Says:

    Any Win 8 article that references "Miley Cyrus / Hannah Montana" is a FAIL. Win 8 is just easier to use and faster. Anybody who takes 5 minutes to learn the "4 hot corners" of Win 8 would get that.

  • Marvin Says:

    I stopped reading after the second paragraph because your obviously an idiot. First its an unfinished product I.E. developer/consumer preview. Second the Metro UI is used on windows phone 8, not Windows 8.Windows 8 uses a metro ui styled "Start Menu". Maybe that would explain why its separate? Does your current start menu fill your dual monitor setup? And third you dont leave your regular dektop to go look for your apps in metro. You go to the start menu just like you do now. I can't understand what people are complaining about with Windows 8. Its Windows 7 with a new start menu. If you don't like Windows 7 thats another story.

  • gawicks Says:

    The way to think of the 'Desktop' in Windows 8 is that it's an app. Metro is higher in the hierarchy .so you'd be able to remain immersed in metro ( not sure about multimon setups) and not see the desktop .The reverse however is not true

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