Multitasking and managing both worlds
One intentional side effect of Windows 8 apps running fullscreen is that you can't have several of them on screen at the same time. Yes, there are no windows in Windows anymore—at least outside of the Desktop environment. It's all in the name of simplicity, but especially considering the single-purpose nature of these apps, it feels like a huge step backwards for us. Once again, what works on a tablet feels idiotic on a large desktop.
Multitasking works with Modern UI apps, but the Desktop is useless when docked to the side
Worse than this is the crippled concept of multitasking. Microsoft would like you to believe that you can use two apps side by side for the first time, but hang on just a minute. We’ve been able to do this since pretty much the beginning of Windows. What we have now is a way for apps to scale themselves back so that two of them can share the screen in an awkward 1:3 ratio. To achieve this, you drag in off the edge of a touchscreen (or "grab" with a mouse) and "move" the app to either side. Moving it to the bottom edge terminates it. The docked app must run in a 320-pixel-wide column, no more and no less, and many of them just can't do that well. Desktop users will find this is a tragic and meaningless waste of screen space. You can dock an app while the desktop runs in the larger space, but not the other way around. Simple things like typing an email while referring to past messages in your inbox become unbelievably cumbersome processes. It's a crude, highly limiting way to work. Microsoft points out that it's better than what you can do on an iPad, which is great if that's your benchmark. We're used to full multitasking and arranging windows on our desktops, thank you very much.
Just like you'll eventually need the Control Panel, you'll also need Windows Explorer. While the former is a pain to use on a small tablet touchscreen, Explorer has been overhauled with a Ribbon toolbar and full touch support, making it quite pleasant to use. We hated the file open/save dialogues in Modern apps: they occupy the full screen, display only text on a black background, and don't let you sort files and folders. There's also no way to jump to favourite locations and no way to create a new folder, which is ridiculous. Similarly, Print dialogues are far less useful than their Desktop counterparts—it's impossible to choose a range of pages to print, for example.
This brings us to the Desktop environment, which is treated as an app itself. You can do whatever you like with traditional software within the desktop, but it can't interact with Modern apps at all. The Share charm doesn't work, and you can't have a Desktop program run side-by-side with a Modern app (only the Desktop itself). Your security suite running in the Desktop environment can’t touch anything happening outside it, so browser-level protection doesn’t work in Modern IE, for example. Task switching also becomes a pain—the [Alt]-[Tab] menu shows apps and programs as equal, but the main Windows 8 task switcher ([Win]+[Tab] or swipe in and out from the left edge) shows only apps (with the Desktop counted as an app). A massive source of frustration is that formerly universal shortcuts such as [Win]+[E] for Windows Explorer and [Win]+[R] for the Run... dialogue box don't work unless you're already in the Desktop environment.
Choosing default actions for file types
One of Microsoft's more confusing decisions was to include two versions of Internet Explorer; one for the Modern UI and one for the Desktop. The Modern version ditches all interface elements until you right-click (or swipe in), at which point you see tabs across the top and navigation control on the bottom. It works well enough, though you can switch to IE on the desktop if things look wrong. The desktop version is a lot more familiar and handles most modern websites perfectly. It's a far cry from IE just a few years ago, which we would use only once, to download another browser, and then promptly discard.
On the other hand, while there's a SkyDrive app on the Start screen, there's no equivalent for the Desktop. In fact, you have to download the old SkyDrive utility to add a shared folder to Windows Explorer.
Microsoft is keen to push its “best of both worlds” marketing line, but the truth is that while apps are convenient on a tablet, they bring absolutely nothing useful to the desktop. This is even more apparent when you move towards the high end, as our experiments with a 24-inch monitor showed. Perhaps children will be amused by a painting app or you’ll enjoy swiping Solitaire cards with your fingers, but that’s about it. There just isn’t any scenario in which Modern apps do things better than a Windows program would, save for the fact that they’re easier to use on a touchscreen.
Updated 24 May, 2013, 7:53 pm IST
Windows 8 , Microsoft Windows 8 , Windows , Windows 8 Review , Windows 8 India , Metro , Modern UI , Windows 8 tablet , Windows 8 ultrabook , Windows 8 Features , Win8 , Microsoft Windows , Windows PC , Windows 8 PC
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