6 Ways Microsoft Is Killing The Traditional Desktop In Windows 8 [Opinion]

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windows 8 desktopThe traditional desktop is still around in Windows 8, and it’s probably the best Windows desktop yet (aside from not having a Start menu.) But with the introduction of the Windows 8 desktop, Microsoft is setting it the traditional desktop for the kill. The writing is on the wall here — touch and Metro are the future. The traditional desktop is a relic on its way out.

No, Windows 8 isn’t final yet — but the Consumer Preview is out, and Microsoft calls it “the complete vision for the product.” That’s right, folks — we’ll see bugs fixed and rough spots polished, but this is the Windows 8 we’re going to get.

You Can Avoid the Desktop, But You Can’t Avoid Metro

Metro is mandatory. It doesn’t matter if you never want to use it — you’ll see it each time you log in. You’ll have to click the “Desktop” tile in Metro to access your desktop. Once you’re at the desktop, Metro will be your new Start menu and you’ll have to use the charms to shut down your computer. You can install a third-party Start menu, but Microsoft won’t offer one.

windows 8 desktop

In the Developer Preview of Windows 8, you could use a registry tweak to disable Metro completely and get the Start menu back. Now Metro is baked into Explorer.exe itself. Want to get rid of it completely? Well, maybe you can use a Windows Explorer shell replacement.

Microsoft is adamant that Windows 8 users — particularly tablet users — can use Windows 8 without ever touching the desktop. If you’re a PC user that never wants to see Metro — too bad. They won’t let you turn it off. They won’t even provide a way for businesses to disable Metro via group policy.

It’s Not Metro, It’s “Modern”

You probably know the new interface as “Metro.” But now Microsoft is now calling Metro “Modern.” Metro is “the Modern interface.” Internet Explorer running in Metro? That’s “Modern Internet Explorer.” Metro apps in general? They’re “Modern apps.”

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The traditional desktop and standard desktop apps are dinosaurs in the new Windows ecosystem. They feel that way, too. The Start screen looks bad when you opt for desktop apps instead of Metro ones. Microsoft could allow desktop apps to use live tiles and blend in, but they want them to look obsolete.

windows 8 review

It’s All About Touch

The Metro interface was designed with touch in mind. With the Consumer Preview, Microsoft has worked on adding better keyboard and mouse support. However good it is, it’s clear that it was bolted on.

Here’s the lock screen in the Windows 8 Desktop:

windows 8 review

What button do you click to get from the lock screen to the login screen? That’s a trick question — there’s no button to click; you have to drag and drop the lock screen away. This would be natural with touch, but it feels weird with a mouse. You can also press any button on your keyboard, but that wasn’t at all obvious to me.

My laptop doesn’t have a touch screen, but I want to touch Metro anyway. It looks fun to touch. But it doesn’t feel like it’s designed for a mouse.

The Desktop Is Just Another Metro App

Each running Metro app has its own thumbnail in the new task switcher, but the entire desktop appears as a single tile in the task switcher.

Microsoft sees the desktop as that place you go to run legacy software, like the Flash browser plug-in or an old business application. They’ve reminded us that it’s a legacy environment by not theming the desktop to match Metro at all. They might as well call the desktop “Windows 7 Mode.”

windows 8 review

The Desktop Is Already Locked Down on ARM

If you do happen to get a Windows 8 ARM tablet, you may expect the traditional desktop to be an option. It’s still there — but only for Microsoft Office, Windows Explorer, and other Microsoft software.

That’s right — you can’t install non-Microsoft apps on an ARM system’s desktop. It’s not just that existing apps won’t run on an ARM desktop — Microsoft won’t let you run third-party apps on the ARM desktop. Want a third-party app? Use Metro.

The Windows App Store Leaves the Desktop Behind

One of the biggest advances in Windows 8 is the introduction of the Windows App Store. Installing software has always been a pain on Windows. You have to download an installer for each program from a different website and go through an installation wizard. After it’s installed, each program has its own updater.

The Windows App Store does away with this. Now Windows just updates all your apps, saving you time.

windows 8 desktop

Except it doesn’t. The Windows App Store is only for Metro apps. The app store will contain links to desktop apps, but you’ll have to download the installer and install them normally. Each Windows 8 desktop program will still require its own updater.

Microsoft knows that the software installation and update process is a problem on Windows, but they’re not fixing it on the desktop. They’re using it to drive people away from the desktop by only fixing it in Metro.

The app store will automatically install your Metro apps, update them and keep them in sync across your computers. In fact, the app store is the only place to get Metro apps — say goodbye to installing unapproved third-party software on your PC.

What do you think about the new Windows 8 desktop? Am I totally off base here? Leave a comment and let us know.

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Comments (145)
  • Big Lanks

    I think Windows 8 is awesome… [opinion] word of advice- don't become frustrated with the newer software and technology through the years- because that means you will have to bug everyone for help

  • Thomas Ray

    It looks like MS is returning to the windows 3 of their infancy. It was bad then & still is.

  • Kirk Mooneyham

    Microsoft may be all in love with “touch” but I (and obviously a LOT of others judging by all the complaints) am NOT. I like my MOUSE just fine. And if Microsoft wants to play little games like this, once they stop supporting Windows 7, then I will start using Linux. Yes, a learning curve there, but at least things are (mostly) where I expect to find them…not hidden behind a bunch of stupid tiles that look like a little kid’s art project. Not to mention that unless you want to memorize all the keyboard shortcuts (didn’t we stop having to do that back in the Windows 3.1 days?) then this new OS just does NOT cut it for a business environment. Leave the trendy crap for the Apple people and stick to what works.

    • Chris Hoffman

      Windows 7 will be supported until 2020 — who knows what the OS landscape will be like in 8 years.

      I agree though; I’ve tried to be open-minded about Windows 8 but I find myself disliking it more and more the more I use it. I’m sticking it in a virtual machine so I can write about it, but it isn’t getting installed as my main OS.

      That’s sad because there are some good performance optimizations and desktop improvements behind all the Metro.

  • Apathetic

    The app store is hilariously optimistic on Microsoft’s part – after all, if I had any intention of paying for my software I wouldn’t be using Windows in the first place!

    • Chris Hoffman

      It’s too bad this attitude is so common. If everyone that didn’t want to pay for Windows supported Linux, Linux would be a lot better and there’d be a legitimate free operating system. But lots of people — hell, huge sections of developing countries, even — just pirate Windows ‘n such.

      Same for other stuff. GIMP would be more competitive with Photoshop if Photoshop couldn’t be pirated.

  • bla

    bla bla bla.. i have no interest in using a touch screen. soon as MS force everyone to use them, i will be completely move into Linux…

    • Chris Hoffman

      Microsoft says touchscreens everywhere are the future, but i can’t see touching my desktop monitor anytime soon. Doesn’t seem comfortable.

      Will this be a boon for Linux? One can only hope…

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.