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The 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.
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.”
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.