For the past five or six years, I’ve been a Mac-user – I inherited my brother’s old Macbook before I started university, and ended up buying my own just before I started my course. While at uni I saved up and splurged on a low-end iMac, because I wanted a desktop machine that was more powerful than my laptop for various picture and film software uses. I’ve still got my laptop and iMac, and I still use both regularly. However, as I’ve come out of studying and into employment and thus into a bit more spare income, I’ve decided that I want to play games on a PC. While they’re trying to catch up, Apple are still vastly behind on desktop gaming, and so I’ll be buying a gaming PC.

I was going to buy one earlier this year, but circumstances arose that meant I might have to hold on to my money for a bit longer. As it is, I’ll probably be getting my PC either late this year or next year sometime, and this presents a problem – Windows are purportedly bringing out their new operating system in Autumn of this year, Windows 8. If you’re interested in these things, you might have looked it up or even downloaded the consumer preview. If you’ve got an XBox 360, you’ve already had a taste of what Windows 8 will look like – yup, those sliding menus with the big buttons for programs and apps and folders and the like.

This is a bad thing.

Now I’m no luddite – I seem to adapt fairly quickly to new phones, laptops, consoles, DVD/BluRay players and the like. I’ve even taken to modding my copy of Minecraft, which is a big step for me. But basic things like downloading programs, running those programs, sorting out documents, using website and social media and connecting peripherals like printers is well within my grasp. Looking at Windows 8, I think I’ll do fine thanks to my extensive time handling my smartphone and using my XBox. I’m sure it will take some getting used to and I’ll probably have some gripes with it, but I’ll live and eventually probably wonder how I ever computed with those primitive operating systems.

My parents are also looking at getting a new computer.

That sentence alone should terrify anyone who has the stereotypically technology-challenged parents that I do. I know I’m not alone, as there is an abundance of hilarious articles online as well as stand-up routines based around this fact. But it doesn’t diminish the blinding fear that courses through my system when I think of my parents learning to use Windows 8.

They haven’t got an XBox. They have a Wii that I think has been used a total of four times in several years (my mum asked for it on the basis that “it would be good for that exercising game” – they have neither the game nor the WiiFit balance board). My dad uses a Blackberry that work gave him, and my mum has an iPhone 4 that continues to amaze her. She also has an iPad, because their laptop takes too long to boot up and use and defragging or reformatting it would be too hard. They want a desktop PC because they’ve realised that they don’t take the laptop off the desk where it lives, and I have to pray that they get it before Windows 8 rolls out, otherwise I know exactly who they will be calling for constant help.

I do have an older brother – he’s no luddite either, but he’s far more practically minded than I am and is generally better at the whole go-out-and-do-things lifestyle than I am, so I’m the one who’s spent more time behind a screen, making me the go-to guy for computer problems. To highlight the potential issues, I’ll be going through the various new features of Windows 8 one by one, detailing just how and why that particular feature will inevitably destroy my free time.

‘Metro’ Interface

The new ‘Metro’ interface, aside from being a fashion-conscious straight male, is what appears first when you turn on Windows 8. It’s made up of tiles representing the various apps that you have for Windows 8, handily split up into categories like ‘Games’ and ‘Work’. Now you can’t see all of the categories onscreen at any one time – to access all of them, you will need to scroll sideways to get where you want to be. This is fine on, say, a phone, where a simple flick with your grubby digits will move the entire screen to the desired section, but for those with just a mouse and trackpad it means you’ll have to click and drag the scrollbar at the bottom. Why couldn’t they have done it vertically? Most mice today have scroll-wheels that scroll vertically which would have solved the issue immediately, but nope, it has to be horizontal for whatever reason.

Where’s the Old Desktop?

Apparently, Windows 8 does still contain a version of the old desktop, albeit without a traditional ‘Start’ button. Currently, I have no idea how to get to this (you probably have to put your mouse in the corner and then perform a rain dance to Windows 8’s various gods), but I have no doubt in my mind that the first thing my parents will ask when I tell them that the old desktop exists on here will be, “Well how do I get to that then?” Even once I’ve figured it out myself and told them, I’m sure to endure a lengthy discussion about how it should just give you the option to boot up to this traditional desktop interface rather than have to go through the ‘Metro’ one first (currently, Windows 8 does not give you an option for this, which I think is a mistake).

Apps

The ‘Metro’ interface relies on apps, certain little pieces of software that work with the OS to display that happy little tile and whatever information it needs. Woe betide when my parents try to install something new on their machine, or fancy finding some more apps to clutter up their screen. Currently there is quite a limited number of programs with compatible apps for Windows 8 (hopefully that number will rise with the official release of the OS), and as such you will need to go to the old desktop interface to find those that aren’t supported. I imagine this will be frustrating at best, whereas for my parents this will be an Earth-shattering injustice that demands a rant at their most technically minded son.

Running Apps

When you run an app, it takes up the entire screen. No, not as in it has a border around the screen in which is contained the toolbar and the body of the program itself – the entire screen is covered by whatever it is you’re running. Say you start up the map app – a map fills your screen, with a side-bar for typing a destination. You take a look around, but you see no toolbar, meaning no handy and easily understood ‘File’, ‘Edit’ or ‘Help’ menus. I don’t doubt that they’re there somewhere, but I’ll be buggered if I know where right now.

Also, there is no minimize or exit button – to exit an app, you need to move your mouse to a corner of the screen until the app becomes a thumbnail view, then move that thumbnail to the bottom of the screen. There are no clues to indicate this – no folded over corner, no pin icon, you have to figure this out yourself. As for sharing the screen with another app, it is possible but only for two apps at once – you can drag another app from one of the sidebars to take up around half of the screen if you want, but that’s it. And I honestly have no idea how this will perform with dual-monitor set-ups.

So these are just a couple of the facts I’ve managed to glean about Windows 8, and already I am petrified of when my parents get this new OS on whatever system they buy. I would transcribe an imaginary conversation between myself and my parents over the phone when I inevitably get the call from them asking how to use this new-fangled computer, but frankly I don’t have enough room or willpower to do so here. Suffice to say that it will be a long, arduous process that will involve me having to learn Windows 8 if they get their computer before me.

God help me if my grandparents get a new machine…

[Most of this article was based on this review of Windows 8 – http://phys.org/news/2012-03-windows-big-misstep-microsoft.html]

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5 Comments »

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how far behind microsoft are compared to apple on user interface. I’m not one of those types who likes to wade into the endless and infinitely pointless debate of PCs vs Macs because I like them both for various reasons but the one thing that apple (IMO) have nailed is interaction. You can see this with the iphone and ipad especially; they work intuitively, you swipe your finger left and just like if you did it to a physical item it moves left but the point you touch stays with your finger. It’s simple, fun to use and importantly doesn’t require the user to have any real knowledge of what is going on behind the scenes. It seems that for decades computer companies expected consumers to meet them in the middle rather than supplying what the public wanted and whilst software always got more user friendly it often still required you to have some good knowledge to use and even better knowledge to fix when it inevitably failed. Apple then came along and turned that on it’s head by creating an artistic interface that fits well with how humans like to push buttons and order things around (this may have something to do with the story that Apple hired a significant number of artists and gave them far more prominent roles in their OS projects).

    I’m sceptical of any other group copying this because in my experience most (not all) smartphones and OS’s that try and do it usually make it good but not quite as good which makes it seem all the more shit. It’s like company A bringing out a car 5 years after company B brought out a near revolutionary car but company A (despite having 5 years to improve upon B) still isn’t as good. No one will buy the car and likewise a very similar but not as good interface will seem as shite and embarrassing.

    I’m also not to keen on software that describes itself as an app but has nothing to do with how other apps (like on smartphones and tablets) work. Google chrome has apps but they seem no different to old fashioned widgets. Likewise when I think of “microsoft” and “app” I can’t help but remember vista which suffered from that awful widget bar thing that allowed you to attach pointless rubbish like a clock with hands or a graph of the stock market.

    Alas I too share your pain, I’m looking forward to a future where software that is to Siri as Siri is to punch cards is standard in every item so that parents can just ask computers how to do things and like carers for old people they will nod, make comforting noises and do whatever makes the old people happy. Scary thought is that by that time we might be the parents who lumber through the technosphere like fat sauropods through a jungle, constantly embarrassing our velociraptor-like children as we knock over trees and talk about how marvellous it is to chew leaves.

    • Well at least I’ve found someone else with my distaste for calling everything with an interactive icon an “app”. What was wrong with calling them programs?
      And that dinosaur analogy is just beautiful, but also terrifying at the same time. If I end up embarrassing my children like that, I deserve all the scorn I get.

      • Tell me about it! I never use chrome’s “apps” and haven’t looked at them since google made them a feature. I’ve just looked over at them and I shit you not this is what the default ones are:

        Google Webstore
        Gmail
        Youtube
        Google Search

        The first one is just a bookmark to the site where you can get more apps. Gmail is the same but I never even use my account. What on earth anyone would need a button that takes them to Youtube I have no idea, especially as on the chrome home page it’s right there amongst my top 8 most visted websites. The final one is an absolute joke considering that whatever you type into chrome that isn’t a website takes you to a google search of that thing!

        *sigh, now I feel like one of those people who points out how something good was eventually ruined by modern times.

  2. good thing to know ahead of time that this looks like absolute shit. ive never truly used any Apple products until a month ago when i ventured out of my PC comfort zone (since DOS) and got an iphone. now i love it and it’s 90% replaced the windows laptop except for the few instances where iphone can’t get me to where i want like saving lots and lots of porn from these pristine interwebs… i mean i can’t get all my online banking functions, not porn, idk why i’d ever say porn. surely no.

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