Windows 8: Something old, something awkward

Microsoft's old Windows desktop and tablet-friendly Metro UI make strange bedfellows

InfoWorld's Enterprise Windows blogger, J. Peter Bruzzese, described Windows 8 as "Windows Frankenstein." I'm tempted to call it a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" operating system, but I can't decide which name to assign to the Metro side of the fence and which to the Windows 7-like desktop.

Just as Jekyll and Hyde managed to coexist in a somewhat strained way, Windows 8 hangs together reasonably well -- if you buy into the premise that one operating system has to run the electronic gamut from touch-sensitive small-screen tablets to monster desktops with football-field-size displays. The abrupt personality switches take some getting used to.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Windows 8 Consumer Preview: A visual tour for IT | Blogger J. Peter Bruzzese calls Windows 8 Consumer Preview a "Windows Frankenstein" -- do you agree? | Stay up on key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

The Metro part is cool, clean, fast, and -- as we heard a zillion times in Microsoft's Consumer Preview release presentation -- fluid. The legacy desktop looks every inch like Windows 7 and, with a few infuriating exceptions and some amazing improvements, works much the same way.

How will Windows-savvy users respond to the new touchy-feely OS? In my experience, with rare exceptions, longtime Windows users don't like Windows 8. There's too much change, and it isn't at all clear that the adjustments benefit people who've grown accustomed to mice and "legacy" programs. I've been living and breathing Windows 8 for months now, and I'm still not used to the jarring switch between Metro and legacy modes. It doesn't help that the Metro Start screen has only one level of organization.

And though Windows 8 introduces some nice new features, they're minimal. If you're looking for a business desktop OS with revolutionary improvements comparable to Windows 7, Windows XP, Windows 95, or even Windows Vista, it has yet to be seen. If you aren't planning to get a touch-enabled tablet any time soon, Windows 8 should be near the bottom of your wish list.

But if you're considering a move to a Windows-based tablet, you'll want to dive into Windows 8 with both feet. Technically, Win8 is an amazing piece of work, and if the legacy desktop remains better suited to a mouse and a physical keyboard, the Metro UI succeeds in delivering a clean and smooth tablet experience. Ultimately, Windows 8 will appeal mainly to "straddlers" who want a tablet and good old Windows too.

It's going to take weeks -- more likely, months -- of hard pounding to see where Win8 wins and where it falls short. Clearly, parts of Win8 (the Metro apps come to mind immediately) aren't yet ready for prime time, and it would be unfair to tar Win8 with their dirty preview brush. There are also plenty of niggling bugs, many of which complicate the navigation between the Metro and legacy environments on touch-driven devices.

Microsoft still has work to do and questions to answer. In the meantime, this article offers a critical assessment from a seasoned Windows user, a guide to some of the lesser-known nooks and crannies in Win8, and a reflection on what experienced Windows users will find when they start digging.

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