How To Fix the Windows 8 Desktop

preface: A follow-up to this article has been published outlining the improvements in Desktop mode from Win8 to Win8.1 Check it out:

This is not a commentary on the new Windows immersive modern UI.  This is a note (perhaps a prayer list) of what Microsoft could EASILY do to make the desktop usable again for corporate users such as myself and those who do not have a touch screen (you know, 99% of the installed base). I did a non-touch, non-guided focus group with a few of my 6,000 users.  The results were disastrous.

A New Windows Chief

Now that Steven Sinofsky is out as Windows Head Honcho, Julie Larson-Green and Tami Reller have taken over.  We all know Sinofsky is as stubborn as he is smart. That combination led to some crazy decisions with Windows 8, and is really hurting adoption at home and in the workplace. Even tough I have Win8 at home, I will not be deploying Win8 to my 6,000 users until these usability issues are addressed.  JLG & Tami can step in and save Windows and save face without sacrificing all the work and Steve’s brilliant future visioning with relative ease.

So What’s the Problem with Win8?

As much as I enjoy Win8 on touch devices (and it is really the foundation to a fantastic experience), it is equally frustrating with a mouse and keyboard. I truly LOVE and HATE this operating system at the same time.  I’m not alone in this complaint. The overwhelming point of contention worldwide is the nearly absurd lack of usability with non-touch devices.  Ask any non-touch user about simple tasks like a simple shutdown. The culprit is twofold:  The removal of the traditional start button and the inability to boot directly to the desktop.  Windows has always been about choice – sometimes absurd level of choice for the end user. With Win8 that’s not the case.  You boot to the new UI whether you want to or not.  Thankfully, several software companies have recognized the huge need here and stepped in with their own quality solutions. Check out Pokki’s start menu (free), Star Dock’s Start8 ($4.99), and ClassicShell (free).  All of these options give you a start menu and allow you to boot to the desktop. I’m running the free Pokki add-on now and it is very simple to install and use.  I actually prefer the look of Start8 much better but I don’t want to pay the $4.99. The problem with these solutions is that they are add-ons known only to the technical world. What’s Grandma to do when she fires up her new PC? I can’t overstate what a huge issue this – just do some reading and you will find many complaints about the same topic.  Each of the start menu replacements all have seen downloads in the millions. Just think of the millions of eyeballs that are looking at the Pokki App Store everyday instead of using a native Windows 8 feature.

Just think of the millions of eyeballs that are looking at the Pokki App Store everyday instead of using a native Windows 8 feature.

Why Did This Happen?

So why did Sinofsky make these asinine changes?  They haven’t stated publicly, but the general consensus is that they want to drive as much eyeballs and revenue through the Windows Store as possible.  This strategy is backfiring.  By forcing people away from the desktop, sales are not what they should be, and there are now significantly fewer visits to the Windows Store than they had projected.

How can Microsoft Fix the Windows 8 Desktop?

Here’s how JLG & Tami can throw the world a bone, do damage control, without admitting a few of Sinofsky’s decisions were completely disastrous.  Before Windows Blue or 8.1 or whatever is released, the Windows team needs to release a “desktop enhancement pack.” This actually needs to happen VERY soon.  The pack will replace lost functionality and give us new features.  At a minimum, here’s what it needs to include:

  1. A traditional start button and menu that has a new Win8 look. We don’t need Aero just a clean, very functional start menu. They can even put a permanent icon, that’s really huge, pointing us to the new UI.
  2. An option to boot to the desktop or the new UI.  Give us the choice.  On my touch devices I will default to the new UI.  On my non-touch PCs, I will boot to the desktop.
  3. A way to dock the trash can to the task bar. I wish I could put a large trash icon by the clock somewhere so it doesn’t get buried under a pile of open windows. This is a total usability feature for your techno-challenged fiends and relatives.
  4. Allow pinning of the immersive (Metro) apps to the Win8 desktop or taskbar. This is actually a request of a proficient, but non-technical family member.  I set up the mail app for her business account but upon booting she immediately goes to the desktop.  The only reason she goes Metro is to get to the mail app.  If she could pin it to the desktop then she could live in the desktop all day.  I looked around and saw some solutions for metro app pinning but they only worked in the betas. Furthermore, I would like for the metro apps to remember their last position.  If it was pinned in the narrow format on the left, then it should be there next time I open it. And before you claim that desktop and metro apps don’t work well together, you can easily snap the desk side-by-side with any metro app today.
  5. An icon for the Windows store could be placed on the start menu and on the desktop.  This would alleviate fears of losing visibility to the revenue generating Windows Store. Put it next to the start button so it gets accidentally clicked! Keep in mind I see the Pokki start menu offering me app suggestions every time I click on their start menu replacement .  Too bad this isn’t the Windows Store offering suggestions.
  6. The Skydrive desktop app needs to be pre-installed. The Metro version is already pre-installed.
  7. Add an option to install Media Center (for free). Media Center had the best DVR I have ever used.  It was so simply and clean before Win8 made clean cool.  Too bad no one really knew about it.
  8. Add an option to install a DVD codec (for free). In case you didn’t know, Win8 cannot play a DVD unless your manufacturer installs the proper codec themselves.  You read that right, Win8 cannot play a DVD.
  9. With today’s media pervasiveness it’s crazy there is no built in image resizer.  Bring back this old Image Resizer PowerToy.
  10. Why can’t we use the Win8 Share Charm to share from the desktop? It makes perfect sense to use this charm to share photos, URLs, etc.  Try it and you’ll get a “Nothing can be shared from the desktop” message.

What else would you include in the DESKTOP enhancement pack?