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?


67 thoughts on “How To Fix the Windows 8 Desktop”

  1. To anyone who thinks this is an argument about accepting new technology vs holding on to the old, you are wrong. This is an argument about efficient use and ease of use and as Joey said allowing the user to choose they way want to work. I would accept Windows 8 with open arms if it provided the same level of efficiency and friendliness as Windows 7. And don’t tell me you just need to get used to it because I am used to it and I am using it now. In fact, I have used it for three months…daily. I still get frustrated beyond all measure. The hot corners just seem like an afterthought because Microsoft was trying to recover some lost functionality when they removed the start button. How in the world is an invisible hotspot more efficient than clicking a button you can see and touch? How do you use hot corners with a touch screen? Again, don’t tell me to use a keyboard short cut because most people beyond tech enthusiasts don’t use Windows shortcut keys. Dear, Microsoft, fix this now. Implementing the above suggestions would appease the world (including those cleaving to WinXP and Win7) while at the same time allowing you to move into the future. Win8.1 can allow both to happen without jeopardizing the other.

  2. A bigger idea; reverse the Metro/Desktop relationship

    Let’s see; we have “modern/metro” that has to run on devices with puny hardware and screen sizes, and work with pudgy fingers. The Win9x-era performance of these devices means you can’t run a lot of apps at once, or a full suite of background services and defenses, etc.

    And you have far greater power and screen area on the desktop. So, why not treat “modern/metro” sessions as sub-systems, to be run in separate or tabbed windows within the desktop UI? Any extra overhead won’t hurt, as this stuff is already “lite”, and you can shrink the UI surface size to that which is easily moused, with pop-up text tooltips or tile images to make it easier to read.

    Imagine an UI like IE9, except each tab holds a “full-screen” modern/metro app. Less mouse travel, better visibility for multitasking.

  3. * the color of windows borders and Taskbar synced with the Metro UI. the intelligent color changing is good but its work only in desktop!
    * fully customizable windows title bar such as fonts color (its harassment when the color is set to black 🙁 )
    * in windows 8 the volume bar has play/pause/next music button that works with music app in metro. I think this is called “Media Transport controls”. I think this controller can only be programmed with metro apps, I think its very impressing if this function can be handled with windows media player (or other desktop media players) not only the metro apps.

  4. Thanks for the link to this post Joey – very interesting discussion! I really don’t understand some of the “vehement” responses to your post. Even if one disagrees, I don’t understand the need to attack and belittle…but that’s just me (we aren’t talking about life or death here – its a computer os). I have been on win 8 for a few months now. I love it, but then again I love tech and the latest and greatest. I write software for a living and if there is one thing I have learned is that there is a fine line you have to walk when upgrading or putting out new versions. On one hand, if you overhauled everything like in win8 and you gave it to a person who’s only experience with computing had been their iPhone or android phone, they would adapt quite well. On the other, if it was someone who has been working in an office and used windows for years, they would be quite lost on many of the things that they were used to being able to do. The trick is to put software out there that appeals to both groups. The “old” users would be able to pick it up and work for the most part as they always have, but the new users would be able to learn use it and appreciate the bells and whistles. Your points are good ones, if implemented, users who were long time windows users wouldn’t be as lost and be able to work as they have been and adjust to the new stuff over time. But people like me could decide to use the newer interface tools. I have worked with users of our software products for 20 years now (wow I’m old), if we change one menu button we hear about it – and not in a good way. So as we push our software further, we have to be careful and leave enough legacy stuff that we don’t lose our existing clients or make them feel as if they are needing to get retrained on everything. Several people posted comments about training…when was the last time you had to train your users on a version of windows? Uh, maybe win95? By doing some of the things you have pointed out, I suspect the learning curve would not be quite so steep.

  5. I have installed win 8 3 months ago. I have also win 7 installed (Duel boot). I haven’t used more than 3 weeks. I am completely visually challenged. So, I am a keyboard and screen reader user. No, those who are thinking I am a non tech person, they are absolutely wrong! I am a power user. I am a programmer, web designer and sound Engineer. MS has not only changed the UI (User Interface), they have changed some internal component. For example, in previous versions of windows, there was a “Mirror Display Driver”, which helps screen reader to work. But in windows 8, it is not there. Though, they have implemented an accessibility driver after getting request from the screen reader manufacturers, but it is not up to the mark. In the start screen everything is very much scattered. For example, if I install 2 programs like, “Wamp” and “Sonar 8.5 Producer”, I am getting “Uninstall Wamp” and “Uninstall Sonar” in a group, where “Wamp” and “Sonar 8.5 Producer” in another group. I have some soft wares where in the program group, there is an item called “Read Me” which provides some quick help. Can anyone suggest me a way to figure, if I find 3 “Read me” icon on my start screen, how can I know, which icon belongs to which software? As you can see the screen, it may not be a problem for you to find the right item. But remember, millions of people like me are in the world, which cannot see. Yes, I know the drag and drop feature. But due to the lack of “Mirror Display Driver”, my screen reader cannot perform drag and drop everywhere. 3rd party solutions are there. Some of you have given the example of cars several times. But an OS should not be compared with the car. It is the track where you drive your car. The individual applications may be compared with the car. For example, if I don’t like Outlook, I can use thunderbird. But if I don’t like win 8, I cannot use XP all the times, as one day MS will stop giving support (Has already stopped for XP I think). When millions of people choosing the alternatives (Like classic shell), something is surely wrong! “Desktop is one click away”–Nice indeed. I even don’t have problem to press Windows+D to go to my desktop. But what’s about the idea, “App screen is one click away?” In 2013, I cannot imagine that, I will buy a mobile, where I will have to install some codec pack to watch the videos. But I will have to imagine, I will buy an OS which belongs to Microsoft, and to play the DVDs, I will have to install a 3rd party application. It’s a big joke, isn’t it? MS never looked at accessibility solutions very much. The narrator just sucks. Can any of you tell me, if I buy a windows mobile, can I get a single screen reader (Even Narrator) to access the screen? I really don’t know. Yes, I know, Apple has one named “Voice over” which is best of all. I know, in android, there is an in built screen reader named “Talk Back”, which is pretty usable. Still there are two words in this world, “Attractive” and “Productive”. There should be a balance between them. Imagine a mobile, to shut it down you will have to go to the “settings”, then “power options”, then “turn off button”. O MG! I have just heard from you “Are you mad?” “No, I am not mad”–This was my reply to one of my friends, when I told her about the new “shut down” option in win 8 and heard the same sentence. Yes, I study a lot, and it leads me to read this blog. I even give training to others. But still, this is my conclusion; win 8 is not as “productive” as I thought. So, I am completely agree with Joey.

  6. Joey,
    Thanks for a great post I can only hope that someone with authority reads this at Microsoft. Windows 8 is the best example of group think gone awry that I have ever seen. The interface is schizophrenic at best. The new front end is Confusing and locked down for really no good reason. My son thought Metro was stupid vs Apple’s springboard and he’s 13 which is the consumer demographic Microsoft is trying to bring back to windows. I work with very large state level or higher public sector and private sector firms which I see the senior execs moving to Apple in a big way. Win8 is not slowing them down. This is another example of Balmer’s poor leadership. After 20 years of using windows I’m thinking that my next laptop will be an Apple Air. It now seems more business like than windows. I would have never thought that even 2 years ago. Don’t even get me started on the new pricing model for Office. Argh!!!

    “Adapt or die” Microsoft is trying the former but achieving the latter.

  7. Now let’s not get carried away. This article is about choice. Even though Win8 rips some of that choice away form you, going to Apple removes much much much more freedom and choice. Have you ever seen the OSX App Store? It’s pathetic. There are very few real world business applications available for Mac. I think the ipad has more useful apps than OSX does! Also have you ever tried to manage a Mac in a business? It’s fine for up to ten nodes, but once you grow larger than that it is a NIGHTMARE!!!! OSX is full of warts. My advice is to stay on Win7 for business. It’s stable, secure, fast, easy to use, everyone knows how to use it. If you have to go with Win8 then take Joey’s suggestions above and install the Pokki (or other) start menu replacement. If you want to complain, then do so to Microsoft. Send them a nastygram on twitter. Reply to them on the Windows Blog.

  8. About #5, I think you forgot to mention that should also be an option to turn suggestions off. This is the reason there is not a single chance to touch Pokki. I won a license of Start8 and I’m happy. I boot on Desktop and have disabled all new bars. Otherwise, I wouldn’t pay for it either.

    What else? Update all desktop icons to modern, new, 2D ones. General improvements on Windows Media Player. Make it modern with better compatibility of formats, subtitles etc.

  9. Joey,
    I am not quite a power user, but certainly not a dummy, I offered to set up a friend’s laptop last night, it took me 20 minutes to find out how to switch it off!! and I never found the “correct” way!

  10. John-
    There is not one “Correct” way to shut down. Just find what works best for you. What I have done is to assign the power button on my laptop (and docking station) to turn off the computer. Now, I simply the hit power button once and it gracefully shuts down. With a touch screen, it is much easier to shutdown Win8 than with a mouse.

  11. Joey, I’m sure you’ve seen all new news about the start button coming back in 8.1. I know you’re a corporate guy and have users to look out for, and so am I, so I want to personally thank you for making a loud stand regarding the usability problems. It’s guys like you who made Microsoft pay attention. I don’t think you’re getting everything you want, but you’re getting part of it. Congrats!!

  12. Scott, I believe every, well almost every, OS has a place and Linux doesn’t belong on the desktop of the general user. I tried running Linux as my primary OS on multiple occasions and eventually found my way back to Windows every time. I am more than technically proficient and actually learned to program on Unix before I even owned a Windows PC. For years I kept telling people that Linux would mature and it would gain traction on the desktop. I was wrong, way wrong. In fact, I think it has less than 1% market share on the desktop. Linux’s strength is in the backoffice as a replacement for expensive proprietary Unix systems like AIX, Solaris, and HP-UX. Good luck with your Linux experiment.

  13. Frankwick, Thanks for the note. I am glad there will be a start button but I still think they will half-heart the approach and not give traditional users a traditional start menu. I think the start button is going o take users to the new UI. There will always be 3rd party apps like Pokki and Start8 to give people the choice they want. The 3rd party app that gives must of what I suggest in my original blog post is Modern Mix by Stardock. It allows Metro apps on the desktop – great idea!

  14. To all of the MS apologists out there:

    Companies are not buying 8 … they do not want to spend a bunch of money retraining employees. Until MS reverses the cellphone interface kiddies’ enthusiasms, stops forcing cube dwellers to navigate around the MS company store, and allows IT departments to roll out PCs with a familiar interface, Windows 8 will continue to be a lead balloon.

    Sorry if this makes the wiz-kids in the crowd butthurt, but that is the way it is.

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