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Using Windows 8 and the Metro Interface

Metro: entertainment or efficiency?

This clever but somewhat cumbersome set of search tools is the perfect example of the current state of the Windows 8 interface and the Metro-style Start screen, both of which are obviously works in progress.

The Start screen is lively and up-to-date, appealing and modern-looking. If you’re trying to find a file, setting or desktop app you rarely use, that can easily turn into busy and distracting. There’s a rich set of search tools in Windows 8, with different ways to get what you want. That can be confusing when you’re trying to remember which of the slightly different tools you want. Knowing that you have richer options isn’t always a comfort when you’re trying to get something simple done and you feel like you’re jumping through hoops.  And because desktop apps like Outlook can’t expose their search tools the way Metro apps can, you can no longer search email and files at the same time. 

Searching for files no longer finds emails, and there’s no preview of your files in Metro either.

Searching for files no longer finds emails, and there’s no preview of your files in Metro either.

Notifications are another example. There are some notifications you don’t want to miss. If you’re so low on power that your PC is about to turn off, you want to know so you have the chance to save your work. If your PC needs to restart, you don’t want a tiny dialog in the corner of the screen that you could accept by accident if it grabs the focus while you’re typing. Clean and simple is good, but the new Windows 8 notifications for things like low power might be too obvious. They’re full screen, bright green and you can’t do anything else until you click a button in them.

You can’t miss the low power notification and you can’t do anything until you click Close.

You can’t miss the low power notification and you can’t do anything until you click Close.

There are already several Metro-style dialogs that appear inside the desktop and by release we expect the design to evolve and have a more unified look. We don’t know what the final design will look like and we know many things will change, including the green background – which you will be able to customize. The way you work with Windows will still involve something of a jump as you move between the Start screen and the Metro-style tools like charms and search on the one hand, and the desktop and desktop apps on the other, because Windows 8 treats them differently.

These interface changes are trying to give you ways to do several fundamentally different things. To skim new information quickly, to find just the app or file you want from dozens or hundreds of alternatives, to explore resources inside many different applications and to work in ways that marry touch, pen, muse and keyboard. That’s hugely ambitious but at this stage there are too many rough edges and overlapping options to call it completely successful. You can learn the tricks to work reasonably efficiently with Metro. If you don’t, expect to find it frustrating.