It's almost 6 months since Windows 8 was launched. Every man and his dog has weighed in with their thoughts on the 'Modern UI' (née the 'Metro UI'), the lack of any in-built Start button, the duality of having a desktop in conjunction with a 'Start screen', etc., so I'm about to too. Specifically, it's my thoughts on the UI that I wish to write about, because I feel that I have a better idea.
It strikes me that the Modern UI's live tile feature is ideal not only for touch-enabled interfaces, but for the way in which we interact with and use computing devices at this point in time. We use our devices to provide us with a feed of all sorts of data: weather, news summaries, tweets and social media updates, song currently playing, upcoming appointments, unread email, and so on. The live tile interface is ideal for this. So let's keep it.
However, the overwhelming majority of applications that I use run in the traditional desktop mode, so for me it doesn't make sense to boot into the live tile interface, only to immediately switch out of it. My proposal is therefore a hybrid solution,
Currently, this is my Start screen.
As you can probably discern from the dearth of apps that didn't come pre-installed, I don't often interact with this screen and it's not my default screen. I use Start8 from Stardock which allows me to boot directly into the traditional desktop. So without further ado, here is a screenshot of said desktop.
Nothing revelatory to see here. But now let me show you what I believe would provide a better experience: the hybrid tiled-desktop UI.
You see what I've done here? Very little. In fact, all I've done is take the live tiles and paste them onto my desktop. Simple. Why didn't Microsoft think of this? Why did they instead insist on splitting this across two separate user interfaces which cannot share applications?
I should also point out that the above proposal is only for non-Windows RT devices, because Windows RT devices don't actually have a desktop and consequently no taskbar.
As far as user interaction goes, the above graphic represents what the user would see when their Windows 8 device boots up: Basically the same as the current default Start screen, but with the addition of the taskbar. My suggestion would be that the tiles work just like the now-abandoned desktop widgets did for Vista and Windows 7, they'll just sit there on the desktop, updating themselves in the background, hidden behind whichever application you happen to be running. However, my suggestion would be that when the user hits the Windows key, the tiles are superimposed on top of the current application in the same way as the Start menu was traditionally overlaid.
As for Windows RT devices, I don't really have a problem with the current Start screen. On the contrary, I think it's the best interface of any modern device and operating system. All that I'd like to change is to customise the wallpaper.
So as you can see, the only difference in suggestions between Windows 8 And Windows RT is that fully-fledged Windows 8 devices have a taskbar.
Wherefore art thou, Start menu?
One last point is, as you can see from the above screenshots, I would insist on having a Start button. I set my Start menu up so that I can navigate the File Explorer like a menu from within the Start menu, and similarly the Control Panel is also set to open like a menu. This grants me far more convenient access to the items within.
Furthermore, the Windows 8 Start screen's insistence on tiling everythingas a selectable tile is overkill. I recently had to install MySQL, and when I next glanced at the Start screen I saw added around 25 different tiles, only 1 of which I will ever use.
By the time of Windows 7 the Start menu had been through several iterations and was great for allowing you to put your most-used applications on the main menu, with the option of then burrowing deeper by clicking on All Programs and navigating through directories, merging some folders and completely removing others. One of the problems with the Windows 8 Start screen is that it doesn't offer any hierarchical distinction between the main application and all the supporting applications, it indiscriminately tiles everything. And consequently the link to the developer's website, the uninstall, the PDF manual and any supporting power tools are all shown at the same level and with the same (lack of) emphasis as the main application. This is fine if you're only installing Windows 'Modern UI' apps from the Windows Marketplace, but not for desktop applications, and they simply shouldn't be there.
So bring back the Start menu. [Recent rumours suggest that the Start menu and the option to boot directly into the desktop are due to be re-introduced with the Windows 'Blue' (8.1) update.]
Microsoft have developed a novel, intuitive, fun, colourful, and thoroughly modern user interface, but by running it almost as a separate application and removing the hugely-used Start button/menu in its wake Microsoft have, judging by the number of negative articles written in this very subject, alienated a huge proportion of their user base. I completely understand why Microsoft built the UI the way they have, and they should be commended for taking such a bold step, but after living with this interface day-in, day-out for the past 5 months, it just doesn't sit comfortably with me.
However, as I've suggested above, I feel there's a solution which offers the best of both sides: it's possible to keep the live tile and the desktop/taskbar. Furthermore, a simple removal of the taskbar would result in the Windows RT user interface (I'm referring only to the appearance; behind the scenes there would of course be greater changes).