Windows 8 Start Screen – Something’s Missing Here

After about 2 weeks of installing software on the Windows 8 laptop, this was what my start screen looks like.

Never mind that in the picture the text is a bit too small to read.  My idea actually, you can’t blame Microsoft for that. 

I’m doing that for a point.

You see, we have been trained to look at that skyscraper of program names that are groups of icons and more names to find our programs.  If you had someone show you how, you even know that you can pin the ones you like the most to the top of your Start menu.  That has been true at least since Windows XP, and I only personally started using the Pin To Task Bar or Pin To Start Menu a couple years ago when I got my Windows 7 laptop.

It made it quite a lot easier.

With Windows 8 the rules all changed.  You now have a screen.   When you hit your windows key, the monitor shifts to this screen from your desktop or your app.  It does so a bit dizzily as if you are physically turning the monitor to look at the back of it where, surprise! there is your start screen.  

Eye candy aside, the presentation is again geared for a tablet.  What you are seeing is my very own start screen.  Big chocolate colored rectangles represent those programs I installed, the other pastel colored rectangles are those that Microsoft put there.  Color is a visual clue.

The rectangle for the desktop is a representation of the background of your desktop all shrunk down.  Makes some sense to do it that way because most of us who will take the time to add your own picture to the desktop will want to see it some time, even if it’s only there since we’ve got too much work on top.

But that raises the question, where is all my “stuff”?

That’s just it, the Start screen only has those icons that you put there when you added the program.  Not every program will add an icon to it, so you’ll be lost. 

What you have to do is search for your programs.

First you scroll to the right.   Since everything is so blasted big, you are scrolling… and scrolling… and scrolling until you hit the end of the screen.  You might be confused because the program may not in fact be there. 

Now what to do?   Yes, you have to search for it.

But windows doesn’t make it readily apparent how you do it… the combination Win plus the Q key will work and has worked for a couple of versions back.   With all this nonsensical gigantic icon crap going on, there really should be an icon there with a magnifying glass saying “Find my Stuff”.

Ok, so that not withstanding, here is what you get in Windows 8 when you do the search by hitting Win + Q:

Better get used to seeing this screen.  While most folks use only a few programs in the course of a day, this is geared to your using “Apps”.  When you find the app you want, right click on it and add it to your start screen to save your sanity by clicking on the “Pin to Start” button.

By going through all these steps that should have been done for you, you’ll have the ability to use the app.  It may be in the desktop which is not where Microsoft wants you to run your programs, er, sorry… Apps now.  No, that’s a very different space. 

You see Desktop is now intended to be the place where only the grumpy old programs run that don’t look like your New And Shiny Apps.  They don’t really want you in the Desktop any more.   Microsoft are betting the bank on converting your desktop to a big old Tablet computer.

The biggest problem I have with Apps are that they are full screen.   Just like your Android Tablet or iPad.   Great.  That will work for some folks, but if you use a computer professionally, that gets old very fast.   Sure the Apps are intended to give you the same functionality that a windowed app would, but these new things take up the entire screen.

That works great if you’re using a Surface Tablet.  That works terribly if you are on a laptop.  

Think about how you actually WORK on a PC.  We’re not talking about playing a game like Solitaire.  In fact, Solitaire was not installed on my Windows 8 install, I would have to add it at their App Store.  Just so Microsoft would be watching over you when you get your new apps and know what you are doing…. just like Google and Apple do every time you run your app there.

I don’t really like that, it’s decidedly creepy.  I REALLY don’t like that on the desktop.

So now you sit down and find your copy of Microsoft Word and Excel, and normally I start three Excel windows, one Word window, and Firefox every time I start the computer.  Since the new idea is to go full screen, what do you do if you want to refer between two of those windows?  Better get used to full screen app flipping and being much less effective at your job because now Word and Excel will be (eventually) full screen apps.

Despite the fact that the latest version of Microsoft Office doesn’t really work well with being an App.

You get a lot of visual clues if you run a windowed operating system in a windowed mode.   Some folks will use their browser full screen, and if that is their choice, my recommendation is to be happy with Windows 8 or a Surface tablet.   Everything will look familiar and fairly new.

If you find this app flipping confusing and wonder why you can’t keep a calculator app on your desktop visible when you’re trying to get back to Word… you will find yourself frustrated beyond words with Windows 8.

Frankly they broke the way you will work.

You see, while the Desktop is in its own little penalty box of Desktop Land, all the Apps are in their own place of App Land.  You’ll have to find the little hot corner (Upper Left) and hope you have the mouse cursor jammed up there long enough to see the little icon fly out so you can pick your app.  

All of this is very clumsy on the desktop where you’re used to having precise control over your mouse and selecting things as small as an individual dot.   It has to be because on a tablet there is no mouse, there is only your finger.  Some of us have very large fingers indeed, and Microsoft has done a fairly good job of accommodating that, but if you are not using that touch screen you’ll find yourself scratching your head and thinking what were they drinking or smoking that day when they decided to go with this way of doing things.

In my case, I’m looking forward to my next weekend project – getting rid of Windows 8.  It’s terrible.  At least Windows Vista was useable!

Looking Forward to Microsoft Surface with Windows 8

Recently, Microsoft brought out their “beta” version of Windows 8 for all to see.  You can download a test copy if you want to play around with it.  I didn’t link that purposely here because I know I would and someone would be thinking they’re getting a free upgrade – you aren’t, they’re timed to die shortly after the next version of Windows comes out and you’d just blame me.   Unless you have a spare computer around you may want to hold off.

Microsoft also showed off their “Alpha” hardware that will run it.   You see we’re in for a choice now.  That always makes things interesting.  I’d give you a direct Microsoft link but they’re changing things around for their next big thing.  You can see pictures of the hardware here at this blog posting on Tech Crunch.

What’s happening is that the move into the “Post PC Era” is fully underway.  There will always be people who demand the fastest hardware and the shiniest boxes.  Most of the people who I speak with don’t need that.  In fact, I’m writing this on my go-to PC which is a 2 year old laptop that was lovingly upgraded with as much memory as it will take when it was on sale.  When asked “Bill, what kind of PC do I need”, most folks would do very well with an iPad or just a refresh on their older machines.

But boy do those new machines look great.

You see we’re all being trained to want a tablet machine to play with, a home computer to sit in the corner, and far too many people are walking into street light poles while they’re texting on their iPhones and looking for current conditions.   We’re always on and always looking for things on our teeny little phone screens.

Not necessarily a bad thing, but if someone pulls out a phone while they’re talking to me, I’ll find a reason to end the conversation.

On the other hand, the way we use our smartphones are finally influencing the way we’re using our home computer.  We are beginning to ask the question “Why can’t I do that on Windows”.   After all, Microsoft still owns the desktop despite that we can have an Android Tablet, iPhone running iOS, and a Windows machine as our “daily driver”.

Microsoft will be answering that, and the hardware is interesting that they’re using to do so.  Basically it’s the same hardware as an Android Tablet under the hood but it comes with a really slick keyboard that is detachable.  They realized that there’s a very strong market for covers and detachable keyboards for the iPad, so if you can’t beat them, join them.   It looks just like I would expect it to for something that is supposed to get you to the next step past the iPad. 

That keyboard will talk to the new Surface tablet using Bluetooth and can be left behind if you want to hunt and peck on the tablet’s glass screen.  I’ve never quite gotten used to that, it always feels numb to this touch typist so that candy colored keyboard will be welcome.

The things you create on your tablet will be able to be used on your other computers since it will come equipped with an SD chip – think teeny little postage stamp sized memory stick.  So why lug a big heavy laptop or tether to a desktop machine?

Power mostly.  The Surface Tablets will be running low power ARM chips, just like an iPad or Android tablet.   Those chips will let you work almost all day on a charge, but they are a little short winded when it comes to the kind of things that Windows does well like running many programs at once.  Most folks won’t mind of course, power users will.

On the other hand, all your familiar desktop/laptop programs will make it there since you’ll be running “Real Windows” on a tablet.  Microsoft Office, standard browsers, and all the games we’ve come used to will run on that 10 inch screen on a light computer that can go anywhere.

It’s all about rightsizing your computing needs.  After all, how many homes really NEED that $2000 beast of a Desktop computer when all you’re doing is surfing.  I can do that quite well on a 10 year old laptop running an old copy of Windows XP or Linux.  If you really do need all that horsepower, it’s gotten pretty cheap in comparison to those old beasty Desktops that I built over the years when I thought nothing of spending $1000 to get a machine that would cost twice that “back in the day”.

There are two things I don’t care for in the whole Tablet marketing.

1) You’re locked in.  You can’t upgrade.  You may be limited to the current operating system you buy it with.  You may not be able to use it once the parent company decides they aren’t supporting it any longer.

2) They’re designed to be disposable.   That is why you get Apple Care on your iPad.  Hello Mr Genius, it doesn’t hold a charge, fix it.  Or something similar.  The latest Mac Books are glued together and that means that the parts are not recyclable nor reparable.   It’s a trend that will continue because it means that you’re locked into their production cycle.

I expect that those two things will never change since they’re in the “vendor’s” best interests to keep things the way they are.  After all, if it is a problem, I can spend the same money that I would on an iPad and get one very powerful laptop. 

You’re making a choice between portability and power and for once you actually do have that choice.

Playing with Microsoft Surface Globe

If you want to show off, and you have a tablet computer running Windows 7, and you can connect it up to a big screen, Microsoft Surface Globe is how to do it.

I do demos of software, videos, websites, and graphics here in my house.  With my little 12 inch “convertible tablet”, it’s fairly easy to do.   Turn on the TV, wait for it to come on to being a TV instead of “starting up”.  Then plug in the HDMI cable to the spare port on the set and my laptop and most of the time they’ll just “come on”.  I’ll see my laptop in full screen on the TV, in this case it’s 46 inches.

Without getting into the technical stuff behind the scenes, today’s cheaper TV sets blow away the best of the old school boat anchor computer monitors that we used to be amazed at.  I managed to have a 21 inch thing that made the desktop bow downward and still didn’t have the resolution of the laptop I have here.  Now a “consumer good” that is “off the shelf” will cost less than that old thing did and just work better.

Plus I could hang it on the wall if I didn’t get static from people about wanting to do that.

(Yeah, yeah, yeah) You Know Who You Are.

But I’m getting away from this software and showing off. 

See Microsoft has been working on bringing the whole iPad and Android tablet experience to the desktop computer and laptop computer scene for quite a while, but it never really gelled.  Windows 7 on a tablet is usable, but if you have a keyboard attached, the touchscreen will leave you hamstrung.  Sure you can use a stylus to write, touch something to select it, or even have an onscreen keyboard but you’re left feeling like you’re talking to a “C-” student.  Ok, you can do better, now come back when you’ve tried again.

Surface Globe is one thing that shows the promise of the technology that they’re working on. 

Instead of using your mouse on a tablet computer or the track pad on this HP Touchsmart tm2 that is truly abysmal, you can use the fingers you were born with and leave wonderful fingerprints on your laptop screen.   Hooked up to my TV set I can get fully immersed in the maps that I used to read as a kid when I was bored.  Just wash your hands first.

I’ll dig deeper into that link later.  It looks like I may be able to do some upgrades…

Completely familiar gestures to the iPad user and Android Tablet folks, you can pull and stretch the map like you’re kneading dough and drill down to where you want to see.  The one thing I wish it had was street view.  That’s a Google Earth thing since they sent the cars around and Microsoft didn’t.  

Remember, Surface Globe is a “Proof of Concept” app.  It works incredibly well, I’m a fan, but there are things that you can’t do with it that other software can let you do. 

Trying to use Google Earth like you would on an iPad didn’t work on the version I have on this machine.  It’s older, and perhaps I should check into an upgrade, but for now, it’s useful the way I use it. 

Since I’m adding links to this article for my own memory – here’s the download link for Earth.  Just remember you don’t need Chrome and to click on the Advanced Setup.  When there on that web page, click “off” the boxes that say allow Google to automatically upgrade since you don’t want that extra spyware on your computer.

All of this has me looking forward to Windows 8.  Sure, my machine works incredibly well on Windows 7.  It has been rock solid and stable.  If there have been problems with the laptop it is from manufacture (the trackpad is terrible) and from applications that just go mental.   We’ve all got stories like that.

Oh and removing all that crapware like Norton and going with Microsoft Security Essentials certainly helped here. 

I’m skeptical about the whole “Metro” look and feel.  Sure, Apple would sue them if they dared to come too close to their iPad iOS interface.  Then again, Xerox was the one who invented the whole icon on computer way of doing things with a Graphical User Interface so it really is revisionist in my eyes for Apple to claim it’s theirs. 

In trying not to look like the iPad, Windows treads carefully with Metro.  Things look blocky and all the pictures I’ve seen of Metro look like they were built in a rush.  Squares and Rectangles in rigid rows done with primary colors look primitive.   I’m all about the way things work, but they could have done a little more work with that “look and feel”. 

There’s so much promise in Surface that Windows 8 will be something I’ll get very quickly on release.  I’m trying to figure out now how I can get the beta installed on this machine and run it beside my current Windows 7.

Until I figure all that out, I’ll be flying around the world kneading my way through maps.  I’ll also be looking forward to the next version and if it is compatible.

Now that I have Google Earth’s latest version here, I’ll have to play around with that.   Mrs Dog has been taking me around for some rather odd walks lately