Windows Metro Apps on the Desktop: Thanks, but No Thanks

You gotta keep 'em separated.

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Microsoft, TIME Tech Illustration

A funny thing happens whenever I use my Surface Pro 2 for work. Even though the 10-inch screen and tiny Type Cover trackpad are less comfortable to work with than my dual-monitor Windows 7 desktop, I’m better at tuning out distractions and being more productive when I’m forced to use Windows 8.1 and its full-screen apps.

So I’m a bit distressed with the idea that Microsoft might bring these “Metro” or modern apps to the traditional desktop in a future version of Windows. According to leaked screenshots posted by WZor (via The Verge), an update to Windows 8.1 will let users pin modern apps to the desktop taskbar. Presumably that means you could launch them without going back to the Start screen.

If Microsoft were to stop there, it’d be okay. But according to Paul Thurrott, Windows 9 will reportedly go even further, letting users run Metro apps in floating windows like any other desktop program. This seems like a mistake, as it would introduce more complexity to Windows without solving any real problems.

To me, the best thing about Metro apps is that they aren’t part of the traditional Windows desktop. When you launch a Metro app, it fills the entire screen, so that all the usual Windows clutter goes away. If you want to switch apps, you must either open the recent apps list or hit the Windows button to go back to the Start screen.

Desktop diehards might loathe the added friction, but for me, effortless multitasking isn’t always good for productivity. When I’m on my Windows 7 desktop PC, with a bunch of open browser windows and programs in plain sight, I often give in to temptation. It’s too easy to check on Twitter, deal with incoming e-mails or glance at HipChat instead of focusing on my work. The added friction in modern Windows apps helps make up for my lack of willpower.

For actual multitasking–by that, I mean using several programs at once to accomplish a single job–Windows 8.1 already has a better solution in Snap, which lets you fill the screen with multiple apps running side-by-side. With Snap, you don’t have to constantly juggle the size and position of each app to get them looking right. You just drag your apps onto the screen, and the content formats itself automatically.

Putting Metro apps into their own little windows would be a step backwards. It would create more work, either for developers to make sure their apps look okay in any window size, or for users to drag and resize each window into a workable format. At a time when computers are getting simpler to use, Windows shouldn’t be headed in the opposite direction.

To be clear, I sympathize with users who love the desktop and view the modern Windows interface as a distraction. But if anything, Microsoft should be making it easier for these users to stay in the desktop and keep Metro at a distance–say, by bringing back a pop-up Start menu. Putting Metro apps on the desktop doesn’t help; it just takes away from what makes these apps appealing in the first place.

13 comments
awesomesims22
awesomesims22

Thank you for this post. I have an ASUS Transformer Book T100-TA and I am quite happy with Windows 8.1 (Windows 8 was a train wreck, but 8.1 fixed many problems). The proposed Windows 9 (even with the pop-up Start menu) would be worse than 8.1 and would solve nothing. Snap allows the two interfaces to come together without being intrusive, whereas putting modern apps on the desktop would make my 2-in-1 useless. The Metro interface is not there for those non-touch devices. If you want a non-touch computer, buy Windows 7 and stop complaining. Windows 8 and 8.1 were built for those like me who have both a tablet and laptop in one. Putting the Metro apps on the desktop would make using my computer as a tablet impossible and would make all Surface and other touch devices worthless. The longed-for Windows 9 would be worthless for all touch devices. I don't want my 2-in-1 made useless. Be careful what you wish for, 8 haters, because you'll get it.

nooneyouknow79
nooneyouknow79

Could not disagree more.  Metro was a train wreck and Microsoft is doing an about-face for a reason. 


This issue is befitting being filed under the "The right tool for the job" category.  Metro is a failure because you can't be all things to all people just as one tool is not the right tool for every job. A one-size fits all interface is a farce.  Just as the original Windows Mobile 5 / 6 phones (like the HTC Herald / T-Mobile Wing) were failures from a functionality standpoint because a desktop OS UI didn't play well on a phone; a phone OS doesn't fulfill the desktop requirements.


Metro is good on a phone, you seem to love it on your slate \ it does a piss poor job fulfilling my needs, and it is a efficiencies killer on a PC when a proper power user or business personnel is at the helm.  If someone wants a toy incapable of running more than a single app at a time; buy an iPad.  Those looking for a slate form factor PC for a work tool, they'll expect a PC to function as we have come to understand how they should.  Don't take away our ability to govern our UI and maximize the OS's capabilities. Your predilection to running in full screen mode is fine however its a problem when that preferences is forced on everyone else.  Why would anyone want to be forced into Maximize only when we pre-Windows 8 we had a multiplicity of other options?

TonyStone
TonyStone

Metro is awful.  I don't know too many people who are happy with Microsoft.  I am amazed at how many people I personally know that are making the move to Linux alternatives.  Ubuntu is making the same mistake too with Unity.  This is what happens when you get college dweebs in charge of projects.

alpha.ghetti
alpha.ghetti

I loved Metro when I first started using it. Now I'm three months in and the only app that has permitted me to continue using Metro apps is Stardock's Modern Mix since I can have them living side-by-side with the desktop apps. And, the trial has run out and I'm no longer even using that and, to be honest, I'm not missing its functionality either.


For me  Metro is a lost cause. Not because I hate it (on the contrary, I do like it). But because it's irrelevant and doesn't work.


My review of Metro is perhaps the most damning of all. I'm not a Metro hater. I even like the simplicity it represents. But, I see no POINT to it.


Now with booting straight to the desktop and the re-appearance of a half-baked Start menu I only pop into Metro to launch the weather application and check on the obscure Hotmail accounts that I never checked before I upgraded to Windows 8. I honestly can't think of a single thing that I needed Metro for this month!!!


PS Snap is AWFUL. It uses a thin vertical slice to place an app in. Huh? What genius thought that was a good idea. It's downright terrible, both in execution and in principle.


I discovered an app called AquaSnap. Now THAT is a good window manager. You can throw your windows into quadrants (no halves but quadrants). Four windows on a screen is feasible. With Snap four windows is an exercise in futility. I'm really hoping that Windows incorporates that feature into its next update!!!


But, lamenting the loss of Metro is pointless. Microsoft has already acknowledged that Metro on computers is a failure (and, on the tablets it's limping to a pretty irrelevant third place) and that they have some serious work ahead if they are to convince business to consider migrating away from the now obsolete (BUT PREFERRED OVER WINDOWS 8) XP and the rapidly ageing Windows 7.

coolmusic
coolmusic

Nope.  I don't want to see the metro apps...ever again!  I use software at work that requires me to effortlessly switch from program to program using both mouse and keyboard.  A touch UI would be extremely counter-productive for me.  I have Windows 8 at home (hate it) and fail to see where there is any advantage whatsoever; if this OS was on a tablet then I could understand; but at this time a tablet is still just a toy or at best an "interesting gadget."  


The only way Microsoft can win me back is if they were to give me the option to TOGGLE between the metro screen or permanently stay on the desktop where I belong.  If I live to be 100 and never see the metro screen again I will die happy.


WINDOWS 8 = NEW COKE.  A FAILURE in any capacity!!!

robthablob
robthablob

Personally I love this idea - but want them to go further. Metro app's enable access to a WPF-like layout model from C++ applications, and I'd love to use this, but cannot do so with the restrictions that apply to Metro apps (distribution via Windows Marketplace etc.). I just want them to make these facilities available to desktop app's too, and think that as long as these app's can run full screen it should be the best of all worlds - Jared's model should still work, I can also run app's on the desktop if I prefer (personally I do). As a developer, I can then target the desktop or modern UI but use a consistent programming model for all environments.


I really don't like restrictions that make (some) sense in a tablet/phone O/S being applied to the desktop. So much so that I won't write app's targeting the modern UI, even though I like the programming model. I don't like the idea of PCs becoming "appliances" and restricting the ways I can use them. If things persist further in this direction then, in spite of over 20 years as a Windows developer, I will strongly be considering changing platform. I've started getting more familiar with the Linux environment as a precaution, because Microsoft don't seem to understand their real strengths at present.

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

Um, Jared correct me if I'm wrong, but do any of these changes impede you from using Windows as you do today? If not why are you complaining about things that don't affect you?

DavidNation
DavidNation

Microsoft just isn't getting the message..WE DON'T WANT ANY METRO..is that to hard. All they are going to do is add more metro crap people wake up..they are not listening to US..it is going to be windows their way..not ours

alpha.ghetti
alpha.ghetti

@coolmusic  Windows 8 is pretty good. But, they should've looked to Apple for inspiration.


Apple has had a Metro-style launcher on Mac OS X for a while now and it's a functional one. It lives as a temporary layer on top of the desktop fired up when the user wants an alternate way of launching an app.


That's what Metro should've been. Not this omni-present half-baked solution looking for a problem. Tablets and small screens (small laptops) are OK with Metro but it simply doesn't work on larger screens!


Plus, Microsoft so crippled Metro that it's useless. The search feature is downright terrible compared to Windows 7 (and both pale when compared with command-space on Mac OS X). I still haven't found an adequate replacement for that. 


I must admit that I am tempted to upgrade to Windows 7 again. Windows 8 is stable and it does offer access to Metro app store but that's really it. It doesn't offer me anything that Windows 7 doesn't, and, at least Windows 7 has a functioning Start menu and a working search feature.

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@worleyeoe Hard to say until we know exactly what this looks like. Maybe it's something I'll have to deal with whenever I'm trying to open a Metro app. Or maybe it's an extra consideration for app developers that could make Metro app development even less appealing than it already is. We can only speculate for now. In the meantime, I'm just not crazy about the idea of piling on features that are of little use. Implementing this feature may be taking away resources that could be better spent elsewhere. Better to focus, I think.

awesomesims22
awesomesims22

@DavidNation You do realize that many people actually like Metro, right? Microsoft was trying for a big push into a new age - the age of the tablet. A 2-in-1 such as mine is perfect for Windows 8.1 and I could not be happier with the execution. Let me guess: you have a non-touch computer and are trying to get used to Windows 8 with that. I must say that I would never in a million years buy a desktop computer with Windows 8.1 (without a touch-screen monitor, that is), but your wishes for Windows are to go back to the days of NT when the monitor was bigger than a person's head. Just because you don't like it and because there are articles complaining about it. If you'll notice, nearly all of the people writing those articles have non-touch computers. Try a new touch computer instead. Maybe then you'll stop trying to make my perfectly good computer obsolete.

nooneyouknow79
nooneyouknow79

@alpha.ghetti @coolmusic 


Windows 8 is Good?  What OS have you been using?  Windows 8 is history repeating itself. 


Windows 8 is a major misstep just like Windows Vista was. 
Windows 8.1 is the attempt to correct course after a monumental mistakes just like Microsoft did with Windows Vista SP1.


The reality is once product perception is formed and a reputation soiled; it sticks just like the stigmas associated with Lorena Bobbitt, Monica Lewinsky, Rod Blagojevich, and Obamacare.  And with a shelf life of 2 to 5 years, there is insufficent time for tides to turn.  Microsoft saw this first had via the Window Mojave Experiment. 


Though people today like to think of themselves as free thinkers more than not are followers.  Publicized opinions get repeated like gossip.  Few take the time or excert the effort to amass their own finds based first hand experience.  Those not familiar, Vista at RTM was dismal.  By the GA of Vista SP1, the product's issues had largely been quelled.  Yet, The public impression of the product never improved.  People were not deciding for themselves.  Rather they were regurgitating what they heard.  To address this phenomenon Microsoft kicked off the Window Mojave Experiment PR campaign to to solicit consumer feedback away from the Vista Product stigma.  The participants in the experiment were asked about their perceptions of Windows Vista; with the average rating of "Vista" being 4.4 on a scale to 10.  Participants were then shown a ten minute demo of Microsoft's "next OS," codenamed "Mojave".  The average rating for the "Mojave" OS was 8.5 out of 10.  After the experiment was over, it was revealed to the participants that "Mojave" was actually Windows Vista with a rebranded as Mojave so it could get a far shake.  The official goal of the Mojave Experiment was to get consumers to "decide for themselves" rather than accept the commonly held negative perceptions of Windows Vista. 


Despite the positive unbiased feedback of the platform, public perception was not widely restored until the OS (largely the same) was branded as Windows 7.


In light of that, get the design teams working on the Windows 9 Logo mock-ups.

RC_Times
RC_Times

@nooneyouknow79


I don't think it's fair to say Windows 7 was basically Vista rebranded. It really felt like another operating system on multiple levels, including the fact that it was more responsive and felt less bloated.


It is fair to say windows 7 was helped by the fact that driver incompatibility had become much less of an issue, due to the fact that where windows xp drivers needed a complete rewrite for vista, vista drivers often did work with windows 7.