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.

7 comments
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.