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.