Personal verdict: Windows 8 start screen still irrelevant outside of touchscreen devices

I gave it a chance, I really did. But a month of using Windows 8 on my laptop only confirmed my initial hypothesis: if your primary input consists of the mouse-keyboard combo, the new start screen won’t do much for you. A keystroke launcher that builds on your own summoning patterns — such as Launchy — still trumps any painstakingly zoned city of tiles, whatever the eye candy.

See, when I open my laptop, it’s not like I pause to survey my available applications, looking for something to do. Often, I already know what I’m going to do, and the fastest way to go about it is to 1) hit ALT + Spacebar, 2) let Launchy autocomplete my request based on what I’ve pulled up in the past, and 3) launch the program. It takes seconds. Launchy is amazing like that: it integrates itself to whatever you’re already doing, performs that one essential thing really well, and doesn’t get in the way. The Windows 8 start screen? Not so much.

Even the eye candy factor is debatable. There is a glaring visual inconsistency between app tiles and those that you generate when you install a program. You can fix this through a third-party tool, but why bother? Even when you’re just merrily sidescrolling through your array of apps, the fundamental assumption behind the interface is flawed: that laying it all out with minimal structure, like picture frames on a wall, makes more sense than, I dunno, presenting meaningful hierarchies you can expand and collapse at will (which is not necessarily what the old start menu did, but is at least closer to that end). And hey, let’s take up the whole bleeding screen while we’re at it; it’s not like the user is doing anything else that she might want to keep in view.

Actual program group
Actual program group from my own start screen

These days, I only ever encounter the start screen when I fail to press the second part of a keyboard shortcut in time (e.g., Windows + D where I forget the D), or when I switch accounts. It’s awkward and perfunctory, like being polite to an ex you’ve somehow run into at the local supermarket. It’s also a shame, because the start screen is the most accessible thing on the freaking keyboard, having its own freaking key and all.

Other Windows 8 “improvements” I’ve taken to ignoring include:

  • Touchpad gestures, which were neither consistent nor particularly enabling;
  • The Charm Bar, which was, again, made useless by Launchy;
  • Live tiles, with the exception of the calendar tile, because (gasp) I don’t actually need to be appraised of What’s Happening Out There all the time; and
  • Metro apps, which did not actually improve the experience beyond a few superficial transition effects, or otherwise loaded too slow (I’m looking at you, Skype).

I don’t object to learning my way around new systems, but when the system tries to breed touchscreen behaviors on a platform that isn’t built for it? Wala na. Lokohan na ito.  I’m the one who should be having an identity crisis, not my computer.

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One thought on “Personal verdict: Windows 8 start screen still irrelevant outside of touchscreen devices”

  1. To each their own. I use Win 8 on both a touchscreen and two desktops with mouse and keyboard. In fact, I just got the touch screen device (a nice Asus VivoTab Smart) and sometimes miss the mouse in the Metro side of the house. Using the mouse is just as easy as using your fingers. It’s only when I get shoved into the ancient desktop that I realize Windows 8 still has a ways to go for touch users. Nitpicking aside, I can appreciate that you do all of your work in a desktop environment, most of us do. The Win 8 apps are lacking, especially Mail and People. They will get fixed. I remember how bad Win3.x apps were. I still see just how poorly the now antique desktop really is, yet I am forced to use it. With time, hopefully, our reliance on the desktop side will wane. You will come to the dark side too. 😉

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