A co-worker recently asked if I'd be able to help her set up a new laptop her family just purchased and mentioned it came with Windows 8, so they were a little confused about how things worked now. Being the OS geek I am, I jumped at the chance to see how Windows 8 fared on the desktop since I'd been impressed using it on phones and tablets.
I almost immediately wished I hadn't bothered.
A bit of backstory: Windows 8 radically overhauls the traditional Windows desktop and "Start" menu, which have been there since the dawn of time, and replaces them with the new "Windows 8-style UI" (formerly known as "Metro"), which consists of multiple-sized tiles and is essentially one big application launcher. The familiar Windows desktop is still there, but now it's its own app. In short, this new style for Windows works beautifully on a touch-screen device, and Microsoft deserves points for not trying to copy Apple for once. However, it should have copied Apple in one regard -- keeping its mobile and desktop operating systems separate.
Trying to use Windows 8 apps with a mouse or trackpad is an exercise in frustration. Here's just one example: closing an app. Upon setting up my co-worker's laptop, I couldn't figure out how to close an app. On the touch screen, you tap at the top middle of the screen and drag your finger down to close the app. Simple, right? The problem is, that's exactly how it works on the desktop too -- and how you're just supposed to "know" that is beyond me. So instead of clicking the "X" button to close an app like you've been doing forever, now you have to line up the cursor in the right spot, click and hold the mouse button, then drag down to the bottom of the screen. What was once a brain-dead, simple operation has turned into a task that requires concentration. This is just one of the many user interface challenges Windows 8 presents on the desktop. Not good.
The next "you've got to be kidding me!" moment came a short time later. I simply wanted to set up her Hargray email account in the built-in Microsoft Mail app. It's the first and biggest tile you see upon logging in -- clearly it's what you're supposed to use for email.
Unfortunately, it immediately required that I sign in with a Windows Live account, Hotmail, Outlook, etc. There appeared to be no place to set up a different email account. Thinking I'd done something wrong, I searched online for an answer and discovered that Windows 8 mail just doesn't do POP3 mail. So if you have a Hargray or Time Warner email address, you're out of luck. Why? Microsoft, blah blah blah, security, blah blah blah.
In any case, to work around this, I set up an email client in the Desktop mode. Absurd. Let's hope Microsoft has a change of heart before Windows 9 or 10 removes the Desktop mode completely, and you just don't get to have your email on your $1,000 computer.
In addition, I've heard from one reader who ran the Windows 8 upgrade adviser and was told his computer was ready for it, only to find that once installed, the computer no longer produced any sound, as HP wasn't ready with an updated driver. Oh, and did you know that you have to click through four menus just to get to the shutdown command (because tablet users don't shut down, you see)?
To sum up: Windows 8 -- great on phones and tablets. On a desktop PC? Microsoft just proved why it was a good idea for Apple to keep iOS and OS X separate.