Windows 8: Tale of two desktops

I recently upgraded to Windows 8. These are my observations..

Summary: if you have a single screen computer or a tablet, Windows 8 absolutely rocks. A multi-monitor setup will however quickly devolve to the Windows 7 experience without the start menu.

Windows 8 is two (mutually exclusive) desktop environments in one OS.

First is the new desktop, with the slick animations and modern, clean presentation. I absolutely love the Metro look. I think its a step in the right direction, some sort of digital minimalism thats very usable and aesthetic. I always hated the “new” UI elements from OS X, with its cruft and analog metaphors that added unnecessary detailing. The Start screen, its ability to integrate with other web services and provide a quick view of all the common apps without having to open them is very cool. This desktop however is built from the ground up for a single monitor/tablet experience. With a three monitor setup, all interactions with the new desktop happen on one screen only! Want to check you email and read the news at the same time on two different screens? Nope, can’t do. IMO, its a sad sad deficit for such a neat interface.

That brings me to the second desktop that unfortunately I’m forced to use all the time. Its just Windows 7 without the Start menu. So you start applications from the Start screen and then the moment you focus on them, all the metro jazz dissapears and you’re left in something you already had.

Why not provide a multi-monitor Metro experience? Why piss off developers and power users with a multi-monitor setup? According to a comment on this question SuperUser, they just ran out of time. Quoting from the comment: “Talked to the Metro Design guy from Microsoft and he explained to me they really wanted to do it better, but that Multi-Monitor support for Metro didn’t make it.”

I’m desperately hoping they release an update/patch that expands the single-monitor-centric view for Metro. Its sad that the reason almost everyone will upgrade will only be a short gateway to the Windows 7 env. At least I didn’t pay full price for this. The upgrade costs $40, unlike the ridiculous pricing Microsoft employed earlier (> $80).

Note on Linux: I have a dual boot for linux and windows. I’ve been a happy user of Xmonad for simple, intuitive window management, making horizontal and vertical tiling a cinch. Its not slick, but its absolutely non-intrusive and very coder-friendly. And its entitely developed in Haskell 🙂 I highly recommend Xmonad as a window manager for X Windows for developers.