How Much Suck Could Windows 8 Suck if We Knew What We Were Talking About?

Microsoft began touting Windows 8 quite some time ago. It frustrated me for two reasons: they had no finished product to actually display. It was like looking at a very colorful, tablet version of Window Phone 7. Sure, it looked cool, but it was basically just a concept being shown as if it were ready to shove out the door. What else are you supposed to think when Microsoft has actual tablets running (what appears to be) Windows 8? Now that I love it already (partly because it is different, and partly because it’s not Apple) I have to wait for it to actually become a reality. The waiting makes me angry.

The other reason I became frustrated with the first few screen shots and previews of Windows 8 was the idea that one operating system could actually be placed on desktops and tablets alike. Even now, Windows 7 has multiple flavors, including a version to place on devices used for specific purposes such as point-of-sale or kiosks. And from the buzz on the web you might gather Windows 8 will have between 6 and 10 different versions… presumably that means there will be a tablet-optimized version (perhaps the version made for mobile chips?). Even still, it just didn’t sit right with me and many other people.

When the earliest preview came out I got my hands on it. It didn’t work out well for me. I did get to see some parts of the new OS, but overall I just didn’t have the hardware to run it. One thing I did like very much was the Start button. Not it’s functionality, but the look of the button itself. It was a very simple, black window logo. Unfortunately, clicking on it took you back to the Start Screen instead of opening up the Start Menu. As the OS was completely useless to me because of my hardware limitations I did not miss the Start Menu.

Then I got the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. O. M. G. I don’t have a fancy, multi-touch tablet to test Windows 8 CP; just some old Core 2 Duo machine technically made for Windows XP, but compatible with Windows Vista (remember Vista?). The PC runs fine, except for an issue with my video card (which doesn’t have Windows 7 drivers either), but it’s a desktop. I expect it to work like a desktop. The Start Screen is fancy, useful, and clean. The Metro UI is snappy and quite intuitive (I assume it would be more so if I had a tablet to use it on: sometimes the mouse movements seem unnatural, but with a finger I believe they would make sense). You can get to a desktop mode, which resembles (and I suppose also functions) just like a Windows 7 desktop. There’s just one thing… no Start Button. Why is this a problem? How am I supposed to get to my programs? Am I really expected to swipe around the Start Screen with my mouse? The Ribbon aside, the desktop looks the same, works the same, acts the same, feels the same yet lacks a certain usability because you cannot get to your freakin’ programs! I don’t see how this is going to work… at least for people like me…

I teach (what I call) Computer Sciences at a private middle school. We learn about the Microsoft Office software, mostly, but also delve into other areas such as content creation, desktop publishing, digital multimedia, and even HTML programming. I didn’t realize until just this morning how lazy my students are; and possibly what this means for Windows 8. We just upgraded to Windows 7 computers (brand new this time around) this year. In the past we had Windows XP machines (which were much easier for me to customize for new users, clone, etc.). The teachers had been in charge of teaching computer class for some time now, and most of the elementary teachers still teach the class themselves (grades 2-5). To make things easier on everyone we placed shortcuts for all the programs we would be using (Office, IE, My Documents, My Computer, My Network, and some other programs we had) onto the Desktop. I don’t like having icons cluttering up my desktop, but these kids do. After all, what’s the alternative?

To open a program without a shortcut on the Desktop they have to open the Start Menu, click on All Programs, find and open the program’s folder, and can then finally click on the program icon to open up the program. That’s like a ga-gillion steps! many of them asked if they could place the icons on their desktop and I refused to let them. After all, Windows 7 has the “Pin to Taskbar” feature which I just love. I tried to get them to use this, at least for the programs I needed them to use for their project. Some of them just wanted those icons on their Desktop, though, regardless of how messy and disorganized it looks (although I am beginning to think they put them out there just so they can play with them; moving them around and rearranging them all the time).

And then, again just this morning, I remembered something which should have been apparent the first time I did it. When the students are asked to open a program or file which is not on their Desktop or pinned to the Taskbar, their Google training takes over and they search for this file/program. In Windows 7 you can open the Start Menu and just start typing (and you don’t even need to touch the mouse). You will perform a quick search of the Start Menu, control panel, and recently opened files among other items. In Windows 8 you can do the same thing right from the Start Screen. When you’re on the Start Screen you just start typing and you can find whatever you are looking for. Laziness, it seems, may have won this round.

After giving it some more thought I have decided maybe the lack of a Start Menu isn’t as bad as we thought. Kids these days don’t want to work for something. If they know the name of the program and they can just start typing that name to make it appear in front of them… why not? The only concern I have (besides the fact technology is making it easier to be lazy) is that my students already believe they saved their documents to Word (“Where did you save your document, Susie?” “In Word.” “What folder did you save it in?” “What’s a folder?” *sigh*). They do not understand what a “file” is, nor do they understand how to work with them. They try to “open” pictures with Word instead of inserting pictures into Word documents. They never pay attention to where they save work, rather they just type in a name and hit the save button, believing, once again, they have saved the work to the program they were using. When they switch computers they cannot find their work (which probably wasn’t saved to their network folder, if they can even remember what that is or where it’s located). They don’t have to use computers the way I had to use computers. File structure means nothing to them. They expect to open an “app”, use it, save their work to it, and have their work appear the next time they go to use it again. They have no concept of file types or extensions, either. I try to weave this information into my lessons, but it is difficult to do for this iGeneration. It absolutely frustrates me to no end!

But at least I’m not as livid about the disappearance of the Start Menu anymore. That’s good, right?

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