Windows 8: The 10 biggest problems so far
For two months now, early adopters, IT pros, and developers have been working extensively with the Windows 8 Developer Preview. Here are the 10 of the biggest pain points they've found, Microsoft's reaction and some easy fixes!
At Microsoft's BUILD conference in September, the software giant finally unveiled its latest OS to the public. The Windows Developer Preview, geared towards (you guessed it), developers and IT pros, has now made its way into the hands of thousands of early adopters who are busy evaluating the new OS for their IT, writing apps based on the new WinRT platform or just playing around with it.
I've jumped into Windows 8 with both feet. I installed it on all my machines, put all my important files on it and made it my day-to-day work operating system. Of course, being both a major step forward and a very early (pre-beta) release, I ran into some issues. Over the course of the past two months, I compiled a list of some of the major pains I had with the new operating system and monitored the Microsoft forums to see what quirks and annoyances other users were reporting.
The following list shows the top 10 annoyances that other early adopters and I have experienced with Windows 8, as well as some explanations, solutions, and workarounds.
1. The new Metro-style Start screen
Arguably the most controversial pain point of Windows 8 is the new Start screen, which is Microsoft's new way of starting and managing apps.
This mobile oriented approach to the future of the desktop hasn't been greeted with much love by the community or the press. Focusing on one (maybe two) tasks at a time dumbs down the entire user experience. Also, users find themselves constantly switching between the new Start screen and the classic Windows 7-ish desktop (which includes the taskbar, desktop, explorer and so forth). Here's an example of how annoying this is: Say, for example, you're checking on e-mail using Outlook 2010, which is a traditional desktop application and one of your contacts is asking for a specific document. The next obvious step is to launch a file search. The problem is: once you click on the Start orb or hit the WIN key to launch the search feature, the classic desktop disappears with a big swoosh and you're back on the new Start screen pictured above, since the Start menu search is now only available in the new Metro-style environment. You find the file, open it and with another swoosh it throws you back to the desktop.
The same happens when you switch between the built-in Metro apps (such as Twitter@ama or Socialite) and your classic desktop applications. In terms of raw productivity, it's a major pain point and a very noticeable UI break.
Many complaints also focused around the fact that the new UI is aimed at tablets and phones, which makes it utterly useless on desktops and laptops.
Solution: Unfortunately there is no solution other than to turn the new Start screen off. After a few days of pure agony and hatred for the new UI, I took a step back and realized that I'm basically spending 95% of my work time on the classic UI and simply can't review this new approach. And why is that? Simple: Because I'm not using real Metro-style apps day in and day out! The default apps we get are mere sample applications written by summer interns (no kidding, Steven Sinofsky actually made a big deal out of the fact that Metro-style apps are so easy to write that even summer interns can do it in just a few weeks). So how could I even start judging a new environment when I just use my regular applications that throw me back to the traditional desktop? Do I spend enough time in those sample apps to judge the Start screen's usability? No! Can I even begin to imagine what working in a new third-party app (think Nero or Adobe) is like? Hardly! My solution to the problem is to wait at least until the beta hits sometime in early 2012 with a working Windows Store and working apps. I need to download apps, use them and then judge. I suspect that we'll still struggle with the mixture of legacy apps and new apps, but I'll reserve my opinion until then.
By the way, to turn the Start screen off and go back to the Windows 7 way of things, just download "Windows 8 Start Menu Toggle". Right now it's the only solution for Windows 8 testers who hate the Metro UI.
Next page: You can't close apps
2. You can't close apps
A majority of testers complained about the lack of a mechanism to close apps: Once you start an app, it remains open until Windows 8 decides to suspend it in order to save CPU cycles -- though the app is still present. While that may not be an issue for the regular user, the more professional users have major issues with this: The most viewed thread on the official Windows 8 developer forums is titled "Exit Developer Preview Apps (aka Closing Metro Apps)", with nearly all users crying foul over this obvious omission. After a heated debate, Microsoft's own Jon DeVaan, Corporate Vice President for Windows Development, weighed in:
The idea is Metro Style apps are not closed. The system takes care of keeping the apps from consuming background resources automatically. You can examine the app lifetime information in the developer documentation if you'd like.
The problem with this approach is that even suspended applications consume resources (i.e., memory). Plus, when cycling through apps, I sometimes find that apps have automatically suspended and are only available when I launch them again through the Start screen. That's annoying. I don't want to swipe through applications without knowing whether it is still active or not running. I want to be in charge of what's running or not.
Solution: In the Windows 8 Pre-Beta (the one WITH the developer tools, mind you) you can close apps using ALT+F4, though that's not working with the regular builds. The only current alternative is to launch task manager, jump to the Processes tab and close currently running apps.
But there is some good news on the horizon: Chief of Windows, Steven Sinofsky, briefly mentioned in one of his whitepaper-style blog posts that there will be a way to close apps more easily: "Will there be a way to close Metro style apps without going to Task Manager? (Yes there will be, but we also want to talk about why you probably won't need to use it."
I guess we'll have to wait for the beta for a perfect solution.
3. The green Start screen is driving me crazy
By default, the Windows 8 Start screen has this default green theme with no option to change it:
Obviously, Microsoft knows that users love to customize their screens so there is no way that they'll omit this feature from the final Windows 8 build. In fact, a screenshot of a newer (unreleased) build leaked to the public on November 5th, is pretty solid proof that there will be a personalization option:
Solution: For now, all you early adapters can use My WDP Customizer 1.3.0 to change not just the Start menu background and the entire color set, but also the Windows 8 Start button with custom images and colors. Take a look at my Start screen background in shown in #1 above. It took me just a few seconds using the WDP Customizer and is a great interim solution.
4. How do I shut this thing down?
It's hard to believe but it took me 5 minutes to figure out how to shut down Windows 8. No kidding. Clicking on the Start button just brings up the new Start screen. To properly shut down or restart Windows 8, you'd have to:
- Log off, click on the Power button and select either Restart or Shutdown
- Hover over the Start button, click on Settings, go to Power and select your options.
I don't even dare to ask why Microsoft would put the Shutdown and Restart options in a menu titled Settings -- it's beyond bizarre.
Solution: Thankfully, you can create a custom shortcuts for shutting down, restarting, hibernating, sleeping and locking the PC and put them on your Start screen. Right-click on your classic desktop, go to New/Shortcut and type in one of the following commands:
- Shutdown: shutdown.exe –s –t 00
- Restart: shutdown.exe –r –t 00
- Hibernate: rundll32.exe PowrProf.dll,SetSuspendState
- Sleep: rundll32.exe powrprof.dll,SetSuspendState 0,1,0
- Lock: Rundll32.exe User32.dll,LockWorkStation
Name them accordingly and choose an appropriate icon from Windows's default icon library:
Next, put them in the folder "%appdata%\microsoft\windows\Start Menu\Programs\". Go to the Windows 8 Start screen and search for each of your shortcuts. The search results should bring up the icons you just created. Right click on them and select Pin. Voila!
5. Side-by-side multitasking doesn't work
On displays with resolutions lower than 1366 x 768, the Snap feature that allows you to display two apps on your screen (and resize them to 1/3 or 2/3 of the screen) won't work:
For reasons unknown, Microsoft decided to pevent Snap, despite the fact that a lot of mobile devices these days still sport a resolution of 1280 x 800 and are perfectly capable of displaying two apps side by side.
Solution: There's no reason to deal with Microsoft's restrictions: Open up regedit and go to "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\ImmersiveShell\". Next, create a new key called AppPositioner. Within that key, create a DWORD entry which you'll name AlwaysEnableLSSnapping. Double click on it and enter "1".
Once you've restarted your machine you can easily display all apps side-by-side. Great!
6. Running Windows 8 in a virtual environment
While I'm running Windows 8 on physical hardware to fully experience the new OS, most of you probably just need to take it for a quick test ride or check on application compatibility. Unfortunately, the Windows Developer Preview gives many users trouble using VMware or even Microsoft's own VPC.
Solution: VirtualBox and VMware Workstation/Player 8 are now fully capable of running Windows 8 virtualized, so make sure to jump to the latest version. They MyTricks virtualization blog has some great step-by-step tutorials that'll help you get the Windows 8 Developer Preview running on VirtualBox, VMware and even Parallels.
Hint: Make sure to delete/disable the emulated Floppy drive to avoid crashes!
7. Metro apps don't work anymore
On a lot of users' systems, Windows 8 apps refuse to launch or just freeze shortly after displaying the startup splash screen
Solution: This is a known bug in Windows 8 that is tied to the user account control (UAC) feature. If it's turned off (either by the user or some third party application), some apps might not work properly. To re-enable UAC, go to the Start screen, search for "User Account Control" and click on "Settings". Click on "Change User Account Control Settings" and move the slider to the default setting. Also, make sure not to use the built in Administrator account to run Metro style apps -- use your own user account instead.
8. Windows 8 requires a product key
The Windows Developer Preview is a public pre-beta and shouldn't require a product key. Yet, some users were prompted with a "Please enter product key to proceed" window either when installing Windows, when running Windows 8 off of a USB key ("Windows To Go") or after they repaired the OS using the Windows Refresh feature.
Solution: To get rid of the product key check, Microsoft advises users to re-download the ISO from the MSDN website and install everything all over. However, that might not be the perfect option if you've already spent hours downloading, installing and configuring your Windows 8 test PC. A quicker method is to use a key provided by Microsoft's Support that works universally across all Windows 8 Developer Preview builds. Simply type in:
6RH4V-HNTWC-JQKG8-RFR3R-36498 (for the Windows 8 Client)
4Y8N3-H7MMW-C76VJ-YD3XV-MBDKV (for the Windows Server 8)
That should be it to activate your Windows 8 Dev Preview!
9. .NET Framework 3.5 is missing
By some weird happenstance, Microsoft decided to omit the .NET Framework 3.5 from its Windows 8 Developer Preview, which has version 4.0 running only. If you're trying to install an application that requires 3.5, you'll be faced with a dialog saying it needs to download the required components. Unfortunately, this process either takes half an eternity (45 minutes on some of my machines!) or results in error messages.
Solution: Gladly, there's a way to run the offline installer on the Windows 8 Developer DVD. Just make sure that the DVD is in the drive (or the ISO is properly mounted), fire up a command prompt and type in:
dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFX3 /Source:x:\sources\sxs
Note: X is the letter of your DVD or ISO drive. This should launch the installer immediately.
10. Programs and drivers won't run
I think it's nothing short of a miracle that nearly all of my Windows 7 applications and drivers work right out of the gate. Microsoft's legacy support is spot on, even in this early pre-beta release of Windows 8. However, there is a small portion of programs and drivers that just won't work, due to the fact that Windows 8's version number jumped from 6.1 (Windows 7) to 6.2 and some installers' version checks simply refuse to run.
Solution: I won't bore with the various compatibility modes (as you probably tried that already), but rather point you to part 3 of my "Running Windows on a Mac" series in which I describe some steps to get rid of version checks. More precisely, it details how to remove the Windows version check of an installer file using "Orca MSI Editor" or remove the version information from "*.inf" driver files. Of course, these steps work differently on all drivers and installer files, but it'll give you the basic idea of how to force your "legacy" software to run on Windows 8 Developer Preview and later.
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