The Metro Experience: For Better or Worse?

When the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 was released back in February, it saw with it one of the most radical design changes to Microsoft’s flagship operating system since the transition from Windows 3.1 to 95.

Although the core operating system remained pretty much unchanged, a new user interface codenamed “Metro” lay at the heart of this release. Taking inspiration from the Windows Phone operating system, Metro brings that familiar launcher to the desktop world with tiles representing apps and a whole new look and feel to your computer.

W8 DP

The new Metro experience in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

I’d better come clean right away – I’m (mainly) a Mac user. I switched a couple of years back (mostly due to a good deal I got on a new MacBook) however I still remain a partial Windows user – some programs I use (especially for my university studies) are Windows-only and I still use a Windows-based system in my workplace.

But don’t think that this article will turn into the typical Apple fanboy piece with chide comments and sly stabs at Windows. Oh no. I merely want to give you my two cents on what I think about the entire Metro experience, coming from an old Windows user.

I still retain, alongside my MacBook, a battered, scratched and dented Samsung laptop with a cooling fan that sounds like a Category 5 hurricane and a bottom that gets so hot during use you could fry up a couple of eggs on it.

When the Consumer Preview came out, I wanted to know exactly what it was like, so I decided to download it and give it a whirl. My first impressions were, “Hey, this is pretty sweet!”. I’ve always seen Windows as more functional than design-orientated (that’s not a fanboy comment, simply my own personal opinion) so with this new, snazzy interface, I was getting excited.

The thing, however, that I really couldn’t fathom out whilst using the CP is – who is this for? The interface, which borrows heavily from Windows Phone, works great on touchscreen devices (swiping left and right, for example) but on a non-touchscreen computer it just seems a bit cumbersome and clunky. I liked the fact you can scroll up and down with the mouse wheel to flick through the screens, but doesn’t this diminish the whole experience slightly?

windows-phone-7-series

The interface for Windows 8 was based heavily on that of Windows Phone 7

The built-in apps such as Bing Maps and Weather are a very nice touch (and gives them one up on OS X, where you have stupid microscopic widgets stuck around on your Dashboard) and the lock screen is great as well but, yet again, it’s designed with touchscreens in mind and not normal computers.

I have never owned a touchscreen computer and a quick walk around my local gadget supermarket confirmed that you pay a premium for a laptop with a touchscreen, a couple of hundred euros to be precise, which frankly I wouldn’t want. My laptop screen is dirty enough as it is without loads of my grubby, greasy fingerprints sat all over it.

Lock Screen Windows 8

The new lock screen in Windows 8

Microsoft have certainly been experimenting with touchscreen computers more than other companies (Apple seemed to have concentrated this area on the iPhone and iPad range – there are currently no solid rumours indicating that their Mac range of computers will incorporate touchscreens) and it does seem the way forward – after all, look how popular tablets have become.

But Metro shouldn’t just be for people with touchscreen computers, though. Say that Samsung laptop was my main laptop and I upgraded to Windows 8. I would feel slightly left out because although I have the latest version of Windows (which has been improved in a lot of areas, I must admit), half the features are slightly wasted on me or aren’t as good as they would be had I got the correct hardware.

So while Microsoft deserve to be commended for making a stylish, revolutionary and whole new way of looking at an operating system, I have to wag my finger at them for excluding a large proportion of users from this new experience.

Yes, Windows 8 can be used on any computer as long as the hardware requirements are there, but for such a core and integral part of the operating system (and, most definitely, one of its major selling points) it seems a little too much like a white elephant.

So, is Metro for better or for worse then? Well, unfortunately, it depends on your computer and your preference.