Bring back the Start menu or go with flow?

ADAM TURNER
Last updated 13:06 14/08/2012
Windows 8
START-UP: Is Windows 8 too much of a shock to the system?

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OPINION: Having spent some time with Windows 8 Release Preview, I think it's fair to say there are seven stages on the road to Windows 8; anticipation, alienation, frustration, exploration, discovery, acceptance and finally appreciation.

How quickly you get there, or whether you even get past stage three, really depends on a few factors; your view of Windows as a whole, your previous experience with touchscreen devices and whether you approach Windows 8 with an open mind.

I actually made it all the way to appreciation within a few hours, but I expect many people won't.

It's easy to hate Windows 8. Really easy. Microsoft has turned our computers into overgrown tablets, forced Metro on us (or whatever the hell they want to call it today) and stripped away the desktop Start menu so we can't find anything. It's confronting, disorientating and infuriating - like sitting down in a car with no steering wheel. At this point it's easy to throw your hands in the air, call down curses on Redmond and swear you'll stick with Windows 7 until the day you die. I know people who already have.

But if you decide to work with Windows 8 rather than fight against it, you'll find that it does actually have a lot to offer.

But some people will need to work very hard to get to stage 7 and it's more effort than they perhaps feel they should need to make for something which should have been a smooth transition from the well-respected Windows 7.

I have a distinct advantage in that I've used Windows Phone 7 and I like it. I've spent time with several WP7 devices over the last few years and I think Nokia's slick Lumia 900 is my favourite. So when I fired up Windows 8 the tiled Metro interface felt familiar and even inviting.

Things change once you try navigating Metro on a non-touchscreen device, as the triggers for some menus are far from intuitive even if you know your way around touchscreen devices.

But my time with Windows Phone 7 reassures me that Metro will certainly feel more natural on a touchscreen device. As someone who appreciates both iOS and Android on a tablet, I can certainly see the potential of Windows 8 on a touchscreen when you want to get things done without fighting with the traditional desktop.

The problem with Windows 8 is that it's just too steep a learning curve for your average person. I don't mean your average tech-savvy gadget lover, I mean your average person who has finally come to terms with the Windows desktop paradigm and fears change. I think for now Microsoft should have at least given users the option to keep the Start menu and then entice them to use Metro rather than forcing them. If they come to Metro willingly the halo effect might actually see them embrace Windows 8 smartphones and tablets. But the journey to accepting Metro on the desktop is one many people will fear to make, particular when forced. If handled badly, Microsoft risks having another Vista on its hands. It can't afford for people to hold out for Windows 9.

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Personally I admire Microsoft's long-term vision with Windows 8.

The line between desktops and tablets is blurring as we shift towards mobile touchscreen devices. Windows 8 is bold, brave and, dare I say it, smart. But that's little consolation to people who are staring at Metro in bewilderment or flummoxed when they discover the traditional desktop only to find the Start menu is missing.

As tempting as it is to employ hacks and workarounds to reintroduce the Smart menu, I think if you're going to move to Windows 8 it's worth taking the plunge and working with Metro rather than against it.

This might be harder to do if you're forced to jump between older computers during the day, but I expect no harder than coping with Windows and Mac OS.

Windows 8's biggest problem is it's just not intuitive enough if you're looking beyond tiles to find other applications and features.

I'd say its success relies on Microsoft adding a slick introductory tutorial when the machine first runs, as you find on some Android devices. It needs to run automatically, not be an optional extra.

 A quick walkthrough of the basics and then an easy way to access assistance would go a long way. Even a keyboard shortcut which overlays your navigation options would make a huge difference. Simply dumping people in Metro to fend for themselves is a recipe for disaster.

I think Microsoft needs to win people over in the first five minutes or they'll run screaming. If it does win them over they'll evangelise their friends and Windows 8 could win acceptance. But if new Windows 8 owners never get past the frustration stage then Microsoft could have a bomb on its hands, even though Windows 8 has a lot to offer.

Have you used Windows 8? How did you find it? Will you take the leap?

Adam Turner is a gadget guru who contributes news, features, reviews, blogs and podcasts to various publications

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