Windows 8 upgrade diary

Tune into the chatter around Windows 8 and it won't be long before you start hearing about keyboard shortcuts. Instead of forcing us to replicate long swipe gestures using a mouse (which would be cruel to all concerned), Microsoft is putting forward these little key combos as the primary means of navigation on traditional desktop PCs that don't have touchscreens. Right now, I'm in the middle of trying to adapt to this -- and like our Windows 8 review concludes, the curve is steep. In my case, matters are complicated by the fact that I use a triple-monitor setup for work, which perhaps makes me more sensitive to UI issues. But regardless of how many displays are hooked up to it, there genuinely are some interface niggles in this OS. Despite having mastered the basic shortcuts, I'm still having to reach for my mouse way too often, and the arm ache is starting to dampen the good vibes left over from my last diary post. So, join me after the break and at the very least you'll get to observe someone flailing around in search of answers.

The image up top shows how I'm currently arranging stuff in Windows 8, and it's already quite effective. I use my left-sideand central monitors as the primary work space (simply known as the 'Desktop' in Windows 8), for which mouse navigation is both proper and essential. Then I put Metro (i.e. the new UI which officially has no distinct name) on the right-side display, where it deals with all incoming information -- email, calendars, Twitter and other glance-worthy stuff that shouldn't require any mouse activity.

Notwithstanding the criticisms I'm about to hurl in the next paragraph, Metro is much neater, calmer and indeed more keyboard-friendly than Windows 7 ever was. The right-hand side of my old desktop used to be a chaotic jumble of desktop "gadgets" and Chrome windows that were forever obscuring each other or getting accidentally minimized. In contrast, I'm now cycling between full-screen Metro apps (by hitting Windows Key + Tab) and live tiles on the Start screen (toggled by the Windows Key), which share one unified design. To make best use of the Metro panel, I often put the email app into split-screen mode on the far right, as you can see below (done using Windows Key + Period). These shortcuts are already natural enough that I never need to do anything remotely swipe-like with the mouse.

DNP Windows 8 upgrade diary clocking serious mouse mileage

The problem is that this separation between mouse navigation (for the two Desktop panels) and keyboard navigation (for the Metro panel) keeps breaking down -- either because a particular Metro app refuses to respond to the keyboard, or because Metro is just unable to do everything I want to do on that panel. Whenever there's a hiccup in my Metro flow, I have to rack up around a foot (30cm) of total mouse movement to get my cursor over to the Metro panel and put things back on track. Here are the main issues I've encountered so far, some of which are fixed and some of which are still potentially an RSI hazard:

  • No multiple Google calendars in the Metro Calendar app, which meant I initially had to run my calendar in a mouse-demanding Chrome window. Fortunately, this was easily fixed using the workaround linked in More Coverage below.
  • No music on my D: drive appeared in the Metro Music app, which meant I had to play tracks using a desktop app. Luckily this was fixed using the now well-known junction workaround. However...
  • ...Unless I'm missing something, I can't run Spotify or play my ALAC lossless music collection in Metro, which means I'm still running mouse-hungry desktop music applications for this stuff.
  • Most seriously, many Metro apps seem to allow you to click deeper into their various levels of content using the keyboard, but then require you to use the mouse just to get back up to a higher level. Pressing 'Escape' only works in some apps and not others, which is plain frustrating. Unless someone out there knows of a universal keyboard shortcut representing "Back," which all third-party developers have implemented and which doesn't involve hitting Tab a hundred times, then these launch-day apps definitely need to be tweaked before Metro starts living up to the dream. (Update: Some readers are saying Backspace should work, and indeed it does -- but only in a few apps, such as People. You can't back out of an email, calendar appointment, Evernote note, or a Bing Finance post with that key, for example. Others have suggested Alt + Left Arrow, and that's proving a lot more useful for all the aforementioned -- though it doesn't seem to back you out of an album in Xbox Music or a Wikipedia entry.)

That's it for now! In the next update, I'll switch the focus away from work to more fun stuff -- HTPC and gaming. I'll also start trying out a bunch of peripherals to see if I can solve some of my mouse-arm problems that way.

(My current rig, for the record: a Sandy Bridge i5 running on a Gigabyte Z68 motherboard; NZXT Switch 810 case; Gelid Tranquillo Rev. 2 cooler; Seasonic 600-watt PSU; Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 7970; 8GB Crucial XMS3 RAM; ASUS Xonar Phoebus sound card; three 1080p ViewSonic VX2336S LED monitors; 240GB SanDisk Extreme primary drive; 1TB 5,400 rpm media drive.)