Discussion about
peter

March 1st 2012 5:10 pm

Windows 8: Metro vs. Desktop?

Microsoft wants to have things both ways -- literally. They want to have a touch-based UI to address the growing popularity of tablets, but didn't want to turn their back on the legacy Windows experience that has been so massively successful for them for the better part of two decades. I sort of understand the decision to cram both of these interfaces together -- Microsoft believes, rightly or wrongly, that having the apps and power of a full PC will give them a fighting chance in the tablet market -- but I do wonder what it's going to be like for the average user to bounce between these two disparate modes. I honestly think that this relationship between Metro and Desktop -- and how consumers react to it -- is going to be at the heart of whether Windows 8 succeeds or fails.

Here are few different ways that Microsoft could have addressed the situation:

1. Keep approaching tablets the same way they had been. Microsoft has been offering support for pen-based input in Windows for over two decades now (remember Windows for Pen Computing?), introducing a Tablet Edition of Windows XP in 2002 before just baking pen-support into later versions of Windows. Obviously this approach wasn't cutting it, so it's no surprise they changed course.

2. Bet on Windows Phone. The iPad runs on iOS, not OS X, and I don't think it would have been at all unexpected if Microsoft's tablet solution had been based on Windows Phone rather than Windows. That'd mean Windows 8 would be more of an evolution of Windows 7 than the radical departure it's turned out to be, keeping continuity of the desktop OS while Windows Phone serves as the underlying OS for tablets.

3. Offer Metro only on tablet PCs. Imagine if instead of the two interfaces of Windows 8, they had instead introduced "Windows Metro" for tablets and regular Desktop-only Windows 8 for PCs with keyboards and mice (or touchpads). Rather than trying to shoehorn two distinct UIs into one OS, each UI could be fully optimized for the kind of hardware experience it excels at. In some sense this is the approach they're taking for Windows 8 PCs running on ARM processors, which reportedly will not run non-Metro third-party apps (but will offer access to Desktop mode), so it's not a stretch to imagine them limiting Metro to tablets altogether.

Unfortunately, while there is some logic to this, it would probably result in Metro becoming a defacto third platform, alongside Windows Phone and regular Windows. I doubt anyone at Microsoft wanted to make the case for supporting three ecosystems, so instead we have this odd compromise where Metro is included on Windows 8 and will coexist (uneasily, I'll bet) alongside Desktop mode.

4. Burn the ships and get rid of Desktop mode entirely. This wouldn't be totally unprecedented for Microsoft, which gutted Windows Mobile and started over from scratch with Windows Phone, but it'd be a big risk to change Microsoft's flagship product (and cash cow) so drastically. There are way too many users that would freak out if Microsoft did this.

5. Make Desktop mode look and feel a lot more like Metro. I'm actually surprised they didn't do this. Surely they could have imported more of the visual language and style of Metro into the Desktop experience to make them flow together a bit more. Yes, there'd still be plenty of apps stuck in the old design, but at least Microsoft could make the overall OS experience a little more coherent and make it less jarring to move between them.

I wouldn't describe the path that Microsoft took as the one of least resistance -- not including Metro at all would surely have been easier (and arguably safer) -- but when I use Windows 8 it feels a bit like they punted. My opinion might change over time as I use Windows 8 more, but right now I feel like a computer shouldn't have two competing UIs (and yes, I am familiar with Media Center and Front Row). The goal should be to create a more holistic experience unifying Metro and Desktop, or failing that, admit that they are designed for different kinds of hardware and simply cleave them apart.

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112 replies
adriel623

I completely understand what you're saying here and here's my opinion on Windows 8. The Metro UI instance, you don't have to use it if you don't want to. I see the Metro part as way of doing light stuff, gaming, RSS/News Reading (In time there'll be apps with even more functionality). Then when it comes to work all I have to do is easily switch to the Desktop mode and still have the ability to Pull up a metro app (Music, news etc) right alongside my work environment (Office, Visual Studio, Pro-CAD or whatever). I think Microsoft has the right idea in mind because people are looking forward to W8 as the first real functioning tablet (read creation device vs consumption device) that's a real competitor to the iPad.

The idea is also for a user to continue doing what they were doing on one platform (phone, tab, pc, xbox) on another (phone, tab, pc, xbox) which is why all of the platforms will run on the same Windows base. (Aimed at Question 2)

Also I believe that there's still pen support in Windows 8 which is excellent--http://www.winrumors.com­/hands­-on­-windows­-8­-input­-options­-and...

I agree that they could have done a better job with the desktop side of things to make it more metro because it might be jarring to some (So far not me). I also want them to do more with the multitasking which I've absolutely loved in Windows 7.
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CptBlu

I definitely can see them adding some more design to the desktop
flattening the taskbar getting rid of the shine
but I have to agree with you this was not the wrong decision you just need to adjust some of your behavior but its not really that drastic of a change
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adamz

I actually really like the multi-tasking in Windows 8. In some ways it's easier and more efficient than Windows 7, even with a mouse. Throw your mouse into the upper left corner, then move it down... thumbnails of your open (Metro) apps show p there and you can easily switch to them. That's one mouse motion that you can do with your eyes closed, and one click to swap apps.
Switching to Desktop mode to run high-end content creation programs that have been in development for 20 years doesn't bother me much. It's much better than OSX's classic mode, or Windows 7's XP mode.
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Ellis

Personally, I think unifying the two UIs was a bad idea - they just weren't ever meant to coexist like this. Whilst I can understand wanting to have fewer different platforms all active at the same time, I can't help but think that "Windows 8 Tablet Edition" would have been a better option. Have the Metro UI run on ARM tablets, and little or no support for Desktop mode, and the desktop edition of Windows 8 act basically in the same way that Windows has done since 95, integrating a few things like the animations and so on to bring it a bit more in line with their other products.

At the end of the day, Microsoft weren't in an easy situation, and they had to come to some conclusion. Whichever path they chose to go down, there were going to be a lot of people out there that didn't agree with it. I guess I'll just have to keep using Windows 8 and see if I can make it work with the way I use my main PC, or vice versa I suppose. If not, there's nothing wrong with Windows 7 for now, far from it.
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crichton007

I agree. I absolutely hate what Microsoft has done in forcing the Metro UI onto the desktop environment. I've used computers for quite a while and like to think I find them pretty intuitive to use but I was lost trying to use a mouse on a touch-based interface. I've seen the demos of the UI on a tablet and it looks very nice but on a desktop PC? Unless they bring the start button and classic Desktop UI back I think Microsoft is going to have Windows 7 hanging around a lot longer than Windows XP has.
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swhite237

Maybe, maybe not. The Metro interface brings with it protections against malware that companies may find useful.
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CptBlu

Seriously with all your vast experience you haven't realized by now that taping with your finger and left click with a mouse produce he same result on a PC. Some of these arguments are getting ridiculous. If you don't know how to use it or want to know why things are being done the way they are do some research instead of flaming a product you don't understand HTTP:­/­/www.winsupersite.com is probably the best and only place to get true system details explanations and how tos from some one who actually knows and likes the system. Not to you specifically but in general those that say I'm staying with Ubuntu or some other Linux get over it it is obvious windows was not for you anyway. There are far more improvements then you realize for power users right click the start tip in the bottom left. There is everything you need and more then you have now in consistent and convenient manor
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mrjd

I downloaded the preview on my desktop and I HATE IT! I think Microsoft shouldn't try to do all to please all because in the end they are going to confuse and frustrate people. Pick one, Metro or Desktop, and stick to it. I'm sure there is a way they could be merged and ultimately be more user friendly, or just give people one or the other depending on platform. Trying to manage both is freaking frustrating. Thankfully I still have Ubuntu on my main HDD. :)
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adamz

If you learn how to use it, many of the things you used to do are either exactly as easy/fast, one click slower, or one click faster. The biggest frustration I had was the initial confusion of not knowing how to do anything when looking at the screen. It's like trying to cook a meal in some one else's kitchen without opening any cabinents.
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ericaucoin

No kidding! It does take some time to get used to, and once you get used to it, it's pretty easy, but it's not anyone's first instinct to emulate some semblance of a swipe gesture from the bottom-left corner up to get the start tile and the rest of the tiles to show up on the left side of the screen. Anyone who multitasks will be crippled until they figure this one out. And the charms on the right are tough to get to show when you're stuck using a traditional desktop-and-mouse interface.
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cjarnola

Or you could just use Alt-Tab like everyone should be used to. It still works.
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TimWallace

I personally think everyone is looking at this from the wrong angle. MS haven't merged two different operating systems, they have provided two distinct shells or UIs, if you prefer. Granted, there is a flavor for ARM processors, so one could argue two different OSes, but not in the way everyone is currently discussing. I agree with everyone who has said the Metro UI is more intended for on-the-go, high-touch mode whereas desktop mode is for when one wants to get "real work" done. But switching between the two is so simple that the user now has two options available for interacting with the OS...and that is a good thing. Flexibility empowers the user. More so than any other OS, Windows has the largest install base with the longest history. They simply cannot and should not completely abandon their desktop UI for risk of losing customers. And by adding the Metro UI, that same OS becomes usable in the tablet form factor( a factor first proposed by MS about a decade ago, by the way). I think this is a bold, yet thought out, decision by MS and only time will tell if they made the right decision.
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CptBlu

exactly now on my big giant machine I have all the same capabilities as before plus some really nice features that are more modern. and now that I bought a cheap touch screen I enjoy it even more but I still spend quite a lot of time using my mouse and keyboard sorry I cant touch type code that's just a no go at this point in the tech but I have found that many leisure computing activities im staying in metro more and more because it does everything I would need it to do except the flash part im for its demise its a horrible security whole that's gone far beyond its intent and no longer needed with the capabilities of html 5 problem being not everyone has seen the light yet and I still want to use some of those sites and I guess that's why for the short term we have 2 IE's in convenient but get over it as long as I can get the job done im good and this new system provides many new ways of doing that for just about every computing metaphor there is you do realize that with this interface and kinect for windows your htpc can now function just like the xbox and guess what you already have giant target to hit when your flailing your body around change is good and this will have its benefit shown over time
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omnient0

I think Microsoft did the right thing - why wouldn't I want to run Visual Studio on my tablet?

Also be glad the boot times are less than 5-10 seconds (if not less), and memory usage is even less than windows xp.

Windows 8 developer preview REVIVED my netbook collecting dust with Windows 7 Starter on it.
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erwinhuang1

Good reasoning.. I think it's unwise to merge the two..
The experience will be unsatisfactory..
Metro (esp the smart tile GUI) is for now more or less a navigation tool and not a full user experience for all apps.
It's hard to imagine, Photoshop, Excel "Metrolised"..
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adamz

Just look at the iPad version of Photoshop Touch and iOS Numbers and you can imagine a Metro version of Photoshop or Excel. Apple is doing the same thing by merging the iOS interface into their desktop operating system.
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ssstraub

But what Apple is doing is slowly merging the features that they feel make the most sense. What Microsoft is doing is welding the two entirely different operating systems together, whether all parts make sense on a mouse/keyboard vs touch or not.
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swhite237

I could see a Metro version of iOS Photoshop -- I don't see how full desktop Photoshop could make it over and maintain all the functionality of it's graphical interface. Keyboard shortcuts would mitigate the impact on power users, but it would have a pretty severe impact on people who rely on the GUI.
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swhite237

I think it could work with Excel -- Photoshop might not make the jump for a while. Microsoft needs to add more functionality to their metaphors.
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pafro99

The thing I find most annoying, is hitting the start button, and being thrown into Metro. I think they should just seperate the two a little more. Don't make the program launcher from desktop be metro. I can see usefulness to both interfaces. I see a lot Potential for metro, but it isn't intuitive for a pc user without a touch interface.
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CptBlu

www.winsupersite.com­/article­/windows8­/true­-story­-m...
www.winsupersite.com­/article­/windows8­/windows­-8­-co...

that should explain it better then I can
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CptBlu

wow a negative just for posting the link that explains the answer to the question its all about being consistent across the entire Microsoft ecosystem
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aaronwe

The interesting thing about #5 is that it's also the most feasible change for Microsoft to make before Windows 8 ships.

The Win32 desktop is easily skinnable -- I wouldn't be surprised to see a "large target" desktop skin applied in tablet environments to help bridge the gap when Metro goes away and you fall back into traditional Windows Control Panel dialogs.

Given the timetable for shipping Windows 8, Microsoft could pretty easily update the desktop skin to bring it more in line with Metro. If Microsoft doesn't do that, you can be sure plenty of 3rd party add-ons will make it possible -- at least on x86.
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bobtk

New hardware like the Lenovo Yoga will really make Windows 8 shine.
But, I've had no trouble using Windows 8 with a mouse. The Start button was replaced with a Start SCREEN. Big deal. Everything in Windows 7 is in Win 8.
I don't care what anybody says, "Cut the Rope" and Photoshop CS 5 on the same machine is a WIN!
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bsw11

The only one that makes any sense is 5. And this is exactly what MS is doing. It will take time for this to happen. This is the right first step.
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CptBlu

the only thing I can think #5 was supposed to mean was the look and feel does not exactly reflect each other but that's minor and like I mentioned in another post its basically there is they turn off the glass effect so its matte finish like when you turn aero off completely and make pinned items on the taskbar look mor like flat square tiles they would be done
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jrose

I agree. I've been impressed with what Microsoft has been doing with Metro- but this decision seems to be a way to appease two different groups of people internally at Microsoft. One group likely wanted to charge forward with a new UI, while another group probably wanted to keep the legacy UI since millions are used to it. I think the more tech saavy will pick up having 2 UIs no problem- as for the masses... it could be a disaster at worst or a major annoyance at best.
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ericaucoin

I wouldn't be surprised if they made the traditional desktop feel more like Metro by the time the final release makes its way into the hands of the consumers. There have been renderings of what it could look like (unofficial, but still) and nothing in the Consumer Preview that's out now is final, so we could very well see a different looking "Desktop Mode" by the time we get the final release.
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kelz

Hasn't this always been Microsoft's strategy, to offer options on how to interface with it's operating system? For instance, if you want to delete something, you have mutiple choices, right-click the mouse, click the delete icon, or press the delete key. You don't have to do all three. Just pick what works for you. I think the same goes with Windows 8. If you don't like the tablet format, don't use it. Why are people having a hard time with this?
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CptBlu

the only thing I can think of is because its from Microsoft and not Apple and its not what they used yesterday
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mikachandi

Personally, I think there is nothing wrong in merging two interfaces together because they are trying to offer something new without disturbing the desktop front …
I am using from the first day and find it pretty good.. I think they did good job and they should keep it up...
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CptBlu

agreed
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puzder

Great discussion here. I think the overarching point is the $MSFT is taking a big bold step forward with its flagship product. The risk is large and the reward would be great.

Objectively, it is a step forward from $MSFT. They clearly have their eyes on the future, and not sitting on their laurels (as does $AAPL) and are chinging things in a big way.

The things being discussed are largely subjective issues and most take into account the hundreds of millions of users around the world $MSFT must serve.
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MobyTurbo

Anyone who likes the Metro interface on a non-touchscreen device for Windows 8, is in the immortal words of Crusty the Clown "decapitated *before* they entered the amusement park!" I have the feeling that this is a gimmick that won't be appreciated by many users. They should have done a dual interface for tablets only, instead of the reverse where you only have Metro on Tablets, and the Metro touchscreen-friendly and mouse-hostile interface on the desktop.
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marc

A lot of really good points here! Microsoft has definitely struggled with both tablet/mobile OSes that were too much like the desktop experience, and with alternate UIs like Media Center and even (shudder) Bob. But I agree that Windows 8 feels sort of schizophrenic. Right now, at least for me, Metro really feels more like a shell than a fully realized UI, and it's jarring to have to go back to the "standard" Windows UI to access the file system, control panel or any other legacy apps. But I'll give it a chance. If Metro becomes the de facto UI, the Windows desktop may wither over time, much as MS-DOS Executive and Program Manager did before it.
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kineticartist

After finally getting the 64bit flavor of win 8 to work on my setup (it had issues with my mouse and multiple monitors which is managed with Display fusion) I spent about an hour running around in metro which is to me, a power user, seemed designed more for mom and pop gramma and granpa who dont use their machine to work with but rather as a media consumption device browsing internet viewing movies or photos or for music or gaming.

The desktop mode just seemed sort of a half assed attempt to dress up windows 7 and as Peter stated they could have made real strides at improving a UI that they already had made great strides in improvement from XP to Vista to Win7 but failed.

It seems Microsoft still thinks they need to take over everyones desktop and that "everyone" is the same kind of user. In my household alone we have 5 power users ranging from me who works with and develops websites and manages a hosting company to my girlfriend who is a the IT person and media technology/ engineering teacher at her elementary school and prefers mac over pc to our 3 kids who are in various stages of using computers for more than just surfin the web or watchin video or listening to music,

Granted Ive spent almost a wow whole hour mucking about in the guts of windows 8 but in all honesty I doubt this will be the power users choice OS
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CptBlu

none of your power user access has been taken away they just combined the start screen and desktop if you are so adverse to the start screen then relegate it to what it is a giant start menu and move on clutter your desktop with icons and short cuts and be sure to add those same ones to the start screen wouldn't want to change any of your power user behavior
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ssstraub

There is simply no way to completely ignore Metro. The log on screen with extremely bizarre unlock (why do I need to unlock a desktop?!), the "start menu", control panel, etc.
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daninbusiness

I have been using an upgraded home version of Windows 8 and an Enterprise version.

I think the Enterprise version handles the log in thing a little better, as it asks you to ctrl+alt+delete, whereas the home version doesn't call that out and asks you to swipe to unlock (which feels odd with a mouse).
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CptBlu

tap space bar or any other key on your keyboard sliding it up with mouse is a bit weird that one of the few they probably should not have made possible with a mouse also but I guess its that whole we want to be consistent thing
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TimWallace

Because of a little thing called "logging in". One can do that now with Windows, Mac, iOS, etc. in order to make sure that only authorized users access the system.
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ssstraub

On the CP you have to swipe to unlock and THEN log in. That's 2 steps where only one is needed.
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CptBlu

no that's incorrect only with out a keyboard do you need to swipe up and that is the same as hitting ctrl+alt+delete to present the login box. If you had multiple users you would have still needed to click on the appropriate options to allow you to log in. with keyboard you can strike any key to slide the lock screen up and present the login box I personally either tap my spacebar or swipe up on my monitor
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ssstraub

No that's incorrect. I don't ever use ctrl-alt-del to login on my home Windows 7 desktop. Windows 8 forces me to do 2 steps where previously only one was needed, even with only a single user.

Whether this bothers you is subjective, but it objectively is more steps than before.
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CptBlu

if you have it set up to require you to long on then you are already doing this you have to at least tap a key to wake your system up maybe you are not realizing it the only way this should not be correct is if you have no screen saver and your monitor does not go to sleep. I have not tested yet is you can do auto logon if the pc is a single user machine guess ill have to go try that on a test machine but I would think it would be that same as in win 7 so far there is no reduced admin functionality its just in different places again like with the change over to XP. but again on a single user win 8 if you tap a key to wake it up it slides your lock screen up and allows you to begin typing your password on previous versions you had to do something to wake it up and either hit ctr+alt+delete or click on you profile picture
But I guess on technicality your are correct it is 2 things you do but its still no more actions then were previously required either you had to hit a key sequence or you have to click your picture
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CptBlu

um I have to unlock my desktop every day with ctrl+alt+delte at work and at home to switch to my account because some one else may have used my pc while I was out
um that's why
the main control panel is a desktop app so no metro their
and the start menu evolved again and is now the start screen

people complained in 2002 when xp launched about how they destroyed their start menu MS even gave you the option to switch to classic start menu but in time everyone got over it and now look at that you can not live without that version and in another 10 years when everything is selected by thought im sure you will be horrified that metro is being reimagined in your mind
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Demomanca

This interface is a huge, consumer confusing mistake. Tablets and Desktops machines are fundamentally different beasts. I installed the Win8CP, and promptly removed it 24 hours later. In the past I've always had time for RCs, Betas etc of newer versions of windows, and the only reason I've ever left them in the past has been due to a driver issue, or some other major bug, but this is the first time I've left because of the design of the software itself. The interface is confusing at best, some tasks are easier now, but some are far more complicated.

The dual mode is like me trying work at my desk, with half my stuff in a backpack.

/rant.
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adamz

What's so different? Both have screens, both have pointers that you move around (finger, stylus, arrow cursor), both have buttons and controls that you press or drag. Fundamentally they're very much the same.
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swhite237

I agree. The biggest problem for me is the absence of a Metro design on the desktop. There's a lot that could be done there to establish aesthetic continuity.
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CptBlu

definitely but you have to think there working that I mean they went so far as to metro the beta fish and they basically have a metor ui when you turn aero off so I can see what it would look like get rid of the shine in aero glass I don't know make it aero paper it shouldn't be glossy it should be matte the pinned items should look more like miny tiles
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