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peter

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
daninbusiness

I'm not THAT annoyed by Windows 8 - since most of what I do is on the desktop, it mostly feels like the old Start Menu got swapped for a full-screen version.

But it's weird that the Metro apps don't get represented in the desktop taskbar; it feels weird to have some things open by default with Metro versions, once you tab back to the desktop you don't immediately know what is open or not.
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adinas

Working with multiple Desktop apps Metro apps will be tough as each are represented in different listings
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daninbusiness

Indeed. Considering that (at least for the first year or so) Windows 8 users on x86-64 platforms will be using some 'legacy' desktop apps along with the new Metro stuff, it seems like this issue could have been anticipated and managed better - I can't imagine that I will be the only person who comes across this and has (minor) issues.

Alt-tab works to alternate apps, and Windows Key+tab works for others, but I'm not sure if MORE keyboard shortcuts is the answer.
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CptBlu

those to key combos are virtual identical to their win 7 versions but instead of flip3d from win 7 you get task switcher in win personally I would rather the flat list over a 3d carousel
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CptBlu

how are they listed in different places you can pin just about anything to your start screen its a giant gull screen launcher when you first click the windows key your presented with the start screen in the same way the original first pane of the start menu came up
then either right click to display your app bar(universal way to show app menus) and click all programs similar to the way you do on the current start menu and then right click and select pin to start screen where before you had the option to pin to start (the first page displayed) and desktop now you just pin to start no need to pin to desktop also you can even set desktop IE as the default so that when you launch pinned websites they launch in desktop ie so you can have flash and java if you need it

there is some learning curve with win 8 but its not much if you look at it with a clean view and give it more then 5 days
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adinas

I understand what you are saying. But my point was that while in Windows 7 the information is on the screen. In Metro you have to go to the home screen to see updates. For example. Lets say you are compressing a large file. In Windows 7 you see the progress at the bottom of your screen the whole time even while doing other things in other apps. You also see messages that have been sent to you on skype which you can ignore but still see as highlighted (until you click on them). In Metro you don't see the progress going on in other apps. and if you ignore a message you can totally forget about it since there is no indication after closing any alerts that appear.
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CptBlu

true you don't see the progress bar ticking across but you are notified via the notification system when there is something new to report. if you were in a metro based app you would simply move your desktop to side by side with the app the progress bar would still be there ticking away remember to think of the desktop environ as more of an app instead of metro being the app that would be slightly closer to the truth so what every you can do with an app you can do with the desktop i.e. side by side screen sharing. you will only be displaying the start screen for brief moments while you select apps but again if you need to monitor the desktop just let it slip into the side third of your screen and monitor from there not the same just a little different. the notification system shows know matter what is displayed on the screen so you are not missing things because you are on the desktop or have the start screen open

of course right now most apps are not built to take advantage but like most os releases there are updates just before the launch or right after and then you will find your self away from the desktop more and more remember there are huge incentives for Devs to target metro of classic so im sure most new app style applications will come in that flavor we are still several months from launch this is still essential a beta that still is missing all the software bits and applications to make it really make sense that's what the preview apps are for to give you an idea of how it will be when most everything is targeted at the future instead of the past
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adinas

This article has a lot of good arguments: www.zdnet.com­/blog­/hardware­/heres­-whats­-wrong­-with...
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CptBlu

pretty good article I still disagree with a few point primarily complaining about the lack of feature support or apps or even connection to alternate apps is a bit ridiculous in a preview these judges and statements should not be made until release then you will know what will and will not be available the example(mail app is a preview and not intended to replace outlook other full client) starting into desktop is personal and I think will end up being a moot point I use win 8 all day everyday I spend most of the time in the desktop more and more as I have finished playing with the other bits but I still rather at first boot be shown the start screen so I can go where I want if its to work tapping the desktop tile is not that big a deal. Live tile issue also a non since it is well documented that MS created the ability to create data contracts between application so they can share and present each others info just requires a dev to update their code they should be doing regular update cycles anyway. 2 os'es in one somewhat but its still not really that different for your use case so called power users will on the desktop and see the start screen as a giant start menu inefficiencies everywhere is not really true there may be a few tasks that are slightly longer to complete but over all most thing take less time and they have add many short cuts to help you improve productivity based on your input type. Its not windows 7 so no its not going to work the exact same if you want it to work like windows 7 then just stay on windows 7 I still don't get the its only designed for touch or to much touch its just plain wrong its insane to state that you cant click a 4 foot wide button better then a 1 inch icon I only have to revert to touch in some of the metro games because yes those do play better that way. metro is not yet intended for everything hence the desktop I still hold to its new and different and many power users just found out they are not as much of a power user as they though and have some bruised egos or something the system is different and it was meant to be there are far bigger issues around windows 8 then what is mostly being discussed. Like why does it seem at the moment that I wasted the last 10 years in .net to see that it look like they would really prefer me to use javascript and html 5, why is this not based on Silverlight like windows phone there are many missed opportunities and some that may not be so bad after launch its still way to early to make those kinds of decisions. again I think its interesting article but still missing the broader strokes and droning on about things that are not really that big of a deal when you take them on a whole and remember it was not intended to work like windows 7 and there are reasons they did what they did some make sense some are still a bit vague we will have to wait and see when the product is finished and available
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CptBlu

Im sorry that you find it so horribly confusing but I don't think you speak for the average consumer my parents who I find very computer illiterate to the point you change the background the computer is completely different and unusable

they have had no problems with this system, I upgraded their device because I coned them into windows phones last year they are very happy with both and now understand why I was so persistent they now fully understand how to use their new computer and for the average consumer they will not be working on the desktop much but it was quit easy for my mother to load her old photoshop elements and play with her picture collection just as much as she licked the new photo gallery on her start screen

power users complaining they want less features is ridiculous. even my mom understands that on her big computer she should be able to do everything she can do on her little bitty phone and voila MS figured out the best way to integrate the to styles. It would suck for you that in 6months from now when that awesome app comes out you couldn't have it because you choose to go with old school windows instead of moving forward wow for the apple and android camps that should be compelling reason number one to upgrade to windows 8 at least that's the primary reason given to why windows phone sux the app I want isn't there well your asking for the same scenario in windows
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User4574

I don't think points 3 and 4 are a good idea. Windows 8 tablets (x86 ones) with the traditional desktop as well as Metro would provide a monumental advantage over the iPad and similar Android tablets. If Microsoft will advertise Windows 8 x86 Tablets ccorrectly, the iPad could be destroyed within two years. Think about it: All of the touch friendly-ness of a mobile operating system (with APPS!), yet all of the power and compatibility of full-fledged Windows PC (Office and C++ Compilers).
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RicardoDawkins

Yep. I expect this, too. And remember this type of blog post is always coming from someone fully invested in the Apple ecosystem.
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peter

As someone who carries an Android phone and uses a Zune HD every day I could hardly be described as someone "fully invested in the Apple ecosystem."

What I wrote is an analysis of the different approaches Microsoft might have taken, with my suggestion that they do more to try and unify the two UIs they are offering with Windows 8.
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puzder

The Zune HD is the best media player. No joke. It kills the iPod in all respects including usability.
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adinas

Since Metro doesn't improve the experience on a Desktop PC, why would making Desktop Mode any more similar to it be any good?
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swhite237

It would lesson the confusion users experience when they jump between the two interfaces. It would also restore some of their cachet with designers -- the Windows desktop is pretty damn ugly.
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CptBlu

lol what's wrong I thought a giant sea of icons all lined up kind of like a grid was some awesome new magical revolution or at least that what I been told by the other guys when they did the same thing but look now you can touch it something about how it should look like their idroid or what ever like that is some how an amazingly useful way to do things
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CptBlu

if you think this statement is true then you simply did not try. besides I would think the intent was more of a look and feel for consistancy
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bdegrande

I like the Metro interface, but Windows on ARM (WOA) is a different operating system running different software, it is just being called Windows because Microsoft wants to label everything Windows or Office - remember Windows CE? WOA is the right move - putting a full version of Windows on a tablet is a really bad idea, as those of use who have owned previous Windows tablets know. The demo tablet that Microsoft used to run full Win 8 needed an i5 processor and a fan - I shudder to think what this is going to mean for battery life, weight, cost, etc.

So I think that Microsoft is on the right track for a tablet OS with WOA, but I am disappointed with the desktop OS. I don't mind having two user interfaces, since you can pick and don't have to use both. However, I don't like the idea of a new layer grafted on to an old rotting core. Windows is badly in need of what Apple did with OS X - blow up the OS, start with a secure, fast core, and run old software with virtualization (and Microsoft owns good virtualization software). That there is still a registry in Win 8 is incredibly disappointing.

To me the best thing about Win 8 is the store. Moving your applications from one Windows machine to another has always been a nightmare, and it looks like that will no longer be the case, which is a huge step forward for the user experience.
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RicardoDawkins

That there is still a registry in Win 8 is incredibly disappointing.
Even with the Registry, looks like Windows 8 will be faster, fluid & smoother than OSX

The demo tablet that Microsoft used to run full Win 8 needed an i5 processor and a fan - I shudder to think what this is going to mean for battery life, weight, cost, etc.

Keep thinking, my friend. Not all tablets will be Core based. Not all tablets will be ARM based. Any moderm x86 and x86-64 processor will run Windows 8 and SoC from Qualcoom, Nvidia and Texas Instruments. A good number of tablets will come with fans but a gazillion more will run without any active cooling.
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CptBlu

its amazing how you find that most of the comments that point out incorrectness in perception and try to explain things the right way are the ones being voted down leaving nothing but the worst FUD commentsimaginable
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adinas

Maybe because so many are disappointed at what they see will be in Windows 8, they are just voting down any comments that are "Pro 8"
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CptBlu

I totally get being disappointed there are still some minor things I would like in win 8 but this is still just a preview and im not really trying to be pro 8 just trying to correct mis information and mis understandings being tossed around about the system. I do actually really like it yes their are some annoyances but we are changing the way we use our computers again and the things we do everyday are going to change this is trying to help us accomplish that this os is I no way limited it can do everything windows 7 can it just replaced the start menu with a full screen start screen that is the main difference for anyone that will be using classic applications for the near term and that's fine if you don't like the redesigned start menu no one liked xp's either every one hated the idea of no program manager in win 95 this is the same thing and time has show we move on and get over and be gin to love that which we initially loathed
no one has had enough time to truly see how this os will work or not work for their day to day operations it has not even been available for download for a week yet. the dev preview doesn't count it just reduces learning curve of metro as its intent was the touch ui for Dev purposes. all im saying is it doesn't serve the greater good to down vote actual answers just because you don't like the system the truth in operation is still just that
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CptBlu

this is not a skin on an old windows core most of windows has been redesigned even the runtimes are being changed from the win32 .net model to winRT the desktop could be related to an app more then the start screen can be just a layer on old windows this is an entirely new shell
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bcastl

Initially, I agreed with you. I hated being "forced," as many people are putting it, into 2 different user interfaces. But, I'm finding that as I use Windows 8, I'm minding it less and less. I'm finding the Start Screen to be a lot more useful to me than the Start Menu ever was, and the new, tablet-esque interaction method is starting to work for me.

I'll be honest: I hate the preview Metro apps. But I could see myself using them in a pane on the side of my monitor, for Facebook or Twitter once those are available, or email, weather, traffic conditions, etc. I think once people start using the 2 interfaces, they'll naturally start using one more than the other, either preferring Metro apps or Desktop apps to do what they want with their PC. I'm liking Windows 8 more the more I use it.
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belthsazar

personally, I still prefer Win7 and my beautiful GNOME3 + Gnome-Shell and KDE 4.8. on Ubuntu. but if I have to say something about this thingy 8, I'd say why don't you just use the desktop environment choosing bar like on Linuxes? it will be much acceptable than ruin the desktop with metro. I did hate the interface on WP Mango and here, it came on desktop as well. poor microsoft..
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who1981

Can you still turn off metro like in the developer preview? It was a simple 1-bit reg edit, and then 8 worked just about like 7. see here:
www.geek.com­/articles­/geek­-pick­/how­-to­-get­-a­-windo...
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crescentdave

Option 3 ... extend it out to touchscreen-enabled desktops (whatever). The only other way to really make Metro as a base work would be to have absolutely rock solid, well-designed windows version of a mac trackpad. I'm working with the developers release and it's never more than a few minutes when I'm back in the classic Win7 mode. I got sh*t to do!
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JadedGamer

It could be argued that iOS is a "stripped" OS X (removing unused features) using Cocoa Touch as the UI instead of the desktop OS' Aqua UI, and with a sandboxed app model (which is one of the features they are copying into Mountain Lion).
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CptBlu

too me its 2 different approaches to reaching the same goal unified UX across their respective ecosystems

Apple route : start over build iOS slowly add more and more features until it becomes essentially Mac OS's replacement.
Microsoft: Take an exisiting product rip it completely apart and rebuild it from the ground up in a compartmentalized fashion so that modules can be added and taken away depending on use case allow the Desktop OS to live on a device.
Google: Doing the Charlie Scheen they're sure are "winning" of course they are pretty much copying anything that succeeds with the other 2

Different approaches with the same eventual outcome unified experience and capabilities.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but touch is not a fad it is here to stay for a while this is just v1 as we head off into that way of computing. who wouldn't want their entire work surface to come alive. This os could actually handle that if the technology was available for masses not there yet but its on its way this is just the first step touch device prices will start to drop drastically as it becomes the norm
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georgel14

I still dont believe they have got the integration down to a fine art yet.
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benclewett

Small point but:

"The iPad runs on iOS, not OS X"

iOS is written in OS X :) Jail break iOS and you can see this clearly.
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Frood

Great analysis.

Since this is a preview, they could still change a lot of the finer processes. I haven't played with the OS yet but will in the very near future but I think the disconnect with metro and desktop will be resolved by the time the OS is in its final release. It doesn't make sense to have the system work the way it does if they intend to stay alive. I look at the way Apple is doing their systems and feel uninspired. Lion made OSX more iOS like (which I don't like). Mountain Lion is really just adding programs.

Desktop mode is needed for the customer who isn't comfortable with "the hip new thing." I know plenty of people that would feel uncomfortable with a metro only UI.

What I would love to see is the Motorola or new Ubuntu way of computing. For those that are not familiar with this please check out reviews.cnet.com­/motorola­-atrix­-review/
Imagine having a Windows 8 tablet and having metro for when you are on the go. When you need to do a lot more computing you can dock it to a keyboard that gives more processing power and storage with disk drives. I think this would be a great way to transfer media and organize data. Granted this may be a bit wasteful as you would have equipment at home that would be unusable without a Win8 tablet connected.

Metro is the way Microsoft has to go, but consumers need desktop mode so its not such a huge jump. Metro looks like it would difficult to transfer content from a flash drive to many folders. This is a big step for Microsoft and they will win me back as a customer if they can pull this off. My Mac will look so outdated.

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kineticartist

Id love to hear your honest unbiased opinion once you have actually played with it I wient in with some misgiving sbut set myself to get it a real try and look for the benefits to me a power user and found little to induce me to switch from Windows 7 Desktop or my Ubuntu laptop
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Frood

Finally got Win8 on my MBP using virtualbox, but it runs a bit slow. The only complaint I have may have more to do with my lack of knowledge with VM software is I can't get wifi to work in metro, but does work in desktop mode. Strange considering both sides show that they are not connected to a network. Will report more after I fix the bugs.
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swhite237

Some of the lag probably comes from the virtualbox (I'm sure you already knew that). Out of curiosity how are the Macbook touchpad drivers on Windows 8?
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Frood

The drivers seemed to transision just fine (could be VM though). It recognizes the two finger gestures like a normal scroll wheel. It lets me use the 3 finger swipe so I can switch between my spaces on the Mac, so it stands to reason that the VM is transfering the information.
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Frood

I currently use a HTC Titan and love Metro. But I will be installing it on my computer in the next couple of days.
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CptBlu

right click the start tip power menu at your finger tip
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adinas

I've been using it for a couple of days (as a full install on a PC, not in inside a VM). There is no doubt in my mind that Metro is a worse GUI than Desktop. Period. You have less information in front of you. You have less control. Need to more steps to get things done. Totally wrong for a large screen
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CptBlu

so the fact that your are being updated by live tiles is less information how are dynamic icons some how less informative then static ones I would much prefer to see an FB status update or the current weather scroll across a tile then actually open accuweather or facebook proper but that's just me please understand that most of your apps are not designed to work with live tiles but as they become available you will understand the start screen will end up providing you with more information in one glance then you could ever want
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adinas

How exactly do you see live tiles when you are in an application? (without leaving it)
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CptBlu

um that's really no different then what windows 8 does except there is only one way you need to remember how to use the device
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Dawagner1

Schizoid
After looking at a demo of the Metro interface on a tablet, it looks like Microsoft just bolted the Metro interface onto Windows 7. During the demo, the user inadvertently exited the Metro interface and ended up in the more standard interface with a number of popup message windows. Very Strange. Right now the Metro interface looks cluttered and confusing as I imagined it applied to a desktop. I am not sure I would appreciate a bunch of large tiles staring at me on my 27" monitor. It is also not clear how well a mouse would work in this interface, especially when it comes to multi-touch gestures. I am certainly not excited about reaching out and touching my screen. Microsoft still has a fair amount of work to do to avoid the apparent schizoid behavior.

It almost seems like the mobile group and desktop groups from Microsoft could not agree on a unified approach and ended up going down a dual path.
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Ellis

Yeah, mouse support is one of the main things that doesn't feel right. Doing something in Metro mode with a mouse takes a lot more time than it would with a touch screen, because it just wasn't designed with a keyboard and mouse in mind.
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CptBlu

that would be incorrect
to select things with touch in new start screen you must long press and then slide your finger down and release when the check box appears to select things with the mouse you simply right click left click actions are the exact same. Mouse and keyboard support have drastically been improved since the dev preview mouse and key board work very well especially if you know all you keyboard shortcuts.
operating in touch to get you edge menus you swipe up from the bottom and only the bottom with mouse you just right click tabbing through open applications requires you to swipe from the left flicking the items across the screen until the one you want is up or slide out pause and slide down and it will show everything that's open similarly with keyboard you can just alt + tab or with mouse move to the bottom corner when the start tile pops up move your mouse up and the rest of your open applications are displayed most actions are the same or slightly quick with mouse and keyboard
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ssstraub

I used it with a mouse and keyboard, and it doesn't feel good at all. We are talking about feel, not whether it functionally works.
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kineticartist

scrolling the metro interface with the mousewheels is cool but I found the little target icons in each corner to have far too small a hit area I was constantly aiming for the picture to only have it disappear and had to after a multitude of failures to aim for the black border instead. Yeah I wont be moving to windows 8 even my kids hated it and in the case of my 16 year old windows 8 Consumer preview induced him to remove the windows 7 basic from his netbook and install ubuntu
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adamz

You don't have to aim at all. That's the beauty of the 4 corners. Throw your mouse in the direction of any corner and the cursor will end up there no matter how accuratly or quickly you move it there. Then click and that will activate the control. Or drag along the edge and that will activate something else like the task switcher or charms bar.
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