Five important features Microsoft should add to Windows 8

windows-8-metro

In less than a week, Microsoft will unveil the Windows 8 Consumer Preview at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain. The preview should give us a fairly good idea of what the final version of Windows 8 will look like. But after using the Developer Preview, which was released a few months back, it’s obvious that there are some areas of 8 that still need work. Here are the top five things we’d love to see Microsoft improve or add to Windows 8 in the days or months ahead. 

A decent apps list

With Windows 8, Microsoft is attempting to bridge the gap between newer, simpler smartphone operating systems and Windows. One of the biggest parts of this is the concept of apps. Like iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and even Mac OS X Lion, Windows 8 will have an app store where you’ll be able to purchase and download apps for your Windows device. Oddly, however, in the Developer Preview, Microsoft had not yet implemented an app list. More strange is that no executives have hinted that they will. Currently, to find Metro apps (that’s what the new apps are called) on Windows 8, you have to search for them. There’s no easily accessible screen that shows everything you have installed. It’s clumsy and awkward.

Being that an app list is a key feature of Windows Phone, it’s an odd omission. That said, Windows 8 is being developed by a completely separate team, so it’s possible that Microsoft is removing it intentionally. It needs to come back. We’re really hoping there is an easier way to find and manage apps on your machine in Windows 8. If the Start Screen is supposed to replace the Start Menu, it needs to include a list of installed software. 

windows-8-app-search

In addition, Microsoft has another problem. Since Windows 8 also has a full copy of Windows 7 embedded into it (or maybe it’s the other way around), there needs to be a good way to manage classic desktop applications as well. Optimally, Microsoft will find a way to unify these screens so you don’t have to go to two different places to see what you have installed on your machine. Also, it would be nice if the company found a way to make installation and uninstallation of non-Metro apps a less painful process. If there’s one thing smartphones have done well, it’s making software easy to add and remove from your device. 

Better Multitasking

Microsoft has introduced some very cool multitasking ideas with Windows 8. For the first time on a tablet device, you’ll be able to drag a second application and pin it to the left or right side of anything you’re currently running. In addition to this, you can swap between open apps by swiping in from the left edge of the screen. These additions are fantastic and will really make swapping between and using multiple apps better. Unfortunately, these are currently the only ways to swap between applications. If you had 15 apps open, you’d have to swipe through all 15 to get to the one you want — and that’s if you don’t accidentally swipe one too many times. Windows 8 needs a way to easily switch between any apps on the fly without having to flick through all of them to do it. 

five important features microsoft must add to windows 8 new carousel

With the added ability for Windows 8 to freeze apps in place like Android, Windows Phone, and iOS, it would also be nice if it had a bit of the BlackBerry PlayBook in it as well. The PlayBook keeps apps running completely as they’re minimized, which is helpful in some cases. This could be a feature the new version of Windows 8 is already capable of. We hope it is. 

A cleaner Classic Desktop

Including the classic Windows 7 desktop alongside the new Metro Start Screen is one of the biggest gambles Microsoft has ever made. Arguing for or against it is irrelevant at this point because we’re getting both, but it would really be nice if Microsoft made some effort to make Windows 7 blend in better with the new design. At the very least, the windows could be altered to be flatter and look more Metro-esque instead of using the same Aero glass effect we’ve seen on Vista and Windows 7. From a visual standpoint, seeing the old UI and the new UI butt up against each other is awkward and jarring. 

To use the two systems side-by-side is just as jarring and quite annoying. In the Developer Preview, it’s almost impossible to know what settings and functions are accessible in the new Metro interface, and which ones require you to swap over to the old desktop. In a past artice, I compared the classic desktop to a dumping ground for Microsoft to shove features they don’t have the time for, or plan to add into Metro later. It’s the software equivalent of hiding all of your junk in the basement. Want to change the clock? Head over to the classic desktop. Want to access settings? Well, you can try the Metro Settings, but the old Control Panel is still in Windows 8 and comes complete with thousands of strange little options. 

windows-8-developer-preview-changing-the-time

The problem with this approach is that it’s unclear if Windows 8 could ever function well for all users if it didn’t have the classic desktop. By admitting that the old desktop is needed and promoting it this much, it makes it hard to know just what Microsoft’s long-term plans are. It looks like things are moving toward Metro, but is the new simplistic style capable of running sophisticated software like Photoshop or Maya? We’ll find out soon enough. One good sign is that Microsoft has already created a touch-friendly version of its core Office apps. They are still Classic Desktop applications, but supposedly they work better with touchscreen devices. If Office can make the transition, there might be hope for other professional software. 

Live Tile customization and deep linking

This is a strange request: One of the best things about the new Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) update was the ability for users to create homescreen Live Tiles not just for apps, but for different pages and sections within apps. This means that, for example, if you were looking for a flight in an application, you could actually create a homescreen Live Tile for your specific flight and attach a reminder to it. These kinds of features have been hinted at in Windows 8, but we haven’t seen them in action.

It’s also not clear exactly how easily, or how much, users will be able to modify the look of the start screen. It would be great if every app would let you create Live Tiles of any size, shape, and color.  Your Start Screen could be a Tetris of your own design, with some Tiles that are a quarter of the current smallest size and some that could be as large as you wish, or come in stranger geometric shapes. Keyboards have always played with button sizes, why must they be so rigidly locked down in Windows 8? In Windows Phone, the ability to customize the size of tiles is not yet officially available (though some homescreen modifying apps make it possible), but hopefully it will be added as well. Better bundling and categorizing would also be helpful. The more Microsoft can do to make the Start Screen warmer and more customize-able, the better.

A willingness to still be a PC, and be open

From what we’ve heard so far, Microsoft is going to take an Apple approach to Windows 8 apps buy controlling all app distribution for Metro-style apps. This makes for a very safe app ecosystem, but also one without freedom of choice. What will this do to services like Steam, which sell games? There are many good reasons to have a secure system for purchasing apps, but shouldn’t we be able to purchase software from multiple vendors? What if Microsoft decides that it doesn’t want to sell a particular app? Shouldn’t there be the possibility that the software could be obtained from other services? Why can’t Amazon sell apps? I guarantee they’d have lower prices and nice deals. There must be a smart way to integrate third-party app distribution into Windows 8, and every other mobile OS. 

windows-8-app-store

There is a lot of fragmentation in the world of computing today, but Windows PCs have always been the one place where you can get the important software that helps you manage the many services you have across all of your devices. Windows PCs (and Macs, sort of) are the one platform that can run everything, in one way or another. In the smartphone world, iTunes is only available on the iPhone and iPad, but if you’re a PC user that’s okay because it’s also available for PCs — you’re not completely shut out. The same goes for services from Amazon, Google, Facebook and all of the major tech companies. These guys are fighting like crazy in the mobile space, but all of them realize the need to support PCs. What’s scary is that this could change in the future. The Wild West may come to your primary computer. 

In theory, I don’t disagree with the “no compromises” approach Windows 8 has taken, but it will come at a cost. By focusing on touch, and closing off  installation of Metro-style apps unless they’re downloaded from Microsoft’s app store, Microsoft is bringing its flagship OS into the massive operating system and app ecosystem war that’s being waged on mobile. The PC is becoming a battleground again, for the first time in a long time. One might argue that it’s already under attack from Android, OS X Mountain Lion, or the iPad, but now Microsoft is signaling that it’s ready to fight. Will this mean the loss of some apps from Windows or Microsoft ending the porting of Microsoft software to non-Windows platforms? There are plenty of questions. Times, they are changing.

Turn and face the strain

Soon, there will no longer be one platform that has such a huge market share that everything is on it. As popular as Windows may be, the sun is setting on its era of dominance. We really are entering a post-PC age. Windows will likely be an important part of the computing world, but it won’t be the only big game in town anymore. The battle for the PC industry will truly begin with Windows 8, and the swords come out with the Consumer Preview, which we look forward to checking out when it’s released on February 29. 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Mobile

Ditch your smartphone for a year and win $100k from Vitaminwater

Vitaminwater is willing to part with $100,000 if you're willing to part with your smartphone partner for a year. Could you last for a year armed with only a 1996-era phone? Here's your chance to find out.
Computing

Windows Update not working after October 2018 patch? Here’s how to fix it

Windows update not working? It's a more common problem than you might think. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to troubleshoot it and in this guide we'll break them down for you step by step.
Mobile

Want to watch Netflix in bed or browse the web? We have a tablet for everyone

There’s so much choice when shopping for a new tablet that it can be hard to pick the right one. From iPads to Android, these are our picks for the best tablets you can buy right now whatever your budget.
Computing

New rumors say the Pixelbook 2 could show up at CES 2019

What will the Pixelbook 2 be like? Google hasn't announced it, but thanks to rumors and leaks, we think we have a pretty good idea of what the potential new flagship Chromebook will be like.
Computing

Our favorite Chrome themes add some much-needed pizzazz to your boring browser

Sometimes you just want Chrome to show a little personality and ditch the grayscale for something a little more lively. Lucky for you, we've sorted through the Chrome Web Store to find best Chrome themes available.
Computing

Don't keep typing the same thing -- learn to copy and paste with these shortcuts!

Looking for useful Windows keyboard shortcuts? The most common are the cut, copy, paste and undo shortcuts compatible with all kinds of tasks. They can save you an awful lot of time if you learn how to use them.
Computing

Latest Facebook bug exposed up to 6.8 million users’ private photos

An API bug recently left an impact on Facebook users. Though the issue has since been fixed, some of the apps on the platform had a wrongful access to consumers photos for 12 days between September 13 and September 25. 
Computing

You can now get a Surface Laptop 2 for $800 at the Microsoft Store

Along with deals on other variants, starting configurations of Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 are now going for $800 online at its retail store, cutting $200 from its usual $1,000 starting price. 
Computing

Need a monitor for professional photo-editing? These are the very best

Looking for the best monitor for photo editing? You'll need to factor in brightness, color accuracy, color gamut support and more. Fortunately, we've rounded up the best ones for you, to help you make an educated purchase.
Computing

HDR monitors are beginning to have an impact. Here are the best you can buy

HDR isn't the most common of PC monitor features and is often charged at a premium, but the list of available options is growing. These are the best HDR monitors you can buy right now.
Computing

You’ll soon be able to scribble all over PDFs on your Chromebook

Chrome OS users may soon be able to doodle all over their PDF documents with the possible addition of a new feature in Chrome OS' PDF viewer. The annotation feature is expected to allow users to hand draw or write over their documents.
Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Prices drop, but our favorite stays the same

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two big names in the virtual reality arena, but most people can only afford one. Our comparison tells you which is best when you pit the Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive.
Computing

Microsoft’s Windows 95 throwback was just an ugly sweater giveaway

Microsoft's "softwear" announcement wasn't what we had hoped for. Thursday's announcement was not the new line of wearable tech or SkiFree monster sweater we wished for. But it did deliver the 90s nostalgia we wanted.
Home Theater

Confused about LED vs. LCD TVs? Here's everything you need to know

Our LED vs. LCD TV buying guide explains why these two common types of displays are fundamentally connected, how they differ, what to look for in buying an LED TV, and what's on the horizon for TVs.