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Killing the desktop: Can you survive in Windows 8's modern UI alone?

Ian Paul | April 15, 2013
The mission: To spend a week solely in Windows 8's modern UI. The results: Enlightening. The verdict: You'll have to read to find out.

Can Windows 8's modern UI replace the traditional desktop? That's the question everyone's been asking since Microsoft released Windows 8 last October.

Thus far, the consensus theory has been a resounding NO! There aren't enough modern apps in the Windows Store, critics point out. And the full-screen view of modern-style apps isn't conducive to PC-style multitasking, they say. And hey, the control panel is still located on the desktop!

But so what?

For all the gripes, no complainers have yet to answer the basic question: Even with these limitations, is it conceivable to spend all of your time in the modern UI, and shun the desktop completely?

Despite being a desktop diehard, I decided to figure out the answer in the wake of the Windows Blue leak. The beefing up in Blue all occurs in the modern UI, strongly suggesting that the company considers the Start screen, not the desktop, to be the future of Windows.

With that possibility (or eventuality?) in mind, I spent the past week off the desktop grid, living a solely "modern" life. The UI was the only alteration to my normal routine--I continued using my trusty, touch-less Lenovo X220 laptop with an external mouse and built-in keyboard.

Getting around: Surprisingly easy


Windows 8's modern Start screen.

The first surprise of my exile: The lack of a touchscreen never felt like a burden. Not once.

Before my little experiment, switching apps or using the Snap feature always felt like a chore. I had to consciously think about the navigation commands. Launching system menus from their hidden corners required a trying level of patience: If the cursor flickered just too much to the left or right while sliding upward to select an option, the bar would disappear, dropping me back at square one. It was so infuriating that I'd often opt for the trusty old Alt-Tab keyboard shortcut to switch apps.

But after just one day of dedicated use, I was navigating the modern UI like a pro. The mental hesitation while opening the apps bar? Gone. Ditto inaccurate mouse movements. I was switching between apps just as fast as I would on the desktop, maybe even a little bit faster.

Keyboard shortcuts are critical for a touch-less modern UI experience, though--specifically, the Windows key for getting back to the Start screen and Windows-C to open the Charms Bar. Even with ninja-level mouse navigation skills, the Charms Bar and the Start icon just open ... so ... slowly.

You also get used to working only in full-screen apps in short order. Sure, the lack of the Windows taskbar and the desktop feels a bit confining at first. But you can only dedicate your full attention to a single program anyway. For my money, there's very little difference between switching windows on the desktop and switching full-screen apps in the modern UI (though modern apps require more scrolling within the app due to their less-efficient use of space).

 

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