Right from the start, I can assure you that this will not be my only post about the Metro Interface. Judging by the reaction in the IT community, Metro is going to be a bone of contention long past the Windows 8 release date this fall. Overall, Metro appears to be an excellent interface for tablets and other touch-enabled devices. Unfortunately, a large segment of potential users do work that does not require the need for a tablet and does require the use of a PC or laptop. For example, developers like myself are the kind of folks who simply want to sit down at the keyboard and crank out code. I’m sure that it’s the same with writers, editors, accountants and many other professions.

Yes, I have a tablet – an HP TouchPad – and I use it for taking notes, sending short e-mails, etc. I get tired, however, trying to use a stylus to tap out a lengthy message or take significant amounts of notes. I do have a BlueTooth keyboard that works with the TouchPad as well as my iPhone but at that point, what I have is a laptop with a tiny screen. Moreover, I (usually) don’t have to wipe smudges and fingerprints off of my monitor.

In other words, there are:

  • Advantages to using a tablet
  • Advantages to using a lap/desktop
  • The former cannot realistically be expected to do everything that the latter does.
  • Lap/Desktops are not going away anytime soon

The problem is that Microsoft seems to forget that laptops and desktops are still with us and will be for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the mouse is a second-class citizen in the Metro world. The interface is geared towards pressing a had button to shut down a tablet. Trying to find the soft button to shut down your system is a chore and anything more than two mouse clicks is too many. When you boot up, you are taken to the Metro Desktop and if you want to use the traditional desktop, you have to click a soft button which is one click too many.

Finally, there is no native “Start” button in Windows 8. The Metro desktop can be considered to be one big start button but if you have copious quantities of applications like I do, you need something considerably more compact. So, what to do?

Stardock Corpporation offers a free Start Button application that may work for some but as much as I like Stardock’s user interface software, this application is a little too basic for my needs and probably for many other users as well. (Click on the menu image to see a full-size version)












The StarDock Menu - OK but it may not be what a lot of people need.














Another alternative is Classic Shellwhich is available for free at SourceForge. This is easy to install and is more customise-able than StarDock’s Offering. (Click on the image to see a full-size version)

The Classic Shell Menu - There's no place like home! (Note the shape of the Start Button)
















There is an additional skin available for Classic Shell that can make things look more like Windows 7. (Just be sure not to click the big DOWNLOAD button at the top of the page. That’s Google ad-ware. The real download link is about half-way down the page & says “Download Windows 7 Skin for Classic Shell”.) The Windows 7 skin looks a lot more like what we’re used to seeing. (Click on the image to see a full-size version)

This is a lot more like the Win 7 Start Menu

This is all well and good but there’s a downside; The availability and compatibility of these add-on’s depends on the enthusiasm and devotion of their developers. I have seen more than one terrific add-on/plug-in go by the boards because there was a major change in the software or operating system and the developer had abandoned the project. I’m not suggesting that it’s going to happen here but it’s one more thing to consider.

Both of the above solutions exist because Microsoft wants to focus on one segment of the user market whilst ignoring the others. Redmond has a habit of shooting itself in the foot with pin-point accuracy and there are plenty of folks who remember the Vista debacle. What is more, Microsoft has been in an alternating great OS / Sucky OS cycle for years, now. Vista was a dog until the service packs came out. Windows 7 has been great so it looks like it’s time for another OS that bays at the moon.

Stay tuned for more on Windows 8.

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