Building Windows 8

After the initial excitement around Windows 8, things have now gone scarily quite. However, in the background Steven Sinofsky (president of the Windows division) and his team have been busy taking on board feedback from the developer preview and building towards the beta release.

As part of this process Microsoft have been running a "Building Windows 8" blog, which is a fascinating insight into the minds of the people designing Windows and helps us (the end user) understand why certain decisions are being made. Obviously one of the big talking points is the new Start Screen and how this will work for both touch based tablets and traditional PC's. Microsoft have posted a number of articles on this topic, but I found "Evolving the Start menu" to be particularly interesting.

Within this article they go into meticulous detail about how people use their Windows system today, specifically how they interact with the Start menu and taskbar. As a result of this research they developed the following graph showing the percentage of users who "pin" items.

As you can see from the graphs, the majority of people do not pin anything to the start menu, but have 3 items pinned to the taskbar. Microsoft go on to say that they are using this research to drive the evolution of the Start menu.

I'm pleased to hear Microsoft are doing their homework for Windows 8, however I hope they are doing more than just quantitative date collection. For example, I believe the data shown above is specifically for the average consumer and not office based or power users. The reason this is obvious is that the highest percentage for both values happens to be the Windows 7 default (what is configured out the box). Therefore other demographics, such as office users will have a completely different set of needs and as a result a completely different setup.

Take for example my Windows 7 setup (primarily used for work). As you can see from the image below I have 8 items manually pinned to my start menu, which are my most commonly used applications. The great thing about this setup is that I can access the recently used feature (the little arrows) to access documents quickly and easily. However, if you compare this to Microsoft's data you will see that I'm in the under 5% category.

The same can be said for my desktop and taskbar. As you can see from the image below I retain my minimal desktop experience (the only way to work effectively), but actually go out of my way to remove pinned items from the taskbar, leaving just Windows Explorer.

The primary reason for doing this is that I often have multiple applications open at one time and therefore like plenty of real estate available on the taskbar for quick application switching. The only other customisation I make is to pin a number of my key folders within Windows Explorer, which can be accessed with Aero Snap. Again this provides me quick access to my most used files (for example a project I am currently working on).

The point of this article is not to say Microsoft's data is wrong, but to highlight that everyone has their own style of working and one of Windows strengths has always been its ability to customise the experience. My concern with "Metro Style" Start Screen (as seen in the Windows 8 Developer Preview) is that it offers a much more rigded experience, locking you into live tiles and lists of applications. This may actually benefit the average consumer, but I'm not convinced it will work for someone who actually needs to get things done.