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You, faithful Maximum PC readers and computing enthusiasts that you are, will hate Metro. Some developers are even working on applications that will terminate Metro altogether.
While Windows 8 has removed the traditional Start button, companies have created replacement Windows 8 Start buttons. Check out our Stardock Start8 vs. Classic Shell head-to-head story to see which new Windows 8 Start button we recommend.
Let’s start with the apps. At the time of this review, Microsoft and third-party developers worldwide have yet to jump on the app bandwagon. We can’t speak to what’s on the horizon for Metro, but we can certainly discuss the apps that come bundled with the operating system by default.
The single-app, full-screen Metro environment takes some getting used to. Truly, your capacity to enjoy Microsoft’s tablet treatment depends on the app: The People app is as pointless as it is cluttered. We don’t understand why one would need to have all of one’s contacts—yes, your random Twitter friends too, if you so desire—in a setting that’s hard to navigate (horizontal scroll only!), difficult to configure (one giant “news feed” for everyone, really?), and difficult to edit (merging contacts and setting “favorites” takes too long).
SkyDrive? We dare anyone to say that this Metro app is easier to navigate than a simple, Dropbox-like folder in File Explorer (Windows Explorer, no more). Video? Sure, if you like a player that’s more in touch with Microsoft’s online store than an app that can legitimately play all the files you toss its way. Messaging? Works great with Microsoft Messenger and Facebook—and that’s about it. Trillian is hardly shaking in its boots, here.
Other apps, like Weather and Maps, deliver a compelling experience within Metro. Games—and the downloadable Xbox Smartglass app—finally tie together one’s PC and one’s Xbox 360 in a better, but not ideal, fashion. News, though still annoyingly stuck to a horizontal plane, looks as wonderful as its companion app Sports.
We have you own Windows 8 app, you can read more about it here.
Mail, however, is downright laughable—especially when free alternatives like Mozilla’s Thunderbird, the web-based Gmail, or Microsoft’s own Outlook application blow its lackluster capabilities out of the water.
It’s frustrating that Windows 8’s built-in Internet Explorer 10, an app that gets the full Metro treatment to delightful results, requires you to set the browser as your default just to play with its Metro version. Apps like Google’s Chrome browser—admittedly still in the development channel as of this article’s writing—don’t cross-pollinate between Windows Metro and Windows Desktop. Each browser is its own unique instance in this case, which couldn’t be any more frustrating for laypeople and enthusiasts.
The strength of Windows’ apps—both third-party and Microsoft-driven—are going to be the make-or-break elements for Metro. At launch, and especially on a single-screen setup, they are more novelty than necessity.
Microsoft has updated the Windows app store since launch. Check out our favorite Windows 8 apps story.
Metro’s search tool, accessible just by typing in anything when you’re staring at the main tiles screen, is one of its most compelling features. The now-lamer Windows Indexing of Windows 7 just got put to shame.
It’s possible to think of Metro as simply a start menu—which it basically is, given that Microsoft has killed the traditional Start Menu in Windows 8’s desktop mode. Just ignore all the live tiles and downloadable apps and use the blocky UI as a souped-up entry to your desktop. Sort of.
Organizing tiles is as easy as dragging them around to new columns based on whatever internal organization scheme you’re going for. That said, it’s still annoying that you can’t adjust their shape at all, nor edit their size beyond one of two set limits Microsoft has put into place. Microsoft does give you the option to assign a name to columns of tiles, but you might miss this feature unless you go hunting (hint: use the lower-right-hand “minus” sign to expand your Metro UI to the full, zoomed-out view, and then right-click a column).
In Metro, a tile is often an app, or a shortcut to an app, that you’ve pinned to the “Start,” though it could also be a folder, library link, or network resource, to name just a few. For whatever reason, you can’t create tiles for important “common” files within the Metro interface, like a critical PDF or favorite song you want easy access to.
Windows 8’s biggest Metro killjoy occurs when you go to install a new app—like, say, the Combined Community Codec Pack. For Windows 8’s Metro interface is, for all intents, its start menu. And when an app like CCC comes with eight or more shortcuts that would otherwise be simple links in said menu, they transform into a whole heckuva lot of tiles within Metro. We can count on one hand the number of times we’ve needed to delete extraneous or unwanted links on a conventional Windows start menu. Within Metro, you’ll be doing this a lot, if you’re actually trying to keep your horizontal interface (ugh) clutter-free.
In a single-monitor environment, Metro just doesn’t make a lot of sense. As much as Microsoft tries to fit the square peg in the round hole, Metro is, at its core, an interface made for tablets, not a monitor. For a pair of monitors, however, Metro becomes a pretty ideal combination of a standard Windows 7 desktop and a big-ol’ screen that you can glance at to view useful information in a blown-up, exaggerated fashion.
In other words, Windows 8 reads a lot better in a multi-monitor setup.
We had the pleasure of being able to try out Windows 8 in such an environment. Better still, our secondary monitor was a handy-dandy ViewSonic touchscreen monitor (for the full Windows 8 Metro experience).
Setting up two monitors is just as easy to do in a Windows 8 environment as it is in Windows 7. For those rocking a touchscreen, however, you’ll have to do a bit of jumping around to ensure that your device is perfectly calibrated for your setup. And we don’t mean matching your finger-presses to where they register on the panel itself. We had to jump into Windows 8’s Tablet PC Settings—of all Control Panel options—to ensure that our finger-presses were correctly mapping to screen number two instead of the primary display. That could not be any more unintuitive on Microsoft’s part.
Metro’s new multi-monitor support means you’ll no longer need to turn to third-party apps to manage the funner parts of a dual-screen setup, like setting different wallpapers (or slide shows of wallpapers) on each screen.
It’s great that we no longer have to resort to third-party apps to stretch a single wallpaper image across two desktops—thanks, new Windows 8 personalization settings. Even better, Windows 8 now allows you to set custom backgrounds or slide-show wallpapers for each monitor, and you can even flick off the taskbar—or hide it, if no active apps are open on the display—as you see fit.
Keyboard commands allow you to flick windows back and forth between your monitors—nothing new there for Windows 7 multi-monitor enthusiasts. However, what’s lacking is a way to force Metro to pop up on a specific monitor via key press or, even better, set a single monitor as the “default” recipient of any Windows key action on your keyboard.
It gets uglier. Metro doesn’t just pop up on whatever monitor your mouse cursor happens to be hovering over—that would be too easy. Metro appears on your primary monitor by default.
To launch it on a second monitor instead, you first have to hover your mouse in the lower-left-hand corner of the target display and click. After that, Metro will “bind” to your Windows key for that monitor until you repeat the process on a different display.
That’s not so bad, right? It gets uglier. The basic Metro interface is not a unique entity; it’s attached to your normal operating system in such a way that clicking anywhere outside of the interface—like, say, on your primary display—closes Metro entirely. Huh?
You have to launch a Metro app in order for it to “stick” to your second display. After that, all’s well—dragging Metro apps back and forth between monitors is as easy as dragging conventional desktop windows to and fro. Metro’s snap feature, or the ability to stash a Metro app to a left or right sidebar while you simultaneously operate another app, stays in place when you switch between screens.
We’re not sold on Windows 8’s touchscreen controls, first and foremost because Microsoft does the barest minimum to explain what they are—and Windows 8 isn’t all that intuitive. Second, because you really have to dig into the bezel in order to activate Metro’s various “hot corners,” which include the options panel you pull up from the bottom of the screen for Metro apps, the right-hand Charms Bar, and the left-hand app‑selector sidebar. It would have been a grand gesture if Microsoft gave users the option to adjust the size or sensitivity of the hotspots on their screen. But, hey, at least Windows 8 now supports multitouch gestures on touchpads. Eh?
This image represents the ideal Metro experience: an easy-to-understand (and ideally, touch-sensitive) Metro app on one screen, combined with the standard Windows 7-ish desktop as the primary input. In other words, Metro is better as a spice than as the main ingredient of Windows 8’s dish.
Another not-so-insignificant annoyance related to a two-monitor setup is that there’s no way to get Windows 8 to ignore any touches during inopportune moments. Since Windows 8 treats a tap as if it was a mouse cursor, playing a game full-screen on monitor one while trying to tap your way to an email or a news item on monitor two’s Metro display minimizes your game and sends you back to the desktop on monitor uno.
Specific problem? Yes. But it’s the kind of Metro annoyance that screams for a solution..