I haven't been a Windows 8 basher, but I'm also no Windows 8 fan. Microsoft's latest client OS has received a cool reception—and right or wrong, Windows 8 shoulders much of the blame for the sharp 13.9 percent decline in PC sales reported by IDC.
News about Windows 8 and the pending Windows Blue update have made it clear that Microsoft isn't going to address some of the key features that customers dislike about Windows 8—which is ironic considering that Microsoft claims to have a customer-centric focus. Here are the top 10 changes Microsoft should make to Windows 8 to increase the OS's number of fans.
1. Bring back the Start menu—Removing the Start menu was the biggest mistake Microsoft made in Windows 8. Leaving the Start menu in wouldn't have hurt anything and it would have made the new OS easier for existing Windows users to adopt. Instead, Microsoft chose to make Windows 8 users' lives difficult. Returning the Start menu would fix the biggest mistake in Windows 8 right away. The upcoming Blue release has been rumored to include the Start button, but not the Start menu.
2. Add touch support using Kinect—Windows 8 was designed around a touch interface and it's definitely more useable on a touch-enabled device. The only problem is, few people have touch-enabled devices. Plus, there's the disgust most people have with other people leaving greasy smudge marks on their device screen. Making a Kinect add-on for Windows 8 would solve both problems by eliminating the need to purchase completely new touch-enabled monitors and by providing a gesture-enabled add-on that allows touch to work without users actually having to touch the screen.
3. Dynamically detect the device and boot accordingly—One of the other annoyances in Windows 8 is the inability to boot into the desktop. The desktop is where most users with standard PCs and laptops are going to spend most of their time. If Windows 8 is running on a tablet, then it makes sense to boot into the new Start screen. If Windows 8 is running on a non-touch device, then provide the option to allow the boot into the desktop. The upcoming Blue release is rumored to allow booting into the desktop, but it would be even better if the system could detect the type of device and boot accordingly.
4. Make everything visible—One of the strong points about the Windows 7 and earlier interfaces is that you can eventually find everything by clicking on the different options you can see on the screen. That's not true in Windows 8. Menus appear and disappear depending on where you mouse or touch. Many people—especially ordinary folks—find this very confusing, and it could be easily be rectified by adding Start screen or desktop icons for these sometimes invisible options.
5. Eliminate the reliance on keyboard shortcuts—Unlike any earlier edition of Windows, Windows 8 is not really usable without mastering keyboard shortcuts—at least not on a regular mouse- and keyboard-equipped PC. I can't count the number of times I use Ctrl+X and the Windows key in day. Keyboard shortcuts are great, but point-and-click method is what made Windows popular in the first place. Again, surfacing regular tasks to the interface would make it easier for ordinary users.
6. Make the Start screen cooler—I know the Start screen has its fans, but it reminds me of the days when Visual Basic (VB) first came out and everything had to be too simple, too colorful, and too gauche. I liked the Windows 7 transparency and snap features. Windows 8's blocky nature seems like a step backward for a PC. Transparent, resizable, and floating tiles would have been cooler.
7. Allow Windows 8 apps to run in a window—It seems silly to me that an OS called Windows can't run new apps in a window. Without third-party software, apps have to run in full-screen mode. Full-screen apps make sense for a phone, or maybe a small tablet, but nothing is less attractive than a single app stretched across my 27" monitor.
8. Really cloud-enable the OS—I really do like the Windows 8's SkyDrive integration, but I think it could go further. Allowing your desktop and profile to travel with you to multiple devices in the style of Live Mesh, or maybe integrating backup for your system and documents without needing to buy something extra, would make the cloud more convenient and practical for desktop users.
9. Buy Stardock—Stardock Start8 provides a replacement Start menu, whereas ModernMix allows you to run Windows 8 apps in windows on the desktop. Microsoft should just save itself the effort, buy Stardock, and include the company's software in the next release of Windows 8.
10. Rename Windows RT—Every non-IT person I talk to about Windows RT doesn't understand it's not compatible with all the existing Windows x86 software. When I tell them, they can't believe it. The ARM-based Windows RT is a cool device, but giving it a new name would eliminate the confusion.