I posted this over at Ars, with further examples I have found through my usage of Windows 8 of how the Start screen is an inferior solution to the Start menu and why I think the whole modern style UI / desktop dichotomy doesn't work:
Edited by tpi2007 - 10/25/12 at 4:49pm
Thanks for the great review Peter!
I have been using Windows 8 since the Developer Preview, way back in October of last year, and I share all your concerns about the badly glued together GUIs that Windows 8 has. If you could only totally avoid the once called Metro interface when you're working on a desktop or on a conventional laptop, I would gladly upgrade because the under the hood improvements, while not game changing in most respects, are always welcome.
In addition to the problems you found, I'll share a few more additional problems with the Start screen compared to the Start Menu:
For example, when you have one of those days where you have to use Notepad / Word a lot to copy / paste a lot of text or Paint to copy / paste screenshots, Windows 7 conveniently puts both applications in the Start Menu, complete with jump lists with the files you just recently worked with. The Start screen has no such functionality, it won't place the last used applications in a special place, nor does it support jump lists, so in a way the Start screen is a retrogress in that you have to place all the tiles for the programs you think you will use from time to time manually, and even then you don't have jump lists. If you want to take advantage of jump lists, you now only have the taskbar, instead of the taskbar and the Start menu, and while the Start menu is dynamic in that it will eventually replace the used applications with others you used more recently, the taskbar is static and you may not want to use precious space on the taskbar to pin Notepad or Paint.
The search function, which I also criticized last year for not displaying results from all categories in one go, making it much easier to browse with the mouse or even the cursor keys (I can't believe they haven't fixed this, or at least provided an option to turn it on), has an additional problem: in Windows 7, when you search from the Start menu, you get a "See more results" link at the bottom, which opens a window with all the search results. This is very useful if you are searching for many files / pictures / music / videos that meet a certain criteria. Imagine you're looking for Word documents that contain the word "financial". This window will keep all the results for you to browse at will, open each one of those files (browsing all the pictures in one go) or the ones you think you need, whenever you need. The Start screen search doesn't have this functionality, meaning you have to search all over again in order to open the next file you think you need. Of course there is a way around this, you can open Explorer from the pinned icon on the taskbar and then select to search the whole computer (as it defaults to searching the libraries when you open it, which may not be where you have the documents), and then click on the search box to start typing, but this takes a lot longer than to just click on the Start menu with the mouse and start typing, or, press the "Start" / windows key and start typing. If you now press the "Start" / Windows key the Start screen appears and with it the much less functional search function.
There are many more annoyances, but the main idea is that all of this could have been avoided had Microsoft given proper treatment to desktop users and merged the UI once called Metro with the desktop UI, allowing for the Start screen to run as any other program would, windowed, or fullscreen, but with an icon on the taskbar, and Metro style apps should be able to run on the desktop, just like widgets do in Windows 7, and have a close button, just like all Windows applications. Putting too much emphasis on fullscreen applications (who needs a fullscreen weather app ?) that don't even have a close button is, in a way, destroying the concept of Windows, in the sense that you don't have windows anymore. Metro style apps should even be able to be resized on a desktop computer, after all they are fully vectorized.
The desktop should continue to be the center of all the action on conventional computers. Bringing the Start screen into the equation is in essence bringing a second desktop to Windows and splitting the user attention between two worlds. While you are browsing the Start screen, you are away from whatever is happening on the desktop - programs that have finished what they are doing and require your attention, Anti-virus / Internet Security packages that require your attention, other programs, like Steam, with their notifications, or even self-refreshing webpages that could possibly be presenting you with important information, etc.
Windows 8 will need many feature improvements before it can be regarded as Windows 7: an OS that feels mature and well thought-out.