The tiles-based Start screen in Windows 8 may be the worst thing to happen to personal computing since … well, ever.

Being a cheapskate Windows guy (as I have detailed before), I could not resist the temptation to snap up a new laptop at the fire-sale prices you can find at most big box retailers these days. The battery on my current work system is on its last legs, and the idea of going more than four hours between finding a free outlet was too good to pass up.

A week later, I have come to the painful realization of exactly why I got my new large-screen, i3 processor machine for $430.

Windows 8 sucks.

It’s not news that most folks are less than enamored with the latest Microsoft operating system. PC World reports that laptops with Windows 7 (which rocked) are moving at higher prices than comparable Windows 8 machines. The general “yuk” reaction to Windows 8 has been blamed for the overall slow corporate hardware refresh rate  –– many companies simply buy new PCs when they are ready to upgrade OSs  –– and the executive who championed the Windows interface was let go just 15 days after Windows 8 was launched.

Yeah, it is that bad.

A quick disclaimer  –– I have a handful of gadget wonk friends who actually really like Windows 8. But these guys have sprung for touchscreen “ultrabooks,” which basically are large tablets that can run traditional business software and have laptop keyboards, storage and pointer devices built in.

Ultimately, that’s what Windows 8 is for. It’s a smartphone interface that runs atop a productivity-focused computer interface. Except that the touchscreen user interface doesn’t just run on top of the “real” computing – it encroaches on any effort to do real work in the most obnoxious ways imaginable, and Microsoft engineers, for some unfathomable reason, decided to dip into the “real” computer environment and rip out useful, even fundamental, stuff.

To kill off on the Start screen “apps,” you have to hover in the right-hand corner of your desktop. Intuitive, yes?

If you try to run this OS on a conventional PC, it will make you nuts. And the general computing populous is proving smart enough to steer clear  –  hence, the “great” deals you can get these days on non-touch screen systems with this hot mess on them.

Me, I bought a plain old laptop.

The most maddening thing about Windows 8 is that there is no Start Menu, which has been the central use metaphor since Windows 95. Or, as the salesperson who unenthusiastically described my new system to me said, Microsoft engineers took the Start menu and turned it into a “tiles” interface, obviously designed for tablets and whatever new all-in-one, finger-based computing systems they are worried Apple will co-opt in the next five years or so.

Depending on the “app” they are running, the tiles update with new data. Facebook and instant messaging apps, for example, flip through new communications. The built-in photo gallery app cycles through all your pics. Hey, Microsoft, perhaps I have a few photos on my laptop – for that matter, e-mails or IMs – that I’d prefer not be scrolled for public viewing at the coffee shop?

You have to root around the Windows 8 interface to just find the option to turn off your PC. Seriously.

The net effect of all these tiles, at least when you first boot your system, is a massive billboard for all the bloatware that comes on a new PC. At the least the old Start menu had the decency to hide the stuff. The image above is my Win 8 Start screen after about 30 minutes of deleting crap.

I use only one “tile,” the one that takes me to my desktop, which approximates fairly closely the desktop I have been using for about 20 years now.

Except … there’s no classic Start menu. Not only did Microsoft create a mostly useless Start “tile” screen in Windows 8, they took away the like functionality inside the  desktop environment. To get to a listing of the programs on your PC, you have to hover you pointer on a screen margin (which is always a dicey proposition), and then re-open the damnable tiles screen. So, as a user, I just told you I don’t want to use your stupid tiles, but you are bound and determined to make me use them. Nice.

Being a computer geek, I’ve found a way around the problem by simply pinning everything I might possibly ever want to my taskbar, which has made it something of a mess, truth be told. But almost anything is better than that damn tile business. It is so bad that Microsoft is broadly reported to be considering a resurrecting the classic Start menu with a patch later this year, and third parties have actually rush little emulators to market that replace the Start menu and basically “turn off”  Windows 8.

Speaking of which – it is next to impossible to turn off your system in Windows 8. Seriously. From the desktop interface you have to go to the weird margin pop-over menu and dig four actions down just to power down your system. There is a whole ecosystem of Q&As on the Web on how to turn off your damn computer.

It’s awful. I could go on and on. If you are foolish enough to launch one of the “apps” from the tile-based Start menu, it doesn’t show up on your taskbar when you switch to desktop view to do work. It just sort of runs in its own memory space (it’s a trick Microsoft used to improve boot speed), but will occasionally just pop up over Word or your web browser if you caress your mouse the wrong way. I took me a profanity-laced evening to figure out that the things live in the upper right-hand corner (another mouse -over menu).

To be fair, my new PC is fast as all get-out, and I did get it for next to nothing. And if MS makes good on the very reasonable idea of bringing the classic desktop UI back to full life – and giving me the option of turning off this Windows 8 nonsense, I will have come out ahead on the deal.

It’s still a better buy than a Mac, but man, Windows 8 sucks.

Ken Hardin is a business consultant and freelance writer based in Louisville.


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