This is the second blog post with my thoughts about Windows 8. This time, I have some gripes about the Tablet PC Input Panel which leads to concerns about the integration of the Modern UI with the desktop UI. In the first post, I discussed the Start Menu. In the last part, I am coming to grips with the lack of new features and the good things about Windows 8.
Tablet PC Input Panel
As a long-time Tablet PC user (since about 2003), I’ve also long used the Tablet PC Input Panel. It’s a user interface element that allows using touch or pen-based input in virtually every application. For example, even though my favorite text editor doesn’t directly support ink or touch, I can use pen or touch-based input because I enter the text on the Tablet PC Input Panel and it converts it to text and puts it in the editor.
In Windows 8, the Input Panel received some improvements, especially touch-oriented ones, such as much bigger buttons and a split touch keyboard version that you can use with your thumbs. But there is a major design flaw in Windows 8 (which stems directly, I think, from the Modern UI approach). When on the desktop and launching the Tablet PC Input Panel, the Taskbar is covered up. That means when I am drafting a quick e-mail in Outlook and need to refer to a web site, I actually have to close the Input Panel so I can switch to the browser, bring it back up to use type something in the browser, close it again, switch back to Outlook and then bring it up again to finish the e-mail. It’s amazing how something so simple actually consumes a lot of time.
Poor and Inconsistent UI Integration
The discussion on the Tablet PC Input Panel leads to a discussion of how poorly the Modern and desktop UIs are integrated in some instances.
The most prominent example of the poor integration has to be the Network icon in the Notification Area. Vista and 7 presented a small popup menu showing the current network connections. You could also click on a hyperlink to open the Network and Sharing Center. When troubleshooting, that’s a very logical next step to take. Instead, in Windows 8, a large bar appears that takes over all of the right side of the (primary) monitor with a Modern UI style to it. There’s no reason for that bar to be so large, other than the Modern UI guidelines I suppose.
The size of the UI wouldn’t be so bad, if it wasn’t for the fact that there is nowhere to go from there. Yes, you can connect to a wireless network by clicking or tapping on its name. However, there is no left- or right-click functionality to modify existing network settings or see more details. There is also no way to open the Network and Sharing Center from that UI: you have to right-click the Network icon for that. But, oh wait, the network UI, just like the Input Panel, overlays the Taskbar thereby hiding the icon you were about to right-click on to open the Network and Sharing Center.
Other areas where you can experience the same disconnect is in the Autorun dialog, the “Open with” dialog, “Show Bluetooth Devices,” and quite frankly, the Start Menu itself.
In all, I would have far preferred when I was in the desktop UI that I would not have seen a sign of the Modern UI. The Modern UI does not work well with a keyboard and mouse (there is no close button on any of those dialogs I mentioned above) and is visually very disjoined from the other elements of the desktop UI. Not to mention those dialogs overlap the Taskbar, which is very weird.
Even if Microsoft insists on having the Modern UI bleed through on the desktop, it’s still done very inconsistenly. Why does the Network icon show a Modern UI but the Volume and Power icons don’t? It’s a similar issue to that experienced by the Start Menu Search changes: it’s hard to intuitively know what to expect because of the inconsistencies.