The Windows 8 flaw

It is amazing how some things can fall out of favor so easily.

I’ve been a long-term Windows user, not particularly from any love of Windows but mostly out of necessity and from habit. I’ve had a couple of Mac’s along the way and I’ve loved an iPad (we still see each other, now and then), but mostly it’s been Windows for me.

Recently I – like many others – have made the switch to Windows 8, and lamented the lost Start button. I’ve been relatively open to trying to understand the design pluses, and I’ve fought against the problems and shoehorned design elements. Despite a rocky start and a lot of cursing, I eventually swung around from seeing Windows 8 as a huge step backwards to now seeing it as having some good potential – particularly for touch-based devices. I don’t think it is yet there, but it could be.

Just last week I managed to get my hands on a Windows 8 tablet, with great potential to become a work machine – perhaps not a laptop replacement, but at the least a ‘light laptop’ alternative. And as I’ve played and installed and figured out just how that would work, for the most part I’ve been slowly growing to like Windows 8-on-a-slate. Not love, but like.

Until yesterday, that is.

Yesterday, I realized that there were two (currently un-fixable) problems with Windows 8 on a tablet – and they relate to the most basic elements of Surfing, and Email.

First the small annoyance – surfing.

On an iPad click on the address bar in Safari, and the keyboard appears. Why wouldn’t it? You click in there, you’re going to type an address. But in my new Windows 8 tablet, click into the address bar (IE, Firefox, Chrome) and nothing happens. Nada. Zip.

Now, this is not a killer problem. You can click on the address bar, then click on the keyboard icon to trigger it, then type your address, then click on the keyboard icon to hide it. It works. But it’s clunky, and clunky is not how you want to feel when you’re trying to convince yourself you have a well designed device with a smooth user experience. Perhaps there is some trick out there, or some setting I can’t find, but as of right now it’s like a little grain of sand falling into the gears every time I use the browser; every day it feels just a little more grindy.

The much bigger problem though is email. Whilst the browser feels a little clunky, email is the killer app I need to use all day, every day. If email doesn’t work well, then the device is a failure from my point of view.

And unfortunately, I’m struggling to count Windows 8 as anything but a failure right now.

I use Gmail for my own email account, and for a business account. I also plug into Gmail for various clients I engage with, it’s a relatively well-used model. Most weeks I need to access at least three or four Gmail accounts.  And my first problem is that Gmail just doesn’t work, in a browser.

Well when I say it doesn’t work, technically it is there – you open a browser and plug in to Gmail, and there it is. Everything functionsfine. The problem is that damned keyboard.

Hit the reply button and the keyboard pops up – right over the top of your email. Unless you love typing completely blind, you’re in for some fun trying to reply and make sense at the same time. I did find a workaround in the end, but it was painful. Hit reply, then launch the email into it’s own browser popup, then manually move and shrink that popup so that it appears in the top of the screen above the keyboard. Now you can type and read at the same time. Simple, huh? Mind you you’ll have to do that every single time you respond to or create an email, but hey that’s what high tech mobile devices are about, right?

Now at about this point I figured that despite the epic fail of browser-based email, perhaps I was missing a trick. Perhaps I needed to switch to Metro Mail and make the most of Windows 8.

So I tried. And for a while, it worked. Despite believing that you couldn’t have more than one account (which you couldn’t previously) Mail initially let me set up both my email accounts and use them both easily. Short on features perhaps, and it took a new process of setting up signatures, but hey I could type and read and send, so I was a happy chappy.

Until this weekend, when suddenly it refused to let me sign in to one of the accounts. A quick web hunt soon showed me that due to the spat Microsoft and Google are having about email integration, currently it’s disabled – with no real indication of when, if ever, that may stop being the case. Worse, there are no apparent apps in the (limited) Windows 8 store that might get me over the line, apart from a couple of massively overpriced fake products that should be tolerated, from the comments I could read. And Windows 8.1 is unlikely to fix this issue, from what I can see. There is one third party app that appears to have very little feedback, to which I refuse to entrust my corporate email details, unsurprisingly.

So, here I sit, unable to respond to email without jumping through hoops and having to manually trigger the keyboard for every website I visit. And I’m seriously considering giving up on Windows 8 entirely.

I think most of us are pretty forgiving. We’ll put up with rough edges and shortfalls if we get most of what we need. But get the basics wrong, and it’s hard to make customers come back.

Gary Bunker

the Fore