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Sage 300 on Windows 8

with 8 comments

Introduction

I must say that I really like Windows 7 it’s a very powerful 64-Bit operating system that is relatively fast, powerful and stable. I really liked Windows XP and I hated Vista. Now it is time to consider Windows 8 as it prepares for a pre-Christmas release. To some degree Windows 8 reminds me a lot of Vista, in that it has changed a lot of UI elements that I liked to rather bizarre elements that I hate. Supposedly new users will like them better and supposedly I will grow to like them after using them for a few months, but I’m nowhere near there at this point and rather dubious that I’ll ever like them.

So why did Microsoft make these changes that I dislike so much? Their big goal was to have one operating system that works exactly the same on phones, tablets, laptops and desktops. Phone and tablets operate using touch and laptops and desktops use a mouse and keyboard. One of the claims is that laptops will start incorporating touch and so will stop using the mouse (or track-pad), but that is yet to be seen. Windows 8 also has a dual personality, it has the traditional Windows desktop where traditional Windows applications run and then the new Metro world where phone/tablet optimized applications run (as long as they are written to the Metro standards). Windows 8 also supports ARM based devices as well as Intel based devices. If you run on an ARM based device then you only get the Metro personality, you cannot run any traditional Windows applications.

If you’ve ever used a current Windows tablet, one hard element to use by touch is menus. These tend to be very fiddly. So Windows 8 spends a certain amount of time trying to eliminate menus. The first menu they have attacked is the Start menu. Windows 8 has a new “Start Page” as pictured below:

This is then your starting point for the new Metro applications as well as the traditional Windows Desktop applications.

Microsoft UCD

Microsoft has spent quite a bit of time defending the Windows 8 Start Page against a barrage of criticism on the Web. A few blog posts from Microsoft explaining the User Centered Design methodology and thinking are: Evolving the Start Menu, Designing the Start Screen and Reflecting on your comments on the Start Screen. These make interesting reading, especially the comments at the end of the postings. Obviously the Start Menu had a number of problems besides being difficult to control via touch. It always seemed strange that you shut down your computer by clicking “Start”. Once you have many programs it becomes quite unwieldy and performance starts to suck.

These are all legitimate concerns; however the solution of the jarring switch from the desktop to this completely different screen that takes over the entire monitor seems rather an inelegant solution. Is this a case of the solution being worse than the problem? I guess time will tell. It will also be interesting to see if Microsoft takes any of all this feedback being provided and makes any changes before they release. Plus the Start Page doesn’t really address the scalability issue, instead it just introduces a lot of horizontal scrolling.

Touch Control

Once you are in the Windows desktop, things work pretty much as you would expect and you can get your work done. However when you are in the Metro or Start Page side of things, I find Windows 8 can be quite difficult to use. To keep the screens “clean” and “pretty”, there are no indicators of where you need to click or swipe to do things. Many times I had to Google to find out how to do basic operation like sign-in or close IE. Since things are oriented to touch, often when using a mouse you have to drag things right across the screen to do things which usually makes my mouse come off the edge of my mouse pad, which I find annoying. I dread to think how this works on a track pad.

The native Metro applications (including built-in things like IE) all operate in full screen mode (like apps do on an iPhone or iPad). On my laptop and desktop, I find this extremely annoying. I have large high resolution monitors and I can have quite a few Windows open and visible at once. On Windows 8, this is all gone.

Back to Windows 1.0

With the Metro apps they either operate in full screen mode or you can tile them and they stay live on the Start Page. This reminds me very much of Windows 1.0 before the days of overlapping Windows when all your open Windows were tiled:

Really back to the future for UI design there. Of course the quality of the graphics are much better now, so the picture looks better, but the idea somehow feels old fashioned.

Sage 300 Runs Fine

Here is a screen shot of running the Sage 300 ERP Desktop and the main Order Entry screen on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Looks and acts pretty much like on Windows 7. Notes the lack of the “Start Menu” along the bottom of the screen.

We’ve tried various things like reporting and editing data and it all seems the same as Windows 7 which is good.

Looking at this screen, how do you bring up the “Start Page” to run another program? From the task bar you can only run IE and Explorer. Here is a funny video of someone’s dad trying to figure out what to do. (I had to Google this, to find out which cryptic key to press).

Need to Fix Our Installation

The one thing that currently isn’t doing a good job is the installation of what we used to put in the Start Menu. These now end up on the Start Page and since we used to have sub-menus for things like tools, the Start Page doesn’t support this so we get a whole bunch of items (with bad graphics) messing up the page:

We’ll have to fix this up before our next release, if we can, given that Windows 8 is a bit of a moving target at the moment. Anyway we need to figure out a better way to organize our items and provide better graphics.

Summary

Is Windows 8 a step forward or a step backwards? I think it’s a step backwards for desktop and laptop users. For Microsoft, it’s a step forwards for phone and tablet users. However, is it enough to compete with Apples iPhone and iPad? Can it compete with low cost Android devices? Personally, I think Apple has established the standard for how touch works in these environments and with Android largely copying Apple, it makes Microsoft seem rather odd and not following established standards. Will users accept these? I guess the market will decide once it’s released.

Written by smist08

April 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm

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