Making Modern UI apps usable
When was the last time you opened a Modern UI app? If you're on a desktop PC, it's probably been a while—and, if you're like me, it may have been entirely by accident.
Modern UI apps aren't always as polished as their iOS and Android counterparts, but that's not why they're so unappealing for desktop use. The fact that they take up the entire screen makes them unwieldy on large displays, and it also makes them difficult to integrate in a desktop multitasking workflow. Yes, Windows 8.1 lets you split the screen down the middle and stick a Modern UI app on one side, but the mechanism is awkward, to say the least.
Windows 10 eliminates this problem by making Modern UI apps behave much like their desktop counterparts. They open inside individual windows by default. They can run in full-screen mode, but only when asked (via the new Charms menu on the title bar). They can be resized (though there is a minimum height restriction). And, most importantly, they can be used alongside one another without requiring a song-and-dance routine full of awkward swipes.
In short, Windows 10 makes Modern UI apps usable without being detrimental to the desktop experience. That's huge. That means some of us dyed-in-the-wool desktop users may actually get around to using Modern UI software on a day-to-day basis, either to replace certain websites or just to enhance our desktop experience.
Maybe this change will encourage developers to make more and better Modern UI software, too. I certainly hope it does. The current selection in the Windows Store is missing some big names, like official Gmail and YouTube clients, and it's full of obscure offerings with unencouraging user ratings. Even high-profile, highly rated apps tend to be pretty barebones and bland-looking. But heck, what else do you expect when Modern UI apps are prohibitively awkward on anything other than a tablet?
Some of you may remember Microsoft's PowerToys for Windows XP. That was the closest we ever got to seeing first-party virtual desktops implemented in Windows—until now.
In its current form, Windows 10's Task view works an awful lot like OS X's Mission Control. Click the icon in the taskbar, and you're presented with an at-a-glance overview of all currently open apps and windows. An "Add a desktop" button at the bottom allows you to create another workspace, which can be filled with its own, separate collection of windows. Task view lets you switch between the two workspaces and add more if you so wish.
Now, let's say you have two virtual desktops: A and B. From desktop B, none of the apps open on desktop A are visible. However, the taskbar icons for those apps have little translucent strips under them. Click any one of those icons, and you'll be tossed back to desktop A. Only apps that can support multiple instances can be open on multiple desktops.
All of this works pretty seamlessly in practice. That's not to say a little more polish and extra functionality wouldn't hurt, though.
One feature Microsoft hasn't yet borrowed from Mission Control is the ability to drag apps from one desktop to another. Right now, the only way to do that is to right-click the app inside Task view and navigating a context menu. Some keyboard shortcuts and touchpad swipes would be nice, as well. OS X lets users hop between desktops with four-finger swipes and customizable keyboard shortcuts.
The swipes in particular make multitasking very convenient on laptops. A lot of us have multiple monitors hooked up to our desktop systems, and going from dual 24" panels to a single 1366x768 notebook screen can be pretty claustrophobic. The ability to swipe seamlessly between virtual workspaces alleviates the claustrophobia to a large extent. Task view is already most of the way there, but it wouldn't take much to go all the way.
The updated command prompt
Okay, so maybe this isn't worth a whole section. Still, Windows 10 represents Microsoft's first effort to update the old-school command prompt in a meaningful way in, well, a long time.
The new command prompt supports pasting text via Ctrl-V rather than by right clicking, which is the only way to do it at present. That's probably the most helpful change, but it's not the only one. The new command prompt also features a new "Experimental" tab in its Properties pane. Some of the experimental options allow command prompt windows to be made translucent and to be resized horizontally, all with wrapping text. Similar features have been available in terminal prompts for Linux and OS X forever, so it's good to see them in Windows, finally.
That said, there is one small catch right now: in the current build of the Windows 10 Technical Preview, only the administrator command prompt supports the experimental settings. The non-admin one, which is the default, refuses to apply them. Oh well.
And yes, in case you're wondering, those experimental settings apply to the PowerShell console. Developers and scripting gurus won't be left out. I'm surprised Microsoft isn't taking steps to retire the command prompt in favor of PowerShell altogether, but I suppose stripping away legacy features has never been the company's forte.
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