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Windows 8: The Politics of Personalization

I really, really like Ed Bott’s work, and his ongoing take on Windows 8 (he’s doing a book on the upcoming platform, just like I am). I was struck by his great sense of style and perspective as I read his latest ZDnet piece this morning, entitled “The Metro hater’s guide to customizing Windows 8 Consumer Preview.” It’s a screenshot gallery that explains how to re-make the Metro interface to fit the workflow and typical activities of a Windows 8 user who (like so many of us) is probably more likely to run a bunch of boring old non-Metro applications to tackle workaday tasks, rather than reveling in the touchy-feely Metro interface and its still-limited (to nonexistent) collection of productivity apps.

But there are lots of things I find fascinating about his step-by-step instructions to alter the Windows 8 Start screen to fit a different (and probably more typical) usage profile. Let me name a few of them:

  • It takes at least 11 steps to remake the Start screen into something that fits Ed’s hypothetical (but eminently reasonable and practical) remodeling plan
  • It shows how incredibly flexible and customizable the new interface really is (and what brings delight to inveterate tinkerers like Ed and myself among others can also strike fear and loathing into less-intrepid Windows users who want to system to work well and simply without a lot of customizing)
  • Creating graphical shortcuts for Windows 8 is way cool and easy, but ditto my previous remark about what’s good for some being not so good for others.
  • Learning keyboard shortcuts and filenames for commonly used programs and utilities will be a major productivity booster for those willing to spend the time and make the effort to do this.

My guess is that software developers out there will look at Ed’s recommendations and activities very carefully, and will probably tinker with already great customization packages for earlier Windows versions (think Rainmeter or Fences, among many others) to let less-sophisticated users achieve the same results with one or two steps rather than many. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised even to see Microsoft pay close attention and possibly to offer multiple “start” options for Windows 8, among which something more like what Ed envisions could be included. One thing’s for sure: with access to the Search function to show you which apps you use in Windows 8 easy to obtain, there’s no reason why software can’t use that data to tune or tweak your desktop for you, rather than forcing you to do it step by painstaking step for yourself.

Thanks, Ed. Once again you score!

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