The Charms Bar – An Oddity

July 26th, 2013

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Start Screen with Charms Bar

Over there on the right side of the screen is the Charms Bar. It is an oddity to me because it has system-centric information as well as app-centric information. Compare that to the application bar, a feature that many but not all apps support, and it is clear that Microsoft is confused.

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Photo Viewer App with Application Bar

The two pictures above show why this is a problem. Swiping right to left on the right side of a tablet screen will show the charms bar. It has a Search button that searches the current app contents, whatever those might be. It also has a Share button that shares things in the current app. There is a Start button for some strange reason (if you are clever enough to find the charms bar then the start screen is easy to access). There is a Devices button that is certainly applicable to the hardware and not to the app, and there is a settings button that gives access to system settings,a shutdown button, app settings, and more.

Microsoft made a similar mistake in earlier versions of Windows when they created the Control Panel and the Computer Management program. Both had what seem like overlapping functions. Computer management was hardware and service (programs running in the background) centric, while the control panel accessed just about every type of systems setting; hardware, software, built-in programs, etc.

So what the hell is wrong with these guys? I wanted to take action on the photo above, so I did the natural thing and swiped up from the bottom of the screen. Without deep training, this is what a rational person would do. There, I can set the picture to be the desktop background but I can’t edit it with a paint program or copy it to someplace in the file system. The photo app application bar is mostly worthless. I then search the internet until I find a reference to the charms bar. Oh crap, there is a button there to do stuff with the current picture in the photo viewer. Again, WTF?

I believe that Microsoft has a big problem designing their apps and operating system user interface. I am fond of a lot of Microsoft products and I don’t hate the start screen at all. What I hate is having operations on selected items be accessed from more than one place. The Share button should have been in the application bar at the bottom because it would take action on the item I am viewing or on multiple selected items. The search button is confusing because it doesn’t work on the selected item but on the app that is running. Maybe it’s ok to have in the charms bar.

Or maybe they should get rid of the application bar and make developers use the charms bar. After all, the Open With… and Set As… buttons in the application bar apply to the current item just like the Share button in the charms bar.

It’s all rather confusing.

Now if someone points out that there is an Open With… button right there and that I could have used that to get to the photo, take note that the screen shot comes from Windows 8.1 on my desktop computer, but all of my frustrations with this came from Windows 8.0 on a Surface tablet.

I get it, I just don’t like it. I really must condemn the interface designers for not separating system operations from app operations. Keep the charms bar on the right for the operating system stuff and let apps all provide an application bar for app specific stuff. Users will then know where to go to get what they need without having to remember that searching and sharing functions are not where the rest of the app buttons are.

By the way, an app can make a top-down app bar, instead of a bottom-up version but swiping from the bottom up still displays it. How’s that for consistent?

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Charms Bar and Application Bar At the Same Time

On the start screen, I was able to access both bars. This is doable with any app that has an app bar.

I have no idea what the Share charm button should do when there is nothing selected to share. I used it here and it let me share a screen shot of the Start screen. It should work like the app bar buttons and not show up if there is nothing to do, but I suspect that it will always be there.

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