TechWindows 8: What remains of it today?

Windows 8: What remains of it today?

Windows 8: what is left of it today? (CC BY)
Windows 8: what is left of it today? (CC BY)
Images source: © Flickr | Jason Howie

4:36 PM EST, November 5, 2023

Newer versions of Windows have replaced many design decisions that originated from Windows 8. After ineffective patches, a substantial portion of the tile-based ideas have been discarded. But which of the "eighth's" solutions were eliminated, and which still exist in the system?

Live tiles

One of the most significant relics of the tile paradigm that was left behind is... the tiles themselves. The notification interface based on them never truly took off. Applications have adopted their own mechanisms and, in the era of PWA, notifications can also be displayed by the web browser itself. Tiles disappeared with the introduction of Windows 11. The demand for something similar was so insignificant that Eleven only incorporated the option of adding external widgets a year after its initial launch. However, these are still less flexible than those found in the Sidebar of the Windows Vista system.

The start screen

The idea of confining the entire desktop into one tile and creating an interface that simulated a completely standalone application caused confusion and was heavily disapproved by users. The full-screen start vanished in some iterations of Windows 8.1, it was hidden in Windows 10, and in the latest versions of Windows, it can no longer be activated.

Fullscreen applications

Programs that utilized the new, highly advanced and security-centric WinRT API could initially only operate in full-screen mode or as a side mini-bar. This approach led to numerous problems for users. Consequently, the capability to resize applications was implemented, first to enable them to operate in windows within Windows 10.

Eventually, however, the functional constraints of WinRT and UWP necessitated a U-turn by Microsoft. The recommended interface today is based on WinUI and XAML, built on time-tested foundations. WinUI applications make use of Win32; they don't have access to the WinRT API, and windows are created again using the well-established GDI from Windows 1.0. Interestingly, WinUI even has its own composition engine, which does not rely on DWM for many features.

Integrated communicator

For twenty-five years, Microsoft has attempted to integrate a communicator with its operating system. However, without exception, all efforts to incorporate a communicator into the shell ended with its removal in subsequent versions and being released as a separate, dedicated installer (available outside the Store!). The Windows 8 communicator was replaced with the Skype Metro app, which was integrated into the UI in Windows 10 1511 and subsequently removed. The "modern" Skype has been sidelined with only the classic version remaining, which can be installed from MSI packages. Windows 11 made an attempt to introduce a built-in communicator again (this time Teams), but the recent builds have separated it into a distinct program.

An exclusive store for modern applications

Initially, the Store (now known as Microsoft Store) was intended to host only "modern" applications, but their quality was too low to attract users. Microsoft modified this aim, allowing the circulation of any application that could be contained in an APPX/MSIX package. Currently, no such restriction exists, and we can download applications from the store that are installed using traditional desktop EXE/MSI installers (without the update and sandboxing functionalities).

User applications

To many, Windows 8 seemed like a "big phone". It featured applications that mirrored simple tablet solutions. These programs comprised Bing apps such as Weather, Finance, Health, Travel, and Kitchen. The system also included utilities: a phone book (Contacts), Mail, and Maps. At present, only Weather and News remain from the Bing applications, and their future is uncertain in light of the built-in Widgets. Even if they persist in the system, they are now simply Web View wrappers on the MSN page. Moreover, Mail and Maps are also saying goodbye to the system. The former will be replaced by Outlook (whose new version will be a PWA application featuring local storage), while the latter is set to disappear entirely.

Single instance mode

By definition, Metro applications could only run in a single instance because they were full-screen. Transitioning them to Windows retained this limitation. Many updates and alterations in WinRT, UWP, and MSIX had to happen to permit applications to show multiple windows (which, for example, Terminal requires). Today, most built-in applications can display multiple windows, where appropriate. An important exception to this is the Settings application, which only runs in single-instance mode. This causes issues when executing complex reconfiguration in the system and is a feature absent in the conventional Control Panel.


The forsaken UWP programming interface, though broadly vilified by developers, was used to construct Windows' own GUI. Yet, as speculated by Albacore based on recent releases from the Canary channel, the assembled UWP GUI is being dismantled in favor of traditional system components, crafted using Win32 + XAML + WinUI. This implies that Microsoft does not plan on using UWP in the forthcoming version of Windows.

That's not all

Of course, much more has been discarded: examples include the Metro aesthetic convention, the WinJS environment, the Charms gestures, a dedicated OneDrive application, and the synchronization of graphic compositions. Yet, certain features from Windows 8 that have remained, with respect to interface, primarily include the Lock Screen and the Microsoft account. These are two significant login-related changes that, even after functional trimming, are expected to endure within Windows for some time. Unfortunately, the same applies to UWP. It will be added to many other inactive APIs present in the system due to compatibility reasons.

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