How Many Windows 8 GUIs are Too Many Windows 8 GUIs?

Dave Courbanou

September 2, 2011

3 Min Read
How Many Windows 8 GUIs are Too Many Windows 8 GUIs?

You may remember recently we looked at the Building Windows 8 Blog, in which the Windows 8 team described its strategy behind developing the new Metro-style GUI for Windows 8 and a refined update to the Windows Explorer Desktop. But should Microsoft have one team focusing its efforts on two different computing styles? And more importantly, can Microsoft truly be innovative if it can’t leave the past in the past?

The entry, Designing for Metro style and the desktop, highlights the Windows 8 Team’s sentiments about the development process …

This is a balancing act, and one we’ll be talking quite a lot about in this blog in the coming months. Having both of user interfaces together harmoniously is an important part of Windows 8. … This is an ambitious undertaking — it involves tools, APIs, languages, UI conventions and even some of the most basic assumptions about a PC. For example, how do you isolate applications from each other, or prevent applications from stealing all your battery power? How can installing (and removing) apps be as quick and painless as changing the channel on the TV? How do you attract the broadest set of developers possible to a new platform? How do you build a touch-first interface with a unique point of view?

The good news is that the Windows 8 team is on the right track with Metro. What the team is describing is exactly how iOS works. Sandboxing apps, easy application management and super-quick learning curve. The bad news is the team is focusing its efforts also on the traditional Windows desktop, believing it to be the very foundation of people’s computing lives …

We knew as we designed the Windows 8 UI that you can’t just flip a bit overnight and turn all of that history into something new. … The arguments for a “clean slate” are well-known, both for and against. We chose to take the approach of building a design without compromise. A design that truly affords you the best of the two worlds we see today.

But herein lies in the problem. A lot of the best innovations in technology have come because their innovators took the world into the future both willingly and kicking and screaming. Apple, for one, is a perfect example of this, shifting the paradigm in mobile phones and tablet computing. It left behind all the old ideas for something completely and utterly new, because that’s how you make progress. It’s why there’s no more support for PowerPC Macs, it’s why Rosetta is gone in OS X Lion. Sure, Apple will help users make the transition, but the transition needs to happen.

That’s not to say Microsoft should eliminate the Windows desktop altogether. Clearly, the business world needs that environment. But Microsoft could easily support and build on Windows 7 and launch a “Windows for Workplaces” package. Windows 8, in my opinion, is the time for Microsoft to shine and depart from its history — build on it, learn from the mistakes, but don’t take it with you.

I would be thrilled to see Microsoft really attack the PC market by ramping up its efforts with OEM companies to release a unique fleet of all-in-one Windows 8 touch-screen machines that incorporate everything the average PC user needs, with the ease and comfort modern mobile operating systems give. I think as much as the Windows 8 team believe in the ‘no compromise’ approach, there is not an unlimited amount of resources to develop both methods, and if you don’t drop the old in favor of the new, why would anyone develop and build for the new when there is no truly compelling reason to?

For these reasons, I think Windows 8 will essentially be Windows 7 with a fancy touch layer on top, just for fun, and not much else. Metro may be dead in the water because Microsoft won’t give it the full undivided support it needs to really flourish and change the PC computing paradigm.

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