Is Metro Good for Desktops?

Adonis, a member of the Gnomies community, asked: “How does Metro impact you? Do you think Metro will be more native to the human eye? Or, will it be another eye sore to the general consumer?”

We’ve been taking a close look at Windows 8 over the past several weeks, and one feature in particular seems to be getting all the press. The Metro interface, arguably the most significant change to Windows since the launch of Windows 95, appears to be either a love it or hate it feature.

LockerGnome’s founder, Chris Pirillo, has openly stated that in order for Windows to maintain its recent momentum going in to Windows 8, it needs to stick to one UI and avoid switching between them as different programs are accessed. This constant shifting between user interfaces is a jarring experience that will no-doubt turn many users away.

What is Metro?

Metro is a name Microsoft gave to a design language it created. This language is typography-based and introduced with Windows Phone 7. You can see early examples of the style on earlier Microsoft products including the Zune.

In recent years, it has become more apparent that the Metro UI is moving to the forefront of most of Microsoft’s software design. Its clean, simple style is boasted by Microsoft as being quick and easy to navigate. While Windows Phone 7 may not have taken iOS by the horns, its software design is focused on allowing the user to glance at the screen and get back to other tasks without having to access each application individually.

Unlike widgets found on Android, Metro’s panes are fairly uniform in size and shape. In my opinion, it resembles a game of Tetris where the only shapes you have to choose from are squares and straight lines.

In Windows 8, a Metro-style interface is intermixed with the traditional desktop. The start menu has been largely replaced by Metro. This, at the current moment, forces users to spread their experience across two separate user interfaces.

Two User Interfaces on One Operating System?

Personally, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen thus far with Metro and Windows 8. Having two different styles of programs running on the same OS can be difficult to facilitate without some crossover, though one can hope that Microsoft inserts a solution prior to shipping.

As I browse through the Metro UI, I’m forced to consider what this type of interaction will mean to the average user. My mother, for example, will either love or hate Metro. She enjoys using programs and systems that just work. Her favorite gadget by far is the Kindle, and while it may be no technological marvel, it doesn’t easily confuse the user. Switching between the old desktop environment and Metro can be confusing, especially if you’re using a classic keyboard and mouse to operate your system.

Is Metro Good for Desktop Computers?

Metro is great for track pads, touch screens, and perhaps even spacial controls available through Kinect. In my mind, it could very well teach iOS a thing or two, and I’d be surprised if Apple doesn’t eventually give in and allow widgets of some kind on their mobile platforms.

The question of whether or not this will be the type of operating system environment desktop users will appreciate remains. Is Microsoft heading for a repeat of the Bob fiasco, or is it on to something with creating a single operating system environment that translates from the desktop, to the tablet, and ultimately to the smartphone in our pocket?

We decided to send this question out to the community, and get an idea of how they feel about the Metro UI for a desktop environment. The initial response was fairly consistent.

Ryan Hayes, a software architect and member of the Gnomies community said:

For touch screens it works well (especially for scenarios like a PC in the kitchen for recipes or mounted into the wall or something). Like the guys at Microsoft said when they announced it, keyboard and mouse is still by far the fastest way to enter text, so I don’t think it’ll be the main mode used for most information workers like developers, accountants using excel, or writers.

Shomik Basu, a member of the LockerGnome community, gave his take on the situation:

I find Metro to be out of place in the desktop environment. The whole look feels like they’re jumping back in time. Plus, when you go to the control panel and look at that ugly plain green background–it seems out of place and totally backwards from what you see in Vista and 7.

Trace Bivens offered his advice:

There should always be the ability to revert to an XP/7 style interface for users that prefer.

Andy McKnight, an IT professional, suggested:

Having a single UI concept across multiple devices – PCs, tablets, phones – is the right idea. It promotes your other products to a customer who has already invested in one of them as the learning curve is so shallow. It also streamlines the brand and helps with marketing.

He further went on to state:

What Microsoft need to bear in mind though is that users of those various devices use them for different things. Users of a PC are more likely to require detailed access to the OS and File System than users of a tablet or a phone. The preview of Win8 showed the traditional explorer.exe as an ‘app’ in Metro. This is probably the correct way to go. What may need to be added is a way to allow that ‘app’ to be run as an alternative shell for power users who will constantly launching it – in much the same was as Media Center is in Windows today.

Based on this feedback, and that provided by so many members of the community, it would appear that the bigger issue isn’t so much that Metro is a part of a desktop operating system, but that it needs to be added as an option rather than an integral component of the OS. If a user wants to catch things at a glance, perhaps it might be the most efficient way to go about it. Users that want detailed access to multiple programs at once would be better served by the traditional desktop environment found in Windows 7.

What We Know Right Now

Microsoft has been a very vocal supporter of the tablet form for several years. Tablet computers featuring Windows XP, Vista, and now Windows 7 have been on the market since long before the iPad first hit the shelves. While the consumer and small business market responded to these systems with mixed reviews, seeing a tablet computer at a doctor’s office or hospital isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Simply put, what doesn’t work for one use may be the perfect solution for another.

Windows 8’s Metro UI is an example of Microsoft’s attempt to support the growing touch screen market. The idea of using the Aero desktop environment for touch may be a hard sell, but when the entire desktop is replaced with a series of sizable buttons and an interface that slides to the left and right wit ha single swipe, the bigger picture becomes more clear.

Metro was developed for a smartphone. It lives in a world of touch, and makes information available at a glance. Bringing this to the tablet, the concept remains pretty much the same. On a desktop environment, you have the Windows equivalent to LaunchPad, the iOS-like program launcher introduced on OS X Lion.

We know that Microsoft is attempting to bring cohesion to its consumer product line. By providing one consistent experience across screens that are 3 inches or even 30 inches in size, it may be on to something.

When asked whether or not he sees the Metro UI as a good thing on a desktop computer with a larger screen, software engineer Damian Parker stated:

If that LCD was touchscreen then it could be good. A lot of the new all-in-one PCs that are selling here in the UK are touchscreens. So it kind of makes sense in that situation. Also attach a Kinect to your PC running Metro and your 50″ screen in the lounge and then it makes a lot of sense.

Zach Bornheimer, a member of the Gnomies community, said:

Trying to make a desktop function like a tablet is very risky and, unless they do something miraculous, it will seem like half your OS is unusable on a desktop.

What We Don’t Know Right Now

While it might be fun to speculate as to the various features, look, and feel of Windows 8, we really won’t have a full scope of the final product until it is released. In the video above, Chris Pirillo makes light of some of the early impressions of the Windows 8 Developer Preview.

What we know at the current moment comes from a series of statements made by Microsoft in conjunction with the developer preview. As with any previous Microsoft release, the final product is often very different from the initial developer preview. The feedback Microsoft is receiving from the community right now will no-doubt be taken into consideration as the project moves forward, but for the time being we have a mix of speculation and a testing platform to go on.

We don’t know what the final product will truly look like, and one can only expect that Microsoft will take every possible precaution to avoid releasing another Vista. With over 90% of the high-end consumer computer sales presently going to Apple, Microsoft has a big hurdle to jump before it can gain back that ground lost to one arguably bad release.

Windows 7 was a giant change for the company. Not only did it make a beta version widely available for a year prior to release, but it took every step to make sure the consumers were happy with the changes before going to press with them. Where Windows Vista may be perceived as a PR nightmare, Windows 7 was very different.

Will Microsoft do with Windows 8 what worked so well on Windows 7? Only time will tell.

What do you think? Is Metro a good user interface for the desktop, or should it stick to mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets?

57 comments On Is Metro Good for Desktops?

  • I haven’t used a Windows tablet device nor even a Windows Phone device so I don’t have any firsthand experience with Microsoft’s approach to the touch experience. I’ve been playing around with the idea of jumping into Windows Phone development, though, so I’m really interested in how Windows 8 will integrate with Window Phone 8 devices.

    Watching Microsoft’s CES keynote got me a bit excited.Though the demo of a WP7 phone’s voice recognition feature failed spectacularly, Windows 8’s Metro looked impressive. Personally, I’m not thrilled about using it on a desktop but if I ever get around to investing in a tablet I might go that way (particularly if I do end up developing for Windows Phone).

  • I haven’t used a Windows tablet device nor even a Windows Phone device so I don’t have any firsthand experience with Microsoft’s approach to the touch experience. I’ve been playing around with the idea of jumping into Windows Phone development, though, so I’m really interested in how Windows 8 will integrate with Window Phone 8 devices.

    Watching Microsoft’s CES keynote got me a bit excited.Though the demo of a WP7 phone’s voice recognition feature failed spectacularly, Windows 8’s Metro looked impressive. Personally, I’m not thrilled about using it on a desktop but if I ever get around to investing in a tablet I might go that way (particularly if I do end up developing for Windows Phone).

  • You write “one can only expect that Microsoft will take every possible precaution to avoid releasing another Vista”.   And yet, the same Microsoft that released Vista was also responsible for the fiasco that was Windows ME. 

    Microsoft is a company that REQUIRES continuous CHANGE.   It doesn’t have to be BETTER; it only has to be DIFFERENT. (If it’s not different, we won’t feel compelled to “upgrade” and pay again for the entirely new system!) Microsoft revenues DEMAND change.   The “Metro” interface that looks halfway decent on a 4″ phone touchscreen will be terrible on a 24″ monitor. 

  • Old Rockin' Dave

    For a desktop, or even a laptop, it looks like it’s at once too busy and too dumbed down. I use a lot of different programs, and having those boxes cluttering up my screen looks like a waste of space. I also would probably be nauseated by having to look at that horrible green color all the time.

  • why do people think OS X & IOS are two OS’s when IOS is OS X . Look back a iPhone 1 keynote. MS is 5 and half years behind . OS X has the same finger gestures as iOS and it is the same feature to the finger gestures

  • I think there could be some real potential in high speced x86 tablets.  Useres could then use Metro on the go or switch to a bluetooth mosue and keyboard when the the shit gets legit.

  • I think there could be some real potential in high speced x86 tablets.  Useres could then use Metro on the go or switch to a bluetooth mosue and keyboard when the the shit gets legit.

  • well for me there is one issue that makes me just turn away. the colors, they are absolutely dismal. makes me want to puke.

  • I want Windows 8 NOWWWWWWWWWW

    Microsoft should rewrite all the libraries so all the current apps can be metro like! … can’t way to use PHOTOSHOP METRO yeahhhh! 

  • I want Windows 8 NOWWWWWWWWWW

    Microsoft should rewrite all the libraries so all the current apps can be metro like! … can’t way to use PHOTOSHOP METRO yeahhhh! 

  • I think it should be like notifications tab like it will be on OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 5.

    Just swipe your touchpad and on the side will be the metro UI displaying your notifications clearly, concisely, and make Windows look just as elegant as Mac OS X.

  • I think it should be like notifications tab like it will be on OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 5.

    Just swipe your touchpad and on the side will be the metro UI displaying your notifications clearly, concisely, and make Windows look just as elegant as Mac OS X.

  • I’m hoping someone comes out with a “desktop tablet” that works through a USB key or something and acts as a touch screen / mirrored screen for the metro control, then with a button switch to a keyboard layout for normal use.  Hook it all up to your 50″ TV and then have a super controller from the couch.

  • Touch is for chatter and pocket devices. Even mice are doubtful for anything serious intense accurate.

  • OK, finally went ahead and tried the Windows 8 preview. And I am a little concerned, just a tiny bit… Not much… I think the key is: 

    Ultrabooks, ultrabooks ultrabooks & touchscreens, touchscreens, touchscreens… 
    I think in a device that accommodates both a touch screen and a keyboard and 
    trackpad the two for one UI may actually be very good indeed. As far as working at home or in the office, a change of setup may be required. Ideally I’d like all metro apps to launch on a smaller touchscreen by my main screen or by my keyboard. 

    The reality is that Metro is a huge waste of real estate, particularly on a 27 inch screen. It is simply ridiculous. As I type this with my Dell XPS 15 I can’t help but notice that the 4 inch screen on my smart phone would fit rather neatly where the trackpad is. Perhaps we need that too, laptop trackpads need to be replaced with a multi-touch enabled screen and metro apps launch there by default!

    Dell, are you listening? I want an XPS lappy with a 4 inch Super AMOLED trackpad. For a smidgen less than $2000. 

  • OK, finally went ahead and tried the Windows 8 preview. And I am a little concerned, just a tiny bit… Not much… I think the key is: 

    Ultrabooks, ultrabooks ultrabooks & touchscreens, touchscreens, touchscreens… 
    I think in a device that accommodates both a touch screen and a keyboard and 
    trackpad the two for one UI may actually be very good indeed. As far as working at home or in the office, a change of setup may be required. Ideally I’d like all metro apps to launch on a smaller touchscreen by my main screen or by my keyboard. 

    The reality is that Metro is a huge waste of real estate, particularly on a 27 inch screen. It is simply ridiculous. As I type this with my Dell XPS 15 I can’t help but notice that the 4 inch screen on my smart phone would fit rather neatly where the trackpad is. Perhaps we need that too, laptop trackpads need to be replaced with a multi-touch enabled screen and metro apps launch there by default!

    Dell, are you listening? I want an XPS lappy with a 4 inch Super AMOLED trackpad. For a smidgen less than $2000. 

  • Metro on its own, is pretty amazing, if you have touch-capable devices, i.e. a touch screen, tablet… and so on. But combined with the “old” Aero? Not so much. Aero isn’t designed for touch at all. Most elements are way to small and it feels weird to switch between Metro and Aero.

    Metro for a desktop computer, is out right garbage. It isn’t designed for classic keyboard- and mouse-controls and is a pain in the but to handle without a touch-screen. I rather go back to the good old command-prompt, aka DOS, or even Windows ME (yes i’m serious), then use Metro on a non-touch device!

    And mixing Metro and Aero in one single product, is a bad idea in general. Either Aero or Metro… not both!

  • Metro on its own, is pretty amazing, if you have touch-capable devices, i.e. a touch screen, tablet… and so on. But combined with the “old” Aero? Not so much. Aero isn’t designed for touch at all. Most elements are way to small and it feels weird to switch between Metro and Aero.

    Metro for a desktop computer, is out right garbage. It isn’t designed for classic keyboard- and mouse-controls and is a pain in the but to handle without a touch-screen. I rather go back to the good old command-prompt, aka DOS, or even Windows ME (yes i’m serious), then use Metro on a non-touch device!

    And mixing Metro and Aero in one single product, is a bad idea in general. Either Aero or Metro… not both!

  • Metro on its own, is pretty amazing, if you have touch-capable devices, i.e. a touch screen, tablet… and so on. But combined with the “old” Aero? Not so much. Aero isn’t designed for touch at all. Most elements are way to small and it feels weird to switch between Metro and Aero.

    Metro for a desktop computer, is out right garbage. It isn’t designed for classic keyboard- and mouse-controls and is a pain in the but to handle without a touch-screen. I rather go back to the good old command-prompt, aka DOS, or even Windows ME (yes i’m serious), then use Metro on a non-touch device!

    And mixing Metro and Aero in one single product, is a bad idea in general. Either Aero or Metro… not both!

  • As a designer entusiast seems they unsuccessfuly merged WP7 + Office UI … it looks really bad.

    Love the Metro design, but they should rethink the UI, mostly the explorer.

  • As a designer entusiast seems they unsuccessfuly merged WP7 + Office UI … it looks really bad.

    Love the Metro design, but they should rethink the UI, mostly the explorer.

  • As a designer entusiast seems they unsuccessfuly merged WP7 + Office UI … it looks really bad.

    Love the Metro design, but they should rethink the UI, mostly the explorer.

  • It all depends how Microsoft plays on the Metro idea. One fear I have is RAM hogging, this will become a total nightmare if you have no choice but to run both of the UI engines simultaniously, so to speak.

    The direction Microsoft is headed, is worrying. I like what Apple are doing with their OS, bringing iOS & more of its features to cross between the two, and not actually putting iOS onto the desktop directly.

    The force is telling me to move on, discover something new.. perhaps Mac OS, or even one of the many Linux systems. Only time will tell, Microsoft.

  • It all depends how Microsoft plays on the Metro idea. One fear I have is RAM hogging, this will become a total nightmare if you have no choice but to run both of the UI engines simultaniously, so to speak.

    The direction Microsoft is headed, is worrying. I like what Apple are doing with their OS, bringing iOS & more of its features to cross between the two, and not actually putting iOS onto the desktop directly.

    The force is telling me to move on, discover something new.. perhaps Mac OS, or even one of the many Linux systems. Only time will tell, Microsoft.

  • I read all of this on my phone xD

  • I read all of this on my phone xD

  • Chris is right. Metro on a desktop computer is not a good idea because there’s no point in it if you won’t be able to touch the screen but maybe there should be an option in the control panel that would give the user the options to have one or the other just in case that person really does want that on their computer, but I agree 100% with Chris that is is definitely not a good idea to mix both experiences on a computer that isn’t optimized for Metro or the traditional version.

  • I’ve been messing with win8 as a dual boot and while I like the metro interface, it’s a bit odd to be flipping to a traditional screen as opposed to perhaps mulltiple desktops or office apps IE etc. I’d rather have them shrink to a tile on the metro interface as an efficient task switcher. also why can’t the cursor act as a finger touch would ? why can’t I drag a screen with the mouse? seem obvious to me.

  • Muhamed Heljic, the Linux desktop world is also in UI flux. We’ve seen people run away in droves from hugely succesful distros like Ubuntu due to it. 

    • Ubuntu is very user friendly, like Apple. The creator of Ubuntu and its platforms was greatly inspired by Apple and their design features.

      Lubuntu on the other hand lacks in graphical features in comparison, BUT this serves as a great OS to people who are big into compiling/developing etc.

  • Windows 8 will be one of the biggest flops on the desktop. I have the preview and it feels completely wrong to jump from Aero to Metro and Metro doesn’t work well with a keyboard and mouse. I won’t upgrade until Microsoft decouples or completely revamps Metro on the desktop.

    • Well that is a Developer Preview it is at least  6 months old code and as i posted  above   from the windows 8 blogs they have done massive things with windows 8 and  since the DP they have improved  KB/M intergration  hugely  

      The Consumer Preview  is  coming up and should give ius a  look at a more Final product much more final with Many changes since the DP more refined more  polished in every way  . 

      Oh and even the DP ends up using   100 to  160MB less ram then windows 7   Based  on users of  some users on other sites i go to so that is a + 

  • Well we only  have or know of what the  DP build of 8 gave us   but since then Microsoft has made huge huge improvements based on feedback they have  integrated far more functionality and features  they have since also improved   Keyboard and mouse  support for how the Metro start screen works with them.   

    all you need to do is keep up  on the windows 8 blogs where they always update us and talk about features and what not that we can give feedback on.

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/     Many articles  they have  shown  and talked about things like  Accessibility features in windows 8  a few links   just for those who did not or has not seen some of the stuff  being done with windows 8 or that is in windows 8 or so 

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/02/14/enabling-accessibility.aspx 

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/01/30/acting-on-file-management-feedback.aspx 

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/01/20/engineering-windows-8-for-mobility.aspx 

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/11/21/improving-the-setup-experience.aspx 

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/01/04/refresh-and-reset-your-pc.aspx 

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/11/08/building-a-power-smart-general-purpose-windows.aspx 

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/10/13/the-windows-8-task-manager.aspx 

    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/10/27/using-task-manager-with-64-logical-processors.aspx 

     anyone who says windows 8 will flop or it feels wrong you are basing your   opinion on the Developer Preview that is   or was  signed off  as the DP back in July or earlier   last year so by the time it was released it was already an outdated build  

  •  I haven’t tried the developer preview yet and for the time being, I’m not sold on a metro UI. I think anything that relies on the fingers as the sole means of navigation should be limited to portable devices that aren’t laptops. Let’s be realistic, no one’s going to buy an expensive computer with touch screen capability just to be able to use their OS when all they should have to do to upgrade is get the latest drivers. It still remains to be seen how the metro interface will respond to the good ol’ touchpad+mouse. Will the OS sense it like an actual hand, or will it be slow to respond (if at all)?

  • I think people should just wait for the consumer preview, it’s too early to comment.

  • For the first time since I have owned a  computer in 1992 I am NOT looking forward to the new version of Windows, I downloaded the developers preview and HATE the Metro UI. 99.5% of PCs do not have, nor will they have touch screens anytime soon, so why make an answer to a question that does not exist?

  • Please type in Developer Preview.
    Otherwise it sounds like a porn movie.
    DP Means Double Penetration

  • Please type in Developer Preview.
    Otherwise it sounds like a porn movie.
    DP Means Double Penetration

  • I played with the dev preview and it…. was horrible on a PC.
    It just made no sense. It didn’t work as a PC at all.
    Tablets, yes great idea and the ability to have a normal desktop if you wish is great. But on a PC… It’ll always have to be a desktop. Maybe Metro for a screensaver or something? Easy view of info? I dunno.. It just didn’t work for me. 

    • And what you tried was the   Developer Preview of what is  6 to 7 months old build  Allot as ben  done since then since that build was  for Developers more then  the regular consumer  

      • Yeah well I don’t think between then and now that much in the the way UI might have changed except for the possibility that they might have given users the option to set Aero as their default or Metro as their default or at least put some sort of detection in for when it’s a deskop/laptop setup vs. a tablet.

        Time will only tell. right?

        • allot has changed more polish things being tightened up more features being  ironed out and working many things . the CP comes out later this month and in this  6 to 7 months time since the  Developer  version they will have and have done allot to windows 8 .   

          • Tried the CP and it is just as bad as the DP. I hate it for the desktop and I’ve been asked to develop apps for it.

      • Yeah well I don’t think between then and now that much in the the way UI might have changed except for the possibility that they might have given users the option to set Aero as their default or Metro as their default or at least put some sort of detection in for when it’s a deskop/laptop setup vs. a tablet.

        Time will only tell. right?

  • @Vibin_r:disqus I would agree with you but after having beta tested Windows 8 personally I can say that the Metro interface is definitely 100% NOT for desktops/laptops, just like how Aero was NOT meant for the tablet. Metro without a touch screen is a like a Palm Pilot without a stylus. Metro needs a touchscreen to get the full effect and without that piece of hardware present it just does not make any sense at all.

    I guess I am trying to say that Aero = Desktops/laptops and Metro = tablets/smartphones

    • You have not beta tested windows 8 since the only publicly available build is the  Developer build  which is   a  Alpha build   the beta  Build  will be the Consumer Preview build  so your opinion is based on the Developer build an Alpha build  of windows  8

  • @Vibin_r:disqus I would agree with you but after having beta tested Windows 8 personally I can say that the Metro interface is definitely 100% NOT for desktops/laptops, just like how Aero was NOT meant for the tablet. Metro without a touch screen is a like a Palm Pilot without a stylus. Metro needs a touchscreen to get the full effect and without that piece of hardware present it just does not make any sense at all.

    I guess I am trying to say that Aero = Desktops/laptops and Metro = tablets/smartphones

  • @Vibin_r:disqus I would agree with you but after having beta tested Windows 8 personally I can say that the Metro interface is definitely 100% NOT for desktops/laptops, just like how Aero was NOT meant for the tablet. Metro without a touch screen is a like a Palm Pilot without a stylus. Metro needs a touchscreen to get the full effect and without that piece of hardware present it just does not make any sense at all.

    I guess I am trying to say that Aero = Desktops/laptops and Metro = tablets/smartphones

  • the os isn’t finished yet, so we cant judge it so far. there are so many things to be added and fixed, just wait till consumer preview or the final release to judge.

  • the os isn’t finished yet, so we cant judge it so far. there are so many things to be added and fixed, just wait till consumer preview or the final release to judge.

  • I tried the Consumer Preview yesterday and although is was slightly better than the Developer Preview, it is still awful for the desktop. It’s really bad on a two monitor system. I find myself expecting things to be there that just aren’t and I doubt they ever will be. Getting to the Control Panel is a real pain. All the standard tiles are advertising for Microsoft…e.g. the XBOX live app. Why is this on my desktop? What am I going to do with an app that that thinks I’m on the XBOX, but not?

  • I hate Metro UI. Visually it looks quite repelling. It looks ugly even on phones. On desktop it would be a nightmare. I hope Microsoft will add an option to turn it off and revert to Aero.

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