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?