February 21, 2012

Windows 8 on a Ledge

Windows 8. You may know it as Windows Reimagined, Windows with a lot of Metro on the side and you may even know it as “Hey, where the hell did my Start Button go?” To be sure, Windows 8 is a controversial product, with Steve Ballmer calling it Microsoft’s biggest risk yet. That’s not an understatement either, as President of the Windows Division, Steven Sinofsky, is bringing a whole lot of change to the table. From the familiar Windows logo to the Start menu, everything is changing in Windows 8. To tinker with the world’s most used OS is one thing, but to totally change the fundamentals of the OS? Hello Microsoft, meet ledge.

Old People, Be Warned


In order to understand where Windows is going, you have to understand the craze that is the Metro UI. From it’s humble beginnings in Windows Media Center and the Zune HD, Metro has come to the forefront of Microsoft’s design language. Stark, text driven and “authentically digital,” Metro is a far cry from the faux-Leather iPad textures that Apple abuses like crack.  If you’ve seen a Windows Phone, an updated Xbox or even the terminal signage that adorns those lovely Cinnabon stands at the airport, you’ve experienced Metro. We love the language, and to see Microsoft taking a concerted effort to embrace good looking, modern design is a breath of fresh air. And while Metro may be fresh air to us, Metro may drown the everyday Joe-Schmoe.
That’s not  to say that we want Windows 8 to alienate its users, because we don’t. However, when you look at some changes that are aboard, you can’t help but grimace.
  • Start button removed (viewable on mouse over for laptop/desktop users), replaced with the Start Menu.
  • Blurry line between Metro and Desktop programs (dual Control Panels, Internet Explorers and User interfaces).
  • It’s a near necessity for Mouse users to encounter the new Start screen. While Microsoft claims the Start screen is great for all input types, we don’t know how Metro truly feels with a mouse. image

But even if Microsoft pulls off the demolition of Windows and creates a delightful product, there's a high risk of alienating the Windows inept. You know who I'm talking about; Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and that creepy Uncle who you aren't even sure is biologically related to you. When Windows 8 rolls out in October of this year, you have a duty to warn your ‘rents about Windows 8. If anything, Windows 8 will seriously freak out your parents.

Windows 8's reign of terror isn't just limited to your parents; even power users of Windows may struggle with the aforementioned "blurred line." Microsoft has been touting Windows 8 as a no-compromise OS, in that both Metro and Desktop Windows are accessible on Windows on ARM tablets. In theory, this sounds like a great idea. Who wouldn't want the freedom to switch between consumption device and workhorse tablet on the go?

Is your hand raised?

With the no-compromise mantra, Windows 8 will blur the capabilities of Windows on ARM. In addition to the tablet-friendly Metro, WOA tablets will include the desktop version of Windows and a specifically coded Office 15. In this case, Office 15 is written as a Desktop app for ARM, not a Metro one. This would be fine if other apps were allowed to rewrite existing Windows programs for ARM, but Microsoft has explicitly stated that the WOA Desktop will only allow Office 15 on the Desktop. In essence, all the existing Windows programs that you know and love will be unable to rewritten for Windows ARM tablets. No Chrome, no Photoshop, nothing. Creak goes the ledge.

imageIf Office 15 alone is the only Desktop app allowed on WOA tablets, why was the Desktop included in the first place? Windows on ARM could have foregone the sketchy line and included only the Metro OS, leaving the wholly unnecessary Windows desktop away from tablets. Hell, Office 15 could have been written as a full featured Metro-style app! Microsoft could have even released an officially sanctioned dock for WOA users to plug into that included an Intel processor for a full featured Desktop experience! Instead, Microsoft has chosen a vague, sketchy and not-at-all helpful “compromise,” the very one they’ve been fighting against. Creak.

Windows 8 has a lot of things right- integration with Xbox Live is present, a unified OS appears amongst Microsoft’s phones, computers and consoles, Skydrive is finally baked into the Desktop, etc. Yet so many decisions in which the Windows team has made “no compromises” will directly hurt the end user.  We want to be excited for Windows 8- it brings so many good ideas to the table-  but re-imagination comes at a cost. With every day, the next version of Windows risks the identity it has built over the years. 

With Windows 8 premiering tomorrow at MWC, Windows 8 will have keep its balance on the ledge. Starting tomorrow, Windows 8 will either sink or swim, and we’ll be along for the ride. Welcome to the ledge.

No comments:

Post a Comment