Users of the coming Windows 8 operating system will be able to switch between a traditional desktop PC user interface and a tablet-friendly look patterned after Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform.
Some industry observers clearly have been worried about the dumbing down of the next Windows OS release. However, users who highly value the full-blown desktop experience will have the full set of PC capabilities at their fingertips, said Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft’s Windows division, writing in a blog.
“If you want to, you can seamlessly switch between Metro style apps and the improved Windows desktop,” Sinofsky wrote. “Essentially, you can think of the Windows desktop as just another app.”
Windows 8 tablet users who prefer Windows Phone’s Metro-style UI for accomplishing tasks on the fly will never even need to see the platform’s desktop version.
“We won’t even load it — literally the code will not be loaded — unless you explicitly choose to go there,” Sinofsky said.
Moreover, the new Metro-style UI “is much more than the visual design — [it is] fast and fluid, immersive, beautiful, and app-centric,” Sinofsky said. And tablet users who do not need the full-blown Windows desktop experience won’t have to comply with its more stringent memory, battery life and hardware requirements, he added.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
Microsoft has to negotiate an innovator’s dilemma with Windows 8, said Al Hilwa, director of applications software development at IDC.
“They have to create a product which is appealing to an apparently large segment of the user population who loves a simpler touch-first approach to computing, while maintaining Window’s existing user-base that is comfortable with the precise control a keyboard, a mouse and a file-oriented interface provides,” Hilwa said.
Just how Microsoft will go about accomplishing the delicate balancing act of having both Windows 8 user interfaces operating together harmoniously remains unclear right now. However, more concrete details are expected to emerge at Microsoft’s Build conference for developers beginning Sept. 13 in Anaheim, Calif.
The bottom line is that Microsoft will need to ensure that both user segments remain happy with Windows 8, Hilwa said. The software giant also will need to “maintain two parallel application development models until these begin to blend more naturally down the road,” he added.
The Ribbon Users Love To Hate
Already featured in the 2007 and 2010 releases of Microsoft’s Office business productivity suite, the ribbon is one design element that some Office users love to hate. This helps explain this week’s flurry of negative comments about the addition of a ribbon to the new file management tool for Windows 8.
Still, Sinofsky pointed out that the addition of a ribbon will enable the platform’s designers to create an optimized file manager that positions the most frequently used commands at reliable, logical locations.
“The flexibility of the ribbon with many icon options, tabs, flexible layout and groupings also ensured that we could respect [Windows] Explorer’s heritage,” Sinofsky said.
What’s more, the Windows Explorer ribbon provides for a much more reliable and usable touch-only interface than pull-down-menu or context-menu designs could provide, Sinofsky said. Though some critics have complained about the additional screen real estate that this feature would occupy, Sinofsky said users would be able to display the Windows Explorer ribbon in either an open or minimized state.