Since the creation of Windows 95 there has been little true evolution in the design of the Windows interface, at least until now.
Don’t get me wrong, Windows has certainly evolved since the days of Windows 95, becoming more stable and better designed but the popular startbar/startmenu interface has largely stayed the same beyond a few minor tweaks.
Now with Windows 8, everything is changing and the “Start Menu” is completely getting the boot in favor of a new Start Interface, known as Metro.
Metro is a very different direction from past Windows interface designs. Metro brings live tiles, touch-optimized icons and windows, and an interface that is unified across multiple devices such as Windows Phone and the new Xbox 360 dashboard.
Microsoft’s new strategy of unifying design features doesn’t sound like what we’ve come to expect from Microsoft.
In the 90s we had three different operating system environments for desktops/laptops alone from Microsoft: The text-based DOS (which was phasing out by the mid-90s), Windows, and Windows NT. Each of these operating systems might have had some interface similarities but their differences were larger.
Yes, Windows had a “DOS Prompt” and Windows NT had a “Command Prompt” that allowed DOS-like controls and Windows NT had a start menu (starting with NT4), but the core components and even things like “Control Panel” varied considerably across these platforms.
Today we have only one core in use on desktops, NT, and CE in use on mobile platforms. Even this is changing since Windows 8 is based on NT and will support mobile processors as well.
So if this new strategy isn’t the normal behavior for Microsoft, where is it coming from? It could certainly be argued that Microsoft is taking a page out of Apple’s playbook. Although iOS (iPhone/iPad/Touch) and Mac OS are different operating systems they have many similar elements in design.
Even applications made by Apple for Windows, like iTunes, have a very uniform design that hints strongly to the design style of Mac OS X.
If Microsoft is indeed taking a hint from Apple’s strategy of uniform design and tight product control, is this a bad thing? It really depends on who you ask. Many users like the options that come from a platform with loose control and don’t mind different interfaces for different tasks.
The downside to pushing Metro, is that it will require at least a slight learning curve for most users. This learning curve also existed when switching from Vista to 7, but is arguably steeper this time around. Whenever you have a new learning curve it means that consumers start mulling over their options.
If they have to learn something new anyway, should they learn something new with Windows or just learn a new OS like Mac or Linux instead? Microsoft’s Windows 8 is attempting to reach both sides of the market with a tablet-inspired interface that will draw in casual users and the power of the desktop remains for power users.
This isn’t a bad move but does it offer a better power user experience than Linux or a better casual user experience than Mac OS?
The answer to that could vary considerably, again depending on who you ask. In the long run though, Microsoft will continue to rule the desktop field primarily because of brand recognition and familiarity. People know Windows, and even if it changes in design they still recognize the brand as something they trust and use.
So will Windows 8 draw in new users and prevent switching, or will it actually drive switching to new platforms like Linux and OSX? A little bit of both, would probably be the correct answer. Windows 8 is different, and change scares people.
If we are willing to stay for the ride though, I think that Microsoft is heading in the right direction with Metro and its new “Windows Everywhere” approach.
I personally remain optimistic about Microsoft’s future with Windows, but only time will tell. What do you think about Windows 8? Is the change just too much? Could the new interface drive people to try other platforms like OSX and Linux? Share your thoughts below.