In what must be the longest Windows 8 development post ever called “Creating the Windows 8 user experience“, Jensen Harris ( the Microsoft Windows 8 Director of User Experience Program Management ) walks us through the rationale for the Windows 8 look, feel and user experience.
I have to confess, so far this is the most detailed explanation of what Microsoft were thinking with this release and there is a LOT to dissect – walk with me.
It starts with a comprehensive look back at Windows user elements starting all the way back with Windows 1.
Then they discuss the trends that influenced the design of Windows 8.
- Connected all the time.
- People, not files, are the center of activity.
- The rise of mobile PCs over desktop PCs.
- Content is on the PC and in the cloud.
- Apps work together to save you time.
- Roam your experience between PCs.
Nothing new here, pretty intuitive that these are the reasons behind the evolution of Windows.
Important – they speak to the role of the desktop in Windows 8
It is pretty straightforward. The desktop is there to run the millions of existing, powerful, familiar Windows programs that are designed for mouse and keyboard. Office. Visual Studio. Adobe Photoshop. AutoCAD. Lightroom.
This software is widely-used, feature-rich, and powers the bulk of the work people do on the PC today. Bringing it forward (along with the metaphors such as manual discrete window sizing and overlapping placement) is a huge benefit when compared to tablets without these features or programs.
It is an explicit design goal of Windows 8 to bring this software forward, run it better than in any previous version of Windows, and to provide the best environment possible for these products as they evolve into the future as well.
Interesting – here the desktop is called “software”. Not a surprise if you have been reading articles by Paul Thurrott.
The desktop is now software that optionally may be run from Metro and not vice versa.
It’s critical to remember that going forward.
Next, A surprisingly candid admission about the failure of touch on Windows before Windows 8
Some bloggers have written about how Microsoft invested in developing touch in Windows 7, but ultimately had a poor approach, as evidenced by the touch experience of both phones and tablets surpassing that of Windows-based devices. Going back to even the first public demonstrations of Windows 7, we worked hard on touch, but our approach to implementing touch as just an adjunct to existing Windows desktop software didn’t work very well. Adding touch on top of UI paradigms designed for mouse and keyboard held the experience back.
Interesting – a pretty candid admission that the Windows touch experience on Windows 7 was less than ideal.
Not a big secret to the Microsoft community but interesting to see such a candid admission here.
Battery Life is critical – The reason for WinRT
Once we understood how important great battery life was, certain aspects of the new experience became clear. For instance, it became obvious early on in the planning process that to truly reimagine the Windows experience we would need to reimagine apps as well. Thus, WinRT and a new kind of app were born.
To help extend a device’s battery life, WinRT-based apps know how to save their state instantly. Windows can throttle them down to use no CPU or memory on a moment’s notice, but without the user losing anything they’ve been working on in the app. When the app resumes, it resumes in exactly the same place it left off.
To the user, it has been running all the time—but technically the program has been suspended or terminated in the background.
This should help people understand the rationale for Windows RT.
My first Red Flag – The use case for Touch
Beyond phones, touch has become the single most pervasive user model for a vast array of interactions—many of those powered under the hood by Windows PCs! From cash registers, to ATMs, movie rental kiosks, airline check-in, and grocery checkout, touch is literally everywhere. How would you explain to a 5-year-old that when she touches a laptop screen, nothing is supposed to happen?
To think that your PC would remain the single computing device you do not touch seems illogical. It is reminiscent of historic debates over the use of color back when PC displays were generally monochromatic; despite color being everywhere around us, many people believed color would be a distraction to work and should be reserved for play.
(The Office team actually had a significant debate about the use of color icons in the first version that introduced toolbars.)
In a decade (or probably less,) we will look back at this transition period and say to each another “Hey, do you remember how PC screens didn’t used to be touchable? Wow, isn’t that weird to think about now?”
I still think that there needs to be a lot more careful analysis of use cases for touch.
I have a PC, A Laptop and multiple tablets. I am writing this blog post on a PC and obviously am laser focused on this activity. At no point during the
60 90 120 minutes or so it takes to write this do I feel an urge and need to touch the screen.
In addition, my twin monitors are (by design) further away from my face than would be comfortable to reach.
I’m just not sure that when it comes to laptops, ultrabooks and PC’s we are sure what the impact of Touch will be.
Ultrabook vendors creating touch screens are pioneers and it remains to be seen how popular that model will be. The fact is that so far, touch works almost exclusively for tablets because of the proximity of your fingers to the screen.
On the other hand, I can see employees in certain industries (Architecture, Graphic design etc) using touch enabled laptops for their work – but then they would probably be buying Tablet/Ultrabook Hybrids.
Time will tell.
Touch will evolve the same way. Having used a touch-enabled laptop every day for the last year (a Lenovo x220 tablet), I have a hard time imagining not being able to touch the screen for scrolling, or to tap the OK or Cancel buttons in a dialog box. Whenever I use a non-touch laptop, it is as if I’ve forgotten how to use the PC. Of course touch is not the primary way I use this laptop, but it is a crucial piece of how I interact with it. Even on the large-screen monitor I use at work, I just instinctively touch it—I don’t think “because this screen is attached to a desktop PC, I must not be able to touch it.”
That sounds fine but his job (working on Windows 8 ) demands it.
This is where extensive user testing will be key. It’s possible to solve a problem that very few people have.
An important hat tip to non Metro Users
If you only want to “live in the desktop,” if you never plan on using a PC with touch or using any apps from the Windows Store whatsoever, Windows 8 still has a lot to offer. The Windows 7 desktop experience has been brought forward and significantly improved, with additions such as the new Task Manager, new Explorer and file copy UI, Hyper-V on the client, multi-monitor taskbar and wallpaper, etc.
And all in a package that uses fewer system resources than Windows 7. The new Start screen is simply a continuation of the Windows 7 trend of unifying disparate elements of the user interface—starting, launching, switching, and notifications.
It is really your choice. You can use only desktop apps if you want. You can use only new apps and never leave them if you want (in which case all of the desktop code is not even loaded.) Or, you can choose to mix and match apps that run in both environments.
We think in a short time everyone will mix and match, simply because there is so much creative development energy being put into the new scenarios made possible by new Windows 8 apps.
This is obviously great to see. An acknowledgement of the importance of the desktop to the user base.
It’s also an acknowledgement that some people will never use Metro. Just a fact.
More on that a little later.
They describe some new design principles regarding the sharpening of the desktop.
In the end, we decided to bring the desktop closer to the Metro aesthetic, while preserving the compatibility afforded by not changing the size of window chrome, controls, or system UI. We have moved beyond Aero Glass—flattening surfaces, removing reflections, and scaling back distracting gradients.
We applied the principles of “clean and crisp” when updating window and taskbar chrome. Gone are the glass and reflections. We squared off the edges of windows and the taskbar. We removed all the glows and gradients found on buttons within the chrome. We made the appearance of windows crisper by removing unnecessary shadows and transparency. The default window chrome is white, creating an airy and premium look. The taskbar continues to blend into the desktop wallpaper, but appears less complicated overall.
They obviously are applying Metro principles to the desktop as well creating a sleeker and more futuristic look.
Very important – The Windows 8 Release Preview will not be feature complete
The following gem was tucked away in there.
While a few of these visual changes are hinted at in the upcoming Release Preview, most of them will not yet be publicly available. You’ll see them all in the final release of Windows 8!
This is a big one. It puts into context the upcoming Windows 8 Release Preview. It’s good to know.
We have to assume that a lot will change between the Windows 8 Release Preview and the final release – not just the desktop.
Microsoft hint about new learning tools and processes for learning Windows 8
So, the gestures themselves will work more consistently, and will be better-tuned than what is in the Consumer Preview. But how will people learn to use them?
We will post more about learnability soon: about how people discover and understand new concepts, and the specific steps we will be taking to make sure that people don’t feel lost the first time they sit down with a Windows 8 PC.
This is obviously critical with the amount of changes coming down the pipeline.
I loved this – a having it both ways statement
The full picture of the Windows 8 experience will only emerge when new hardware from our partners becomes available, and when the Store opens up for all developers to start submitting their new apps. At the same time, there’s no doubt that all the features of Windows 8 are compelling on today’s hardware designed for Windows 7—with or without touch.
Since we designed Windows 8 to work great for laptops and desktops, it will work naturally for your Windows 7 hardware. Think of past versions of Windows that worked on existing hardware but were even better with new hardware. That’s our approach with Windows 8.
Just funny to read.
Then, a very poignant summary – They get it!
Today most people love their PCs, but it is clear that people’s attitudes and expectations are changing for just about any device they carry around with them. People really want a product that just works. They want to sit on the couch and enjoy their favorite apps and games and websites and not worry about the vagaries of the registry or a million control panels or power profiles. They want to pick it up, enjoy using it, and then set it down.
Our goal in Windows 8 is to redefine people’s expectations of their PC. Windows updates are applied silently in the background and in the middle-of-the-night “maintenance window” whenever possible. Because Windows 8 apps know how to preserve their state, this is totally seamless to you.
Today, PCs are in the kitchen, in the living room, at the coffee shop, in your purse, on the train, in the passenger seat of your car. Increasingly they are mobile, always connected, affordable, and beautiful. And Windows PCs are in the workplace, no matter where that is or moves to. What would have seemed unrecognizable and “post-PC” 20 years ago is now the very definition of a PC.
This is great.
This is a summary of everything we as a community want from Windows devices.
What to make of it all? – Here’s what I think
This is a very thoughtful and beautifully written post.
It addresses almost all the concerns from the Windows 8 user community and there are several “we hear you” moments in the text if you care to go through it all.
A couple of things struck me after I read this 5 times (now 9).
First, I wish I had read this before the Windows 8 Developer Preview.
It seems to me that this is change management in reverse – first introduce the change and then explain it.
It seems to me that this is probably a big reason that there is so much drama about a lot of the changes that have been introduced.
These messages need to go to the community before big changes are introduced. It’s like politics, if you don’t fill the void with your story, others will fill it in with their opinions.
It’s absolutely refreshing to get a real glimpse into what they are thinking.
Second – Windows RT makes a lot more sense
Once you understand the vision for ARM and X86, a lot more things become clear. It’s the best of all worlds for everyone.
- You don’t like Metro? Fine, stay in the desktop app and eventually you’ll probably be curious enough to come and explore.
- You like Metro and don’t want the desktop, get a Windows RT device and you’ll be fine.
- You’re a developer and wants to develop apps to reach everyone, build them in Metro and you can reach all devices.
It starts to come together once you really start to put the pieces together.
Third – This is very difficult
One of the things that struck me after reading this was the complexity of this effort.
I am continually reminded of the scale of this undertaking and the amount of audiences Microsoft is dealing with.
The amount of change that is going to be thrown at the world this year is breathtaking and it will change everything – absolutely everything.
This is not a trivial thing.
Fourth – The desktop is important
I still think that Microsoft are walking a very difficult balancing act here.
Yes the desktop is available for anyone who wants it BUT you have to go through Metro to get there. I still think that if it’s important enough to keep, then people should be able to choose how and when to use it.
If I “choose to live in the desktop app” then I should have a choice about which environment I start up in.
It is clear to me that forcing users who just aren’t ready for Metro to see it every day is going to be an overwhelming turn off. People spend a lot of money for a PC, they should be able to configure it the way they want.
It would be a sign of self confidence if Microsoft acquiesced and let users have this option. The truth is, if they don’t, a new hacker app (start in desktop) will be created and will instantly be the number one selling app for Windows 8.
It’s a no brainer to let users choose.
Fifth – The Start Menu – Windows 9 Please
Nothing I read here justified the removal of that piece of Microsoft history.
If users choose to “live in the desktop”, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have the start menu with a Metro tab in it.
The more I absorb about Windows 8, the more I think that Windows 9 would be a better point in time to abandon Start.
It would give people enough time to get used to the change. Once again, change management.
Sixth – I am sold on Metro
Yeah I said it but for only one reason.
I read in the post an acknowledgement that work on this product is not finished and will not be finished by the Release Preview.
I feel better about the direction they are going in because of the vision they have articulated but I would have been way more worried if they thought they were done by early June.
I may be a sucker for believing but I am getting there.
Seventh – Metro will have to earn it’s place as part of Windows
I’m an American and we say here “Nothing for free in America“.
This is really important. You can’t force Metro down our throats.
Ultimately Metro will have to earn its place in the hearts of the Windows community.
It will rise or fall based on the apps that are developed for it and the enthusiasm of the Microsoft community about the app store. Metro can not be forced on anyone – it has to win by influence. Non-Metro users have to see the value and gladly switch over to it.
I believe that this should be a governing principle to the roll out – Metro should be so good, it grabs users by the lapel and says ” I’m going to make you love me“.
Ultimately it is the value that Metro will offer to Windows RT users that will probably drive this adoption – or not.
I am always reminded of the level of ambivalence I had when I saw the first iPad. I didn’t get it. The value wasn’t immediately clear to me. Over time, it sold itself to the world and the value became self-evident.
It’s OK if people don’t get Metro in the beginning. It’s not OK if it stays that way.
Eighth: The success of Windows Phone will probably be determined by the success of Windows 8.
All the Nokia Lumia hubbub would make a lot more sense if users were already using Metro on the desktop and tablets.
The tile based interface for Windows Phone will be a logical extension of the Windows 8 PC’s and Tablets that you will be used to.
I’m not saying that Windows Phones will be a slam dunk success but I am saying that by mid 2013, the Windows Phone tiles won’t look foreign anymore.
They will seem like the tiles that you use on your desktop and tablet. If you like those experiences, it will be natural for you to (at least) explore getting a Windows Phone.
Ninth – Microsoft are listening
A lot of people in the Microsoft community have been frustrated because of the perception that Microsoft doesn’t get it or doesn’t care about user opinions.
They seem to get it. The post is very comprehensive and says a lot of the right things and acknowledges a lot of the “word on the street”.
Finally – Execution is all that matters
As my cousin Efosa says “Saying the right things doesn’t matter if you don’t execute worth a damn”.
Windows 8 will be compelling as long as it’s launched only when it’s ready.
At the BUILD conference, Mr. Sinofsky said that Windows 8 will be launched only when it’s ready. I hope that is true.
The vision is refreshing and original. I’ve said it over and over – this is no Apple knockoff, it’s a fresh, new re-imagining of Windows.
There’s a lot of time between now and Windows 8 launch but I have to say, the communication gives me hope.
That’s my five dollars and fifty cents. Now your turn.
What do you think of the points raised in the article? You see hope for Windows 8?
Use the comments below and let us know…