Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Windows 8 Metro Style UI and Desktop View -- The JoggleOS?

For the past week or so, Windows' Metro Style UI has been the talk of the TechTown. We've all heard and seen a lot about the new Metro Style UI of Windows. But with all the excitement of it's unique Metro Style UI, comes a lot of questions. Questions that Microsoft should and must address as early as now. Most of these questions are really about what feels like the Metro Style is like an overlay, a skin or an app launcher that can get confusing and feels like you're being bounced back and forth to Windows and an App or launcher that just keeps on popping up -- the new Metro Style Start Menu. There's simply a serious disconnect between the two UIs. I'll go into details later on, but a quick look of a sample workflow scenario below is shown on the image on the right.

When I'm working on an Excel worksheet, I get the classic Desktop View (which I think shouldn't be called Desktop View anymore, I'll discuss that later), that looks and feels almost exactly like Windows 7 and not a hint of any Metro Style in it. Then, I suddenly realized that I have to open a Photoshop file, so I click on the Start button -- and boom the very "metrofied", Metro Style Start Menu pops up. After choosing to open Photoshop, I'll be jumping back to the Desktop View, which again in a UI/View with no hint of any Metro Style in it. It almost feels like, I have a tablet that acts as a remote control or App Launcher where I can select the Apps that I'd like to use on my desktop. The two UIs are just simply worlds apart. Confused yet? Wait, there's more!

I think we all know why Microsoft can't just drop the Windows of old, like what they did with Windows mobile, when they transition into this new paradigm -- tiles, not icons, but still Windows. I personally think that the end goal is great and fantastic, but this goal should not be at the expense of creating a user experience that makes you feel like you're a ping-pong ball.

Now, let's try to dissect what Microsoft is doing here and also try to offer some suggestions that may help in making the Windows 8 experience more cohesive.

Microsoft would like to make this version of Windows, the One OS for all -- x86, ARM, Tablets, Desktops, Laptops and who knows what form factors the human species can think of in the future (don't forget that this is the OS of the future). This idea is really great, it means you can do everything on your PC, what you can do on your tablet and vise-versa, or almost all. And with this, different problems arise.
The first one to that list would be Apps. Will it run on my ARM devices, or is it just for x86 devices?

Most of the Legacy Apps that we currently use on our Windows machines weren't even called Apps, they were simply called, Softwares. I don't remember hearing the term "App developers" before, "Software developers", yes. I cited this simple generation gap to to imply that these legacy Apps are a bit aging, left behind in terms  "cool factor" because they're not "touch friendly" and not colorful. Legacy Apps are -- useful and make us productive, but not magical. But is Microsoft willing to abandon these useful and productive Apps in lieu of the modern, full screen, lightweight and Metro Styled Apps? Of course not! And I really don't think that they should. To add, what about those companies who've Apps custom built, in-house, for their needs? Should Microsoft also tell them that they can't use their Apps anymore when they upgrade to the new version of Windows? Again, of course not! And they shouldn't! I highlighted the Apps here because aside from the kinds of users, Enterprise and Consumers, this is one of the main reasons why Microsoft can go all in to the Metro Style UI environment.

To kind of solve this issue, the future Microsoft Store, where consumers buy and download Apps must be able to determine the Windows8 device you're using and should show only the compatible Apps you can download. So if you're using an ARM powered device (Tablets, Clam shell, Transformer or Slider type), you're more or less limited to downloading modern and Metro Styled Apps. And if you only have modern Apps installed on your device, you're most likely safe from being thrown back and forth to the different UIs. It's going to be all Metro Style. You wouldn't have any reason to go to the Desktop View, even if you have the option to. And the OS wouldn't be forcibly sending you to the other side of the OS, because it also has no reason to. In terms of the interface for the Apps, Devs can take care of that. You can always translate Touch to Keyboard/Mouse combo. Tap=Point+Click; Pinch to Zoom=Shift+Scroll Wheel; etc. Make these universal for all Apps and it'll be native to users' reflexes. That would kind of solve the problem, right? For those who are not aware of the difference between these platforms, they'll probably end up banging their heads for spending so much money thinking that they'll be able to run the full desktop version of Photoshop in their thin and light tablets because it has Windows in it, only to find out that it actually can't. But what if, just what if, developers and engineers are able to find a way to port their legacy Apps into ARM powered devices -- then no one will be rushing to the emergency rooms for some kind of head injury. Everyone will instead in up in some psychiatric wards thinking they're seeing two things at the same time!

If you're using an Intel or AMD powered tablet or or other PC form factors. You have access to both the modern Apps and the Legacy Apps that were designed by the Devs with users using keyboard/mouse combo in mind. And this time around, there will be a lot of instances wherein you'll be thrown back and forth to the two different worlds of Windows.

Metro Style UI to Desktop View. Aside from the usability perspective, these two simply don't look like they're a couple -- not even cousins!

Metro Style is colorful, Touch friendly and modern. Whereas a legacy Apps on Desktop view have very tiny Windows' buttons and the grey theme of these Apps are almost equivalent to the beige color of the PCs of yesteryears. But then again, Microsoft just simply can't abandon these very powerful Apps people are used to, just to force everyone to go Metro. If they do, the wait and see attitude of both the users and devs is going to be a problem. Consumers wait and see if there are actually great Apps that are  going to be developed for the device or the OS they're buying, while Devs aslo wait for the sales report to come out before spending time to develop Apps.  So, I would state it again, Microsoft shouldn't abandon the support for legacy Apps. After all, these Apps are the ones that helped in making Windows become part of a lot of users' daily technical lives.

So if I'm using an x86 tablet, I have access to Photoshop, MS Office, etc., if I want to right? But will my experience be like? On one hand, Metro Style UI is Uber touch friendly, on the other hand, desktop view is -- oops! I touched the wrong button!

From what I know, most of the legacy Apps' interface are actually from Windows' own object library. So why don't Microsoft start here, by just simply updating the object library of the new Windows it will immediately update the legacy Apps and add some Metro feel in it and a bit touch friendly.

What if the dialogue boxes of these Apps, which are also from Windows' own library would look like this?

The mock-up UI shown here didn't  turn out to be as pretty as I wanted to them to be, I'm obviously no Photoshop expert. But I think we all know what I'm trying to point out in these samples. These small changes might not change how the new Windows will work in it's entirety, but I feel that this will somehow make users know and feel that they're in one Windows, not two, but one OS. Sure, you'll still be going back to the full Metro Style UI and back to the Desktop View, but it'll be more cohesive, less jumpy.

By the way, I mentioned earlier that the Desktop View shouldn't be called as Desktop view, remember? Yes, that's right! It shouldn't be called as such since even when I'm on my desktop, I'd be dealing with the Metro Style UI as my Start menu anyway. So, the Metro Style UI is technically, still a Desktop View. Microsoft should think of something to call the old school UI, Productivity View, perhaps? In any case, users shouldn't be able to do anything using that view, except use it as some sort of App Holder or App Tray for the legacy Apps. Just so the legacy Apps will still run and be managed like how people are used to managing the many open windows in Windows. You shouldn't be able to put shortcuts nor change the wallpaper when in that view, make it more like a static background for legacy Apps. Yes, you can still switch between different open legacy Apps using the Taskbar or arrange your open Apps to Horizontal, Vertical, Tile, Cascade view -- it's Windows after all. But the Control Panel, Task Manager, File Explorer and everything that Microsoft can convert into Metro Style UI must be converted into Metro Style UI, now. I will try to expound on why the current Desktop View or Productivity View should be demoted to a static, simple windows "arranger".

If Microsoft wants to shift to Metro Style UI, for it to succeed, they must go all in. Everything in Windows must be "metrofied".