Discussion about
peter

March 1st 2012 5:10 pm

Windows 8: Metro vs. Desktop?

Microsoft wants to have things both ways -- literally. They want to have a touch-based UI to address the growing popularity of tablets, but didn't want to turn their back on the legacy Windows experience that has been so massively successful for them for the better part of two decades. I sort of understand the decision to cram both of these interfaces together -- Microsoft believes, rightly or wrongly, that having the apps and power of a full PC will give them a fighting chance in the tablet market -- but I do wonder what it's going to be like for the average user to bounce between these two disparate modes. I honestly think that this relationship between Metro and Desktop -- and how consumers react to it -- is going to be at the heart of whether Windows 8 succeeds or fails.

Here are few different ways that Microsoft could have addressed the situation:

1. Keep approaching tablets the same way they had been. Microsoft has been offering support for pen-based input in Windows for over two decades now (remember Windows for Pen Computing?), introducing a Tablet Edition of Windows XP in 2002 before just baking pen-support into later versions of Windows. Obviously this approach wasn't cutting it, so it's no surprise they changed course.

2. Bet on Windows Phone. The iPad runs on iOS, not OS X, and I don't think it would have been at all unexpected if Microsoft's tablet solution had been based on Windows Phone rather than Windows. That'd mean Windows 8 would be more of an evolution of Windows 7 than the radical departure it's turned out to be, keeping continuity of the desktop OS while Windows Phone serves as the underlying OS for tablets.

3. Offer Metro only on tablet PCs. Imagine if instead of the two interfaces of Windows 8, they had instead introduced "Windows Metro" for tablets and regular Desktop-only Windows 8 for PCs with keyboards and mice (or touchpads). Rather than trying to shoehorn two distinct UIs into one OS, each UI could be fully optimized for the kind of hardware experience it excels at. In some sense this is the approach they're taking for Windows 8 PCs running on ARM processors, which reportedly will not run non-Metro third-party apps (but will offer access to Desktop mode), so it's not a stretch to imagine them limiting Metro to tablets altogether.

Unfortunately, while there is some logic to this, it would probably result in Metro becoming a defacto third platform, alongside Windows Phone and regular Windows. I doubt anyone at Microsoft wanted to make the case for supporting three ecosystems, so instead we have this odd compromise where Metro is included on Windows 8 and will coexist (uneasily, I'll bet) alongside Desktop mode.

4. Burn the ships and get rid of Desktop mode entirely. This wouldn't be totally unprecedented for Microsoft, which gutted Windows Mobile and started over from scratch with Windows Phone, but it'd be a big risk to change Microsoft's flagship product (and cash cow) so drastically. There are way too many users that would freak out if Microsoft did this.

5. Make Desktop mode look and feel a lot more like Metro. I'm actually surprised they didn't do this. Surely they could have imported more of the visual language and style of Metro into the Desktop experience to make them flow together a bit more. Yes, there'd still be plenty of apps stuck in the old design, but at least Microsoft could make the overall OS experience a little more coherent and make it less jarring to move between them.

I wouldn't describe the path that Microsoft took as the one of least resistance -- not including Metro at all would surely have been easier (and arguably safer) -- but when I use Windows 8 it feels a bit like they punted. My opinion might change over time as I use Windows 8 more, but right now I feel like a computer shouldn't have two competing UIs (and yes, I am familiar with Media Center and Front Row). The goal should be to create a more holistic experience unifying Metro and Desktop, or failing that, admit that they are designed for different kinds of hardware and simply cleave them apart.

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112 replies
benclewett

Small point but:

"The iPad runs on iOS, not OS X"

iOS is written in OS X :) Jail break iOS and you can see this clearly.
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divyanshu2bali

I guess you're right. The Metro UI would be much more intuitive on a tablet. But, the truth is that it is equally usable on a PC as well. In fact, the Metro UI is more usable in everyday life, when all you gotta do is surf on the internet, read your RSS feed or maybe pass some time playing some games.
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MobyTurbo

Anyone who likes the Metro interface on a non-touchscreen device for Windows 8, is in the immortal words of Crusty the Clown "decapitated *before* they entered the amusement park!" I have the feeling that this is a gimmick that won't be appreciated by many users. They should have done a dual interface for tablets only, instead of the reverse where you only have Metro on Tablets, and the Metro touchscreen-friendly and mouse-hostile interface on the desktop.
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georgel14

I still dont believe they have got the integration down to a fine art yet.
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puzder

Great discussion here. I think the overarching point is the $MSFT is taking a big bold step forward with its flagship product. The risk is large and the reward would be great.

Objectively, it is a step forward from $MSFT. They clearly have their eyes on the future, and not sitting on their laurels (as does $AAPL) and are chinging things in a big way.

The things being discussed are largely subjective issues and most take into account the hundreds of millions of users around the world $MSFT must serve.
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mikachandi

Personally, I think there is nothing wrong in merging two interfaces together because they are trying to offer something new without disturbing the desktop front …
I am using from the first day and find it pretty good.. I think they did good job and they should keep it up...
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CptBlu

agreed
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kelz

Hasn't this always been Microsoft's strategy, to offer options on how to interface with it's operating system? For instance, if you want to delete something, you have mutiple choices, right-click the mouse, click the delete icon, or press the delete key. You don't have to do all three. Just pick what works for you. I think the same goes with Windows 8. If you don't like the tablet format, don't use it. Why are people having a hard time with this?
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CptBlu

the only thing I can think of is because its from Microsoft and not Apple and its not what they used yesterday
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JadedGamer

It could be argued that iOS is a "stripped" OS X (removing unused features) using Cocoa Touch as the UI instead of the desktop OS' Aqua UI, and with a sandboxed app model (which is one of the features they are copying into Mountain Lion).
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CptBlu

too me its 2 different approaches to reaching the same goal unified UX across their respective ecosystems

Apple route : start over build iOS slowly add more and more features until it becomes essentially Mac OS's replacement.
Microsoft: Take an exisiting product rip it completely apart and rebuild it from the ground up in a compartmentalized fashion so that modules can be added and taken away depending on use case allow the Desktop OS to live on a device.
Google: Doing the Charlie Scheen they're sure are "winning" of course they are pretty much copying anything that succeeds with the other 2

Different approaches with the same eventual outcome unified experience and capabilities.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but touch is not a fad it is here to stay for a while this is just v1 as we head off into that way of computing. who wouldn't want their entire work surface to come alive. This os could actually handle that if the technology was available for masses not there yet but its on its way this is just the first step touch device prices will start to drop drastically as it becomes the norm
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crescentdave

Option 3 ... extend it out to touchscreen-enabled desktops (whatever). The only other way to really make Metro as a base work would be to have absolutely rock solid, well-designed windows version of a mac trackpad. I'm working with the developers release and it's never more than a few minutes when I'm back in the classic Win7 mode. I got sh*t to do!
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who1981

Can you still turn off metro like in the developer preview? It was a simple 1-bit reg edit, and then 8 worked just about like 7. see here:
www.geek.com­/articles­/geek­-pick­/how­-to­-get­-a­-windo...
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ericaucoin

I wouldn't be surprised if they made the traditional desktop feel more like Metro by the time the final release makes its way into the hands of the consumers. There have been renderings of what it could look like (unofficial, but still) and nothing in the Consumer Preview that's out now is final, so we could very well see a different looking "Desktop Mode" by the time we get the final release.
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jrose

I agree. I've been impressed with what Microsoft has been doing with Metro- but this decision seems to be a way to appease two different groups of people internally at Microsoft. One group likely wanted to charge forward with a new UI, while another group probably wanted to keep the legacy UI since millions are used to it. I think the more tech saavy will pick up having 2 UIs no problem- as for the masses... it could be a disaster at worst or a major annoyance at best.
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bsw11

The only one that makes any sense is 5. And this is exactly what MS is doing. It will take time for this to happen. This is the right first step.
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CptBlu

the only thing I can think #5 was supposed to mean was the look and feel does not exactly reflect each other but that's minor and like I mentioned in another post its basically there is they turn off the glass effect so its matte finish like when you turn aero off completely and make pinned items on the taskbar look mor like flat square tiles they would be done
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bobtk

New hardware like the Lenovo Yoga will really make Windows 8 shine.
But, I've had no trouble using Windows 8 with a mouse. The Start button was replaced with a Start SCREEN. Big deal. Everything in Windows 7 is in Win 8.
I don't care what anybody says, "Cut the Rope" and Photoshop CS 5 on the same machine is a WIN!
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omnient0

I think Microsoft did the right thing - why wouldn't I want to run Visual Studio on my tablet?

Also be glad the boot times are less than 5-10 seconds (if not less), and memory usage is even less than windows xp.

Windows 8 developer preview REVIVED my netbook collecting dust with Windows 7 Starter on it.
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aaronwe

The interesting thing about #5 is that it's also the most feasible change for Microsoft to make before Windows 8 ships.

The Win32 desktop is easily skinnable -- I wouldn't be surprised to see a "large target" desktop skin applied in tablet environments to help bridge the gap when Metro goes away and you fall back into traditional Windows Control Panel dialogs.

Given the timetable for shipping Windows 8, Microsoft could pretty easily update the desktop skin to bring it more in line with Metro. If Microsoft doesn't do that, you can be sure plenty of 3rd party add-ons will make it possible -- at least on x86.
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pafro99

The thing I find most annoying, is hitting the start button, and being thrown into Metro. I think they should just seperate the two a little more. Don't make the program launcher from desktop be metro. I can see usefulness to both interfaces. I see a lot Potential for metro, but it isn't intuitive for a pc user without a touch interface.
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CptBlu

www.winsupersite.com­/article­/windows8­/true­-story­-m...
www.winsupersite.com­/article­/windows8­/windows­-8­-co...

that should explain it better then I can
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CptBlu

wow a negative just for posting the link that explains the answer to the question its all about being consistent across the entire Microsoft ecosystem
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belthsazar

personally, I still prefer Win7 and my beautiful GNOME3 + Gnome-Shell and KDE 4.8. on Ubuntu. but if I have to say something about this thingy 8, I'd say why don't you just use the desktop environment choosing bar like on Linuxes? it will be much acceptable than ruin the desktop with metro. I did hate the interface on WP Mango and here, it came on desktop as well. poor microsoft..
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TimWallace

I personally think everyone is looking at this from the wrong angle. MS haven't merged two different operating systems, they have provided two distinct shells or UIs, if you prefer. Granted, there is a flavor for ARM processors, so one could argue two different OSes, but not in the way everyone is currently discussing. I agree with everyone who has said the Metro UI is more intended for on-the-go, high-touch mode whereas desktop mode is for when one wants to get "real work" done. But switching between the two is so simple that the user now has two options available for interacting with the OS...and that is a good thing. Flexibility empowers the user. More so than any other OS, Windows has the largest install base with the longest history. They simply cannot and should not completely abandon their desktop UI for risk of losing customers. And by adding the Metro UI, that same OS becomes usable in the tablet form factor( a factor first proposed by MS about a decade ago, by the way). I think this is a bold, yet thought out, decision by MS and only time will tell if they made the right decision.
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CptBlu

exactly now on my big giant machine I have all the same capabilities as before plus some really nice features that are more modern. and now that I bought a cheap touch screen I enjoy it even more but I still spend quite a lot of time using my mouse and keyboard sorry I cant touch type code that's just a no go at this point in the tech but I have found that many leisure computing activities im staying in metro more and more because it does everything I would need it to do except the flash part im for its demise its a horrible security whole that's gone far beyond its intent and no longer needed with the capabilities of html 5 problem being not everyone has seen the light yet and I still want to use some of those sites and I guess that's why for the short term we have 2 IE's in convenient but get over it as long as I can get the job done im good and this new system provides many new ways of doing that for just about every computing metaphor there is you do realize that with this interface and kinect for windows your htpc can now function just like the xbox and guess what you already have giant target to hit when your flailing your body around change is good and this will have its benefit shown over time
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bcastl

Initially, I agreed with you. I hated being "forced," as many people are putting it, into 2 different user interfaces. But, I'm finding that as I use Windows 8, I'm minding it less and less. I'm finding the Start Screen to be a lot more useful to me than the Start Menu ever was, and the new, tablet-esque interaction method is starting to work for me.

I'll be honest: I hate the preview Metro apps. But I could see myself using them in a pane on the side of my monitor, for Facebook or Twitter once those are available, or email, weather, traffic conditions, etc. I think once people start using the 2 interfaces, they'll naturally start using one more than the other, either preferring Metro apps or Desktop apps to do what they want with their PC. I'm liking Windows 8 more the more I use it.
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adinas

Unfortunately, you don't mention that Metro is simply a BAD GUI for the Desktop. Your arguments against getting rid of the Desktop sound like you don't really have a problem with using Metro (on a desktop PC). You even suggest making the Desktop more like Metro (which would mean making it less usable). To me Metro seems such a huge step back I'm blown away that people are even considering it.
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puzder

I have it installed as well. I have it on a laptop and a tower. my tower is dual monitor'd. What is interesting on that install is that Metro Start Screen is on the main monitor and the Win Desktop is displayed on the secondary montor.

On my laptop, the interaction suffers froma lack of touch, however, it is still a bold and impressive UI leap forward. I think it will shine on a tablet but is also massively usable with a keyborad and mouse. Can the same be said for the iPad?
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ssstraub

The same can't even be said about Windows 8. That's what a lot of commenters here and elsewhere are saying.
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CptBlu

actually it can and has been said by those that are taking the time to learn a new OS that really does not have that big of a learning curve

www.winsupersite.com­/article­/windows8­/improvements...
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kineticartist

its flat an ugly no depth no design just flat tiles with clipart icons presumably to save on video processing to speed things up and make it snappier id rather see them trim the fat our of their code and put the emphasis on making the interface beautiful and usable not like something my 10yr old drew
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bdegrande

I like the Metro interface, but Windows on ARM (WOA) is a different operating system running different software, it is just being called Windows because Microsoft wants to label everything Windows or Office - remember Windows CE? WOA is the right move - putting a full version of Windows on a tablet is a really bad idea, as those of use who have owned previous Windows tablets know. The demo tablet that Microsoft used to run full Win 8 needed an i5 processor and a fan - I shudder to think what this is going to mean for battery life, weight, cost, etc.

So I think that Microsoft is on the right track for a tablet OS with WOA, but I am disappointed with the desktop OS. I don't mind having two user interfaces, since you can pick and don't have to use both. However, I don't like the idea of a new layer grafted on to an old rotting core. Windows is badly in need of what Apple did with OS X - blow up the OS, start with a secure, fast core, and run old software with virtualization (and Microsoft owns good virtualization software). That there is still a registry in Win 8 is incredibly disappointing.

To me the best thing about Win 8 is the store. Moving your applications from one Windows machine to another has always been a nightmare, and it looks like that will no longer be the case, which is a huge step forward for the user experience.
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CptBlu

this is not a skin on an old windows core most of windows has been redesigned even the runtimes are being changed from the win32 .net model to winRT the desktop could be related to an app more then the start screen can be just a layer on old windows this is an entirely new shell
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RicardoDawkins

That there is still a registry in Win 8 is incredibly disappointing.
Even with the Registry, looks like Windows 8 will be faster, fluid & smoother than OSX

The demo tablet that Microsoft used to run full Win 8 needed an i5 processor and a fan - I shudder to think what this is going to mean for battery life, weight, cost, etc.

Keep thinking, my friend. Not all tablets will be Core based. Not all tablets will be ARM based. Any moderm x86 and x86-64 processor will run Windows 8 and SoC from Qualcoom, Nvidia and Texas Instruments. A good number of tablets will come with fans but a gazillion more will run without any active cooling.
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CptBlu

its amazing how you find that most of the comments that point out incorrectness in perception and try to explain things the right way are the ones being voted down leaving nothing but the worst FUD commentsimaginable
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adinas

Maybe because so many are disappointed at what they see will be in Windows 8, they are just voting down any comments that are "Pro 8"
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CptBlu

I totally get being disappointed there are still some minor things I would like in win 8 but this is still just a preview and im not really trying to be pro 8 just trying to correct mis information and mis understandings being tossed around about the system. I do actually really like it yes their are some annoyances but we are changing the way we use our computers again and the things we do everyday are going to change this is trying to help us accomplish that this os is I no way limited it can do everything windows 7 can it just replaced the start menu with a full screen start screen that is the main difference for anyone that will be using classic applications for the near term and that's fine if you don't like the redesigned start menu no one liked xp's either every one hated the idea of no program manager in win 95 this is the same thing and time has show we move on and get over and be gin to love that which we initially loathed
no one has had enough time to truly see how this os will work or not work for their day to day operations it has not even been available for download for a week yet. the dev preview doesn't count it just reduces learning curve of metro as its intent was the touch ui for Dev purposes. all im saying is it doesn't serve the greater good to down vote actual answers just because you don't like the system the truth in operation is still just that
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puzder

If they removed the classic desktop this article would have been about the 5 reasons why it should have stayed.

THe desktop in W8 is treated as an app. I think this is a decent UI bridge to the next OS which will likely completely do away with teh desktop.

W8 is a bold and very risly step for $MSFT. I agree it will be very interesting to see how the public reacts.
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User4574

I don't think points 3 and 4 are a good idea. Windows 8 tablets (x86 ones) with the traditional desktop as well as Metro would provide a monumental advantage over the iPad and similar Android tablets. If Microsoft will advertise Windows 8 x86 Tablets ccorrectly, the iPad could be destroyed within two years. Think about it: All of the touch friendly-ness of a mobile operating system (with APPS!), yet all of the power and compatibility of full-fledged Windows PC (Office and C++ Compilers).
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RicardoDawkins

Yep. I expect this, too. And remember this type of blog post is always coming from someone fully invested in the Apple ecosystem.
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peter

As someone who carries an Android phone and uses a Zune HD every day I could hardly be described as someone "fully invested in the Apple ecosystem."

What I wrote is an analysis of the different approaches Microsoft might have taken, with my suggestion that they do more to try and unify the two UIs they are offering with Windows 8.
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adinas

Since Metro doesn't improve the experience on a Desktop PC, why would making Desktop Mode any more similar to it be any good?
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CptBlu

if you think this statement is true then you simply did not try. besides I would think the intent was more of a look and feel for consistancy
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swhite237

It would lesson the confusion users experience when they jump between the two interfaces. It would also restore some of their cachet with designers -- the Windows desktop is pretty damn ugly.
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CptBlu

lol what's wrong I thought a giant sea of icons all lined up kind of like a grid was some awesome new magical revolution or at least that what I been told by the other guys when they did the same thing but look now you can touch it something about how it should look like their idroid or what ever like that is some how an amazingly useful way to do things
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puzder

The Zune HD is the best media player. No joke. It kills the iPod in all respects including usability.
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mrjd

I downloaded the preview on my desktop and I HATE IT! I think Microsoft shouldn't try to do all to please all because in the end they are going to confuse and frustrate people. Pick one, Metro or Desktop, and stick to it. I'm sure there is a way they could be merged and ultimately be more user friendly, or just give people one or the other depending on platform. Trying to manage both is freaking frustrating. Thankfully I still have Ubuntu on my main HDD. :)
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adamz

If you learn how to use it, many of the things you used to do are either exactly as easy/fast, one click slower, or one click faster. The biggest frustration I had was the initial confusion of not knowing how to do anything when looking at the screen. It's like trying to cook a meal in some one else's kitchen without opening any cabinents.
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