WINDOWS 8’S MODERN interface didn’t go over well out of the gate.
Although the live tiles and touch-friendliness offered a lot to like, usability experts panned many of the design choices, and power users felt abandoned.
But beyond bridging the gap between PC and tablet, Windows’ immersion in the interface formerly known as Metro may have had another purpose: separating novice and power users. This move could preserve the best of Windows while making it more palatable to the casual computing public.
“Before Windows 8 and Metro came along, power users and casual users—the content creators and the content consumers—had to share the same space,” Windows interface designer Jacob Miller wrote on Reddit in February (go.pcworld.com/ millerreddit). (A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed his employment.) Any new feature had to be simple enough for newcomers but practical enough for power users. Miller claims that many features, such as virtual desktops, fell by the wayside.
All work, no play, and vice versa
Enter Windows 8. Yes, the modern interface is simple and better suited for content consumption than content creation, but Miller— who clarified that he was speaking as an employee sharing his viewpoint rather than in an official capacity—claimed that was the point.
Our hands were bound, and our users were annoyed.
So what did we do? We separated the users into two groups. Casual and power. We made two separate playgrounds for them.
So if Windows 8 was designed to herd casual and power users into separate corners, why does the OS default to the modern interface? Casual users don’t go exploring. If we made desktop the default as it has always been, and included a nice little start menu that felt like home, the casual users would never have migrated to their land of milk and honey… So we forced it upon them.
Now that Microsoft has fenced casual users inside the land of live tiles, Miller says it can work on making the modern interface better for casual users while filling the desktop with power features.
Once [the modern interface is] purring along smoothly, we’ll start making the desktop more advanced. We’ll add things that we couldn’t before.
Things will be faster, more advanced, and craftier.
Peering into the future
If Miller’s claims prove to be true, the results could be enticing.
Windows 8.1 started the migration, adding an optional boot-to- desktop feature and numerous tweaks that improve the modern interface: more control settings, more flexible snap functionality, and Bing Smart Search. Microsoft’s modern apps are constantly adapting, too, as the company shifts toward rapid-fire updates.
Leaked versions of the impending Windows 8.1 update 1 (see “Windows 8.1’s spring update,” page 6) show that even more improvements are inbound. But its new features—such as the ability to boot to either the desktop or the Start screen, depending on whether your setup has a touchscreen—seem like a Ballmer-esque “refinement of the blend” (go.pcworld.com/ballmerblend) to make the desktop and modern interfaces play more nicely together, rather than a doubling down on the strengths of both.
It’s unclear whether Microsoft always intended to smooth the edges or if it became more of a priority after Windows 8’s hard landing. But considering the new update’s changes, Satya Nadella’s appointment as Microsoft’s CEO, and Miller’s comments, displaced Windows desktop aficionados can start to feel optimistic again.