A quick refresher, if you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months. Microsoft recently dropped a consumer preview of their next operating system, Windows 8. In Windows 8, desktop applications that you’re used to will be second-class citizens. They will not be allowed in the app store. Their small non-interactive icons will pale next to larger self-updating badges. The start menu that kept them tidy and organized for almost two decades will be gone. Apps that conform to Microsoft’s new touch-favoring user experience framework, Metro, will rule the day. A change this fundamental has to reflect new and significant assumptions about who the users are and what the users want. Based on what I’ve seen and read of Metro, here is what I think those assumptions are:
- PC users really want a tablet. Oh, sure, you bought that big box with a monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard. But that’s not what you really want. You want a tablet. You want to touch that screen with your fingers, not use a precision pointing device. You bought that 32″ 2560×1440 monitor to have one app take up all of it. And typing? Who does that anymore? If God wanted you to type, he’d have given you twenty-six fingers, not ten!
- PC users can’t walk and chew gum. You want to switch the tune in your media player while playing solitare? Ooof… that Solitare will be so distracting! Better tuck it away, just to be safe. Oh, alright, fine, you can keep your media player docked in a sidebar. But if you wanna respond to that instant message, someone’s gotta go!
- PC users are content consumers, not content creators. All but the most simplistic content creation apps offer many tools that can be applied to the edited content non-linearly. These are often presented to the user via toolbar-like interfaces, dropdowns, and popup-menus. And since much tooling and information must be presented in a limited amount of space, it is impossible to provide the same breadth of tooling in a “touch-first experience” that Metro requires. Not to mention squeezing such an app into a sidebar – another Metro demand. So… whereas the competition comes with content creation apps for music, photos, and video out of the box, in Windows 8, these apps would not even be allowed in the app store.
Microsoft is neither the first nor the last platform vendor to limit the breadth of application possibilities in favor of a single, simple user experience. However, when users themselves are limited to being page-swiping badge-poking single-minded content-consuming couch potatoes, some resentment may occur. When a company treats its customers as simpletons, these customers may well turn around and walk away, mumbling “same to you”.