The Windows 8 consumer preview has been out for a while now and here at TechCentral Towers we have been playing with it and have generally found it to be "a good thing".
Now, being as we are currently experiencing hard times as a country and an industry, we did not have a brand new whizz-bang machine on which to install it. In fact, I got more than a few suspicious glances from colleagues as I trawled the office looking for something suitable on which to install the newly burnt ISO. However, I managed to find a laptop that was not in use and up to the task.
Dual cored with 4GB of RAM and a regular spinning platter hard drive, it was top of the line a few years ago, but now is merely passable. The most salient point though is that it is not, I repeat not, touch enabled.
The install was painless, errorless and even enjoyable. A brief hunt got almost all system devices identified and driver supported, which is not bad for a half-past beta OS and an aging machine.
Then, I read a piece by Gavin Clarke on The Register, that august, irreverent and respected organ of the tech industry, about how Jensen Harris, director of program management for Windows user experience team, had blogged that:
"Aero gave the appearance of highly-rendered glass, light sources, reflections, and other graphically complex textures in the title bars, taskbar, and other system surfaces. These stylistic elements represented the design sensibilities of the time, reflecting the capabilities of the brand-new digital tools used to create and render them. This style of simulating faux-realistic materials (such as glass or aluminum) on the screen looks dated and cheesy now, but at the time, it was very much en vogue."
OK, fair enough, I thought, things move one. I still like brushed aluminium, I might add, though not on Macs-ever. Hey-ho, onwards and upwards.
But Clarke goes on to say that Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, blogged on the same topic and cited journalists from the New York Times and Gizmodo as being positive about the changes being implemented in the Windows 8 interface.
Sinofsky wrote: "As with any significant change to a broadly used product, Windows 8 has generated quite a bit of discussion. With millions of people using the Consumer Preview for their daily work, we've seen just as many points of view expressed. Many people-from David Pogue of the New York Times to Mat Honan from Gizmodo and many more-have been quite positive, and others less so, most notably in the comments on this blog, where we've seen the rich dialog we'd hoped for. Some have asked about design choices we've made in the product and the evolution of Windows or suitability of the design to different people."
This can only be positive in a product that has the potential become a de facto standard for many people, across business and consumer markets. That a giant like Microsoft, and with the inevitable momentum that such projects generate, would at this stage of development be still willing to listen to the media, as well as users from across its potential install base, and incorporate the feedback into the new direction.
So, right now, right here, let me take full advantage of this:
Give Windows 8 users a toggle to switch off the Metro UI!
The Metro UI, based on the Windows Phone interface, is about touch and about tablets and smart phones. It works well there. However, on a non-touch enabled device it feels like there is something missing, as if there should be another human computer interface device somewhere beyond a mouse and a stylus that is required to actually use it properly. Something like, ooh, I dunno, a finger maybe!
When you go to the trouble of designing a lovely interface that is entirely touch centric, then why make it the primary means of interaction in a non-touch device?
So, on a desktop or laptop that is not touch-enabled, there should be a toggle, better yet, a default that says use the plain old desktop interface, however modified, de-aero'd or de-glassed or whatever, as the default presentation to allow users to get on with it. Surely history has told us that if there's a killer feature in there for people, they will enable it? Wasn't this lesson learned with the Windows XP firewall that was installed but not initially enabled?
There are still those who gleefully point out the Windows XP is just about right now and so they'll stick with it. If Windows 8 is to have any chance of displacing Windows XP as well as Windows Vista (OK, not hard) and Windows 7, then it can't afford to annoy users along the way. As non-touch enabled devices are likely to be a large proportion of the devices that wil get Windows 8 installed, it would seem to be contradiction to force a touch-centric UI on them.
Microsoft, if you are listening, give us a toggle for the Metro UI. Let the users decide.