I’ve spent the last week or two trying out the Developer Preview of Windows 8, I like some things and dislike others however the overall feel makes me remember Windows Mobile 6.5 and thats not in a good way.
…A long time ago in a Galaxy far far away.
Windows Mobile used to be the king of the Smartphone OS’s, partly because there weren’t that many, Windows Mobile had the advantage of being based on Windows CE and thus had a few years head start and so they did what Microsoft used to do:
“If it’s still making money, don’t change it”
This approach completely backfired when the iPhone came out, they quickly upgraded Windows Mobile to version 6, bringing improvements to the underlying OS but little to fix the UI.
The UI was effectively ‘Windows with a stylus’, which led to small finger unfriendly buttons which required a stylus input via a resistive screen on a device which was originally designed for business users, not consumers.
It was horrible compared to the beauty of the iPhone and sales plummeted. Microsoft needed a radically different Phone OS but they didn’t have years before WP7 and its Metro UI would be complete so they released the partial topic of this article; Windows Mobile 6.5
On the surface it looked so much better, completely redesigned home screen, and app menu and a variety of apps were redesigned to the new UI theme BUT if a user wanted to do anything complex, or change certain settings it reverted to the old clunky Windows Mobile 6.0 UI, breaking the User Experience and making the whole Operating System a 2 tier system, where some apps were designed for ‘shiny and new’ and the rest for the outdated WinCE underpinnings.
Sounds a lot like Windows 8 doesn’t it?
Here we have an Operating System built onto of the older (yet extremely excellent) Windows 7 with its UI paradigm dating back to Win95 and beyond, and the new Metro inspired Front End which takes notes from Windows Phone 7.
The problem is clear, two radically different UI paradigms can’t live happily side by side. It just confuses the user as they have to learn to navigate two UI methodologies and not freak out when one drops into the others; such as selecting advanced settings in the simplified Control Panel.
I believe they should have kept Windows 7 as the old style, possibly merging it to one version and renaming it. Perhaps Windows Classic?
The new Windows UI would have been free to do what it wants, and the Windows Platform itself would be free of years of compatibility issues. This would have meant a light weight OS, with managed code and HTML5 deeply rooted. But instead it feels like Windows 7 with a new facelift.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have read the blogs, and keep track with the Building Windows 8 team. They are doing some amazing stuff, the redesigned boot process for example. But there are limits of what you can do when you have to support nearly 15 years worth of software!
Apple had the same issue and used Rosetta and that seems to have worked, but Microsoft should have taken the chance and been bold.
So what else is wrong (and right) with the UI.
Just like in Windows Phone 7 apps are allocated Tiles but you can’t resize them, which leads to the lack of personalisation. Maybe I want the Stocks Tile to be smaller and the IE Tile larger? I fear this could lead to 3rd party developers using the larger size Tiles in a bid to take up screen space. – Update: You can change the size of the tiles, either a small or larger view.
Hopefully Microsoft won’t cave in to OEMs as well, I fear for anyone buying a new DELL or HP and being bombarded with Tiles for trial software.
Apps always running is nice if they have been designed that way, most haven’t and we could see resource usage spiral as developers badly code Windows 8 Tile versions of their software.
In the end
…All in all I like the idea of Windows 8, but maybe not how they are getting there. But then just like Windows Mobile, its the version AFTER this one which will be hopefully awesome.