Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

Summary: Is the Metro UI really necessary for people using Windows 8 on the desktop? Users should have the option to turn it off by default.

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With the public release of Microsoft's Windows 8 Developer Preview, we got an early look at what Redmond has in store for the future of the ubiquitous Windows platform. For an alpha test version, it feels pretty fast, relatively stable given its early development stage, and apparently reduced complexity.

There's just one problem for someone like me. I think the Metro UI sucks on a desktop. And if Microsoft forces it on users, people may ignore it just the way they ignored Windows Me and Vista.

I'll admit that I'm a bit old school when it comes to a desktop operating system interface. The classic look of a task/system bar, either on top or bottom--or even on the side if that's your preference--with the ability to have icons on the screen and a relatively standard launching menu is my idea of an interface comfort zone.

On a portable device like a smartphone or tablet, however, I prefer a more simplified interface. App icons, a notification bar, and maybe a couple of widgets like clock, weather and calendar. The Metro UI of Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 are actually well-suited to tablets and phones.

I'm not the only one here at ZDnet that thinks the Metro UI is unsuited for a non-touchscreen desktop environment. James Kendrick and Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols both feel the same way. There was even a debate on the topic here not too long ago.

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Unfortunately, Microsoft has a history of failing on portable platforms. When they first tried to get into the PDA market, they kept trying to squeeze the entire Windows OS into a handheld device, which made it unnecessarily complex. They repeated this mistake again with their forays into smartphones and tablets.

Microsoft finally started getting it right towards the end of their Zune media player development. Moving forward, they developed a unique interface that worked well on smartphones: Metro UI. The interface to me looks like an amalgam of widgets and icons, merged functionality rather than separated. The tiled motif is unique.

The best part about it is that Metro really plays to the strengths of a touchscreen device. When it first appeared on the radar, there was a great deal of discussion about how it would be an excellent interface for tablet devices. And then Microsoft turned around and completely misunderstood their audience.

They put it on the PC desktop in Windows 8.

The developer preview of Windows 8 has the Metro UI as the default interface. You can access the desktop, but when you click on the familiar location for the start menu, it goes back to the Metro tiled layout. Configuration options are not intuitively located, so you have to do a considerable amount of poking around to find what you need.

Such a radical shift in the interface will not be welcome in the business sector, where abrupt change is frowned upon. Windows XP is still in use in many places simply because there has been no need to change. This is the kind of change that will leave Windows 8 entirely ignored in the business community.

There are already applications that let you switch to the classic Start Menu, but this has a tendency to break things within Windows 8 itself. Not surprising; after all, it is still a developer preview and not release code.

It's obvious that many people still desire the traditional interface first established 16 years ago with Windows 95. I'm one of them. I respectfully suggest to Microsoft that if they really want Windows 8 to be widely accepted, they find a way to make the Metro UI optional.

Heck, make it an install option. Give the installer a couple of screenshots of what each would look like, call them Metro and Classic. Then the system would default to the one the user wanted as their desktop. The functionality is there. Don't make us hack the system just to get it working.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Software, Tablets, Windows

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153 comments
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  • RE: Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

    The problem is that given the choice, Users will install "Classic" on touch screen enabled devices and then blame Microsoft for using desktop class UI on tablets.
    1773
    • RE: Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

      @1773 Perhaps in such a case, it should default to Metro UI on pre-installed devices. The user would then have the option of switching, but then they couldn't say that it was Microsoft's fault because it would be a conscious decision to switch.
      Scott Raymond
      • RE: Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

        @Scott Raymond <br><br>Yeah because history has shown that people won't blame MS for their[users] bad choices.
        jmiller1978
      • RE: Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

        @jmiller

        In general terms I agree with you; however, MS has, at times, also been responsible for its own problems. You need only reflect on the whole debacle with "Vista Capable", as one simple example.
        Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • RE: Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

        @Scott Raymond
        I think in addition to classic mode there should be an option for "Classic mode when docked". This would go to metro mode automatically when undocked and back to classic mode when plugged in to the docking station. I have to say that I use this tablet around 90% more then I use my iPad but most of that use is as a desktop plugged into the docking station and running dual screen with a 24-inch monitor.
        sharkboyjohn
      • RE: Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

        @Scott Raymond

        When the people who make the world OS spend lots of money on research and design and tons of user testing, then I'll think I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and at least try the OS - the UI certainly works brilliantly on my phone. It'll also work for mouse/kb and touch, but more importantly, those of us with Kinect can see it's also designed for gesture.

        There are people who maintain that Windows XP is the pinnacle of desktop design and refuse to use Win 7, but they'll eventually be dragged kicking and screaming into using Win 7, where they'll them be able to dread the arrival of Win 8. Hell, there are still people who think the command line is preferable or eschewed word processing because Tex was all they needed.

        Change is always hard, but it's the only constant. You either embrace new designs and new functions or stay stuck with limited functionality and horizons. With Win 8 we are moving on and the desktop is no longer a place where static icons go to die ;-)
        tonymcs@...
      • RE: Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

        @tonymcs@...
        You're right we should trust Steve to know what he's doing.

        Sorry did I say Steve; I meant Steve Ballmer.

        I wouldn't want to say that about Steve Jobs since I'd immediately be labelled a blind iSheep.
        anono
      • RE: Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

        @Scott Raymond The thing is, you're missing the point of having the Metro UI. It's not just about "launching apps from tiles". It also gives you information up front that you don't have with XP/7. Yes, gadgets can do this (to a point) but having a desktop full of icons is really last generation thinking.

        There are numerous use cases where you can really maximize the impact and stickiness of your app if you have a live tile associated with it, extending or surfacing relevant functionality and/or information.

        While I agree there needs to be a smoother transition from metro to the desktop, I don't agree that it's either "install one or the other". I'd hold off on making that binary statement until we see the beta and how they've smoothed out the transition.
        goombawa
        • Wrong

          Metro is the poster child for retroactively replacing Ballmer as CEO of MS.
          You hear that tinkling noise? That's the sound of MS's stock falling further and further...
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      • RE: Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

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      • RE: Windows 8 Metro: Microsoft needs to let users opt-out

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