Windows 8: Rectangles for all the things explained

Windows 8: Rectangles for all the things explained

Summary: The new Windows 8 user interface discards the desktop metaphor we've used for three decades, and replaces it with a panorama of coloured rectangles. Why? And how does it change the development process?

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft

The now-familiar desktop view of folders of documents, along with its interface chrome of scroll bars and the like, was developed at Xerox Pato Alto Research Centre (PARC) in the 1970s. But for the new "touch first" interface for Windows 8, Microsoft has chosen a different direction.

On this week's Patch Monday podcast, we discuss the new interface with user experience designer Shane Morris from Automatic Studio and developer Nick Randolph from Built to Roam — the team behind the award-winning Qantas app for Windows Phone and the latest Windows app for National Australia Bank.

Morris recaps the presentation he gave to Microsoft's TechEd 2012 event last week, explaining the interface's design inspirations in transport system wayfinding signage, the Swiss Style of graphic design, Bauhaus and motion graphics, as well as the idea that digital natives don't need an icon like a floppy disk to explain how to save documents.

Randolph explains how the development process is more iterative, with more back-and-forth communication between designer and developer. The programming style is different, too — more interactive and almost game-like.

To leave an audio comment on the program, Skype to stilgherrian, or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

Running time: 30 minutes, 03 seconds.

Stilgherrian travelled to TechEd 2012 as Microsoft's guest.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft


Stilgherrian is a freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster interested in big-picture internet issues, especially security, cybercrime and hoovering up bulldust.

He studied computing science and linguistics before a wide-ranging media career and a stint at running an IT business. He can write iptables firewall rules, set a rabbit trap, clear a jam in an IBM model 026 card punch and mix a mean whiskey sour.

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  • One word--ugly

    Windoze 8 can be described by one word--ugly. After trying to OS X wannabe for so many years, they have gone back to their roots--ugly. No thanks, I am happy with my Ubuntu and OS X :)
    • I agree, Windows 8 is ugly.

      What I've seen of the Window chrome in desktop mode anyway. The close button sticks out like a huge ugly stick, ugly ugly ugly.

      I just don't understand why you can't have, at least the option, to use Aero in desktop mode - I don't know yet if it is a deal-breaker for upgrading to 8 myself. I'll have to wait and see for a bit.
      • Desktop

        That's because the Desktop is only there for legacy applications. It's being depreciated, and not intended as the focus of the new UI/UX.

        Personally I don't mind the flat look, especially after noticing that it's a lot lighter, faster and less memory intensive than Win 7 and Vista.
        Han CNX
        • Legacy?

          The desktop is there for productivity oriented applications. The desktop, keyboard and mouse are there to stay for people who do not think that productivity is all about tweeting or smashing angry birds.

          WinRT may replace Win32 but that will depend on a lot of factors. That doesn’t mean that the Metro cr@p is the only way to make UIs.
      • transperancy

        I've some program called transparency which turn out Win8 with this feature ....but this not made it more attractive
    • Stuck in the 50s

      There were some great chrome tail-fins on cars I think you might miss also.

      Windows 8 is a breath of fresh air, liberated from those desktop graveyards where icons go to die and those stupid animated docks.

      It's time to let all that rococo UI disappear and let the content shine.

      Considering you're preferring an endless grid of dead icons leading to siloed apps to dynamically updating coloured rectangles that also manage your content, it seems you can't quite grasp the advantages.

      Could I get you some add-on chrome fins for your car ;-)
      • But the content shines better on OS X

        On OS X the icons aren’t dead. They’re useful.

        Look at an OS X icon for a PDF and you can recognise the content from the miniature image of the page. Look at an OS X icon for a film and you can recognise the content by clicking the icon, which causes the film to start playing in miniature within the icon. Look at the icon for a photograph and the miniature image allows you to see the contents.

        How are large, luridly coloured rectangles going to provide this sort of information?

        Either Windows 8 will have to follow the path OS X has chosen or you'll have to rely on the file name alone. (MS have chosen the former for pictures, but you can search for the file name.)

        What does Windows 8 offer us in return for the loss of all the data that's displayed in an OS X icon? A vast expanse of dead, brightly coloured pixels which _sometimes_ contain some textual data, and otherwise just reproduces what OS X icons already show us.

        Of course, in OS X you can always click a button and visit the Dashboard, where you can install any JavaScript-and-HTML powered icons that you like, from a program to a user-chosen clip of a web animation. You can have a rectangular slab slab of any size and colour, which displays changing numbers, or animations, or dynamic graphs.

        Dashboard widgets are a lot like (tastefully designed) Metro icons. The main difference is that Metro takes the concept too far. With large widgets replacing icons, you run into problems when you want to view large numbers of widgets en masse, except as as textual lists!

        What MS call “share and search” is a lot like a glorified textual interface from the 1970s, but without the flexibility of a command line.
        • live tiles.

          its called live tiles.
          Truitt Dill
      • Metro is the past...

        Icons are better, than the stupid rectangles flashing in full screen mode. The Metro UI paradigm looks ridiculous on a desktop and you really have to be a simpleton to appreciate the new UI.

        Maybe Win8 should be bundled with a coupon for a free lobotomy, then we will all be able to appreciate it as you do.
      • Save your money

        You'll probably need it someday.

        Most people who still have desktops and notebooks use them to get real work done. The last thing we need is an ugly OS designed for (and to sell) tablets.
    • For OSX or Linux fan, Windows will be always ugly

      But rest 90+ % of users will see Windows as it really is. Fast, fluid, great in looks and great in performance. It is a worthy upgrade to all Windows users, OSX and Linux fans not expected or required for its success.
      • Not fast from what I've seen

        I tried it out on brand new i7 notebooks and it was no faster than my 3-year old desktop i7 running Vista 64.

        Metro is slow and ugly on non-tablets devices. I have no desire to downgrade my Win7 notebook or Vista 64-bit desktop to a tablet OS.
  • BoB 2!
    Tony Burzio
    • Grasping at straws there mate!

      Look nothing a like, except maybe in your imagination lol
    • Silly

      That's a highly silly comparison, because Bob aimed to present computer functions as everyday livingroom things, with the goal of making stuff easier to grasp for people with little computer experience.

      Win 8 Metro is the complete opposite of that, and removing just about any real world object because in this day and age, most people are comfortable enough with common concepts that they don't need to see a folder shaped like a folder, or a delete/recycle function shaped like a trash can.

      ( Of course it might still fail just like Bob, I'll give you that. ;) ) But a good comparison at this stage it's not.
      Han CNX
    • grow up!

      Nothing similar between Bob or Vista with Windows 8, only an idiot will compare the two
      • Wake up and smell the coffee!

        Yes, similar: Bob (lame UI) == Vista (unfinished OS) == Windows 8 (Metro UI) == FAIL

        I've been running Win8 Enterprise RTM and have nothing against the core OS, it's stable enough and has some nice refinements. However, the "not Metro" UI is a total failure and an insult to every desktop user.

        IMO, the new generation of UI designers that have been inflicting atrocities like the "not Metro" UI, the grey and washed out Visual Studio UI, the "new look" Google UI etc should be fired and forced to go back to school. There is nothing appealing or superior about pointy rectangles, Crayola color schemes, dumbed down, flat interfaces and generic grey icons that make things harder to use and provide less information.

        I don't care about tablet users' fat fingers when I have a mouse and keyboard, nor about tablets' weak-sauce GPUs and battery performance when I have a desktop and a decent graphics card. But I do care about interfaces that provide me with information and helpful hints (expressed in multi-colored icons, for example) and visual feedback that helps me distinguish menu bars from overlapping windows at a glance. I also like UIs that are pleasant to look at (Aero, Glass etc), rather than UIs that look like a pre-schooler's idea of a computer.

        And by the way, I'm neither a Mac nor a Linux troll. I've been using Windows all the way since 3.0 and I find the Windows 8 UI is a throw-back to at least that far (Windows 1.0, if you count the one-app-at-a-time Metro UI).
  • Fine then....

    Go back to your OSX and Linux and quit trolling the MS posts. You won't be missed!
  • Full screen

    I like the tiles. I like the minimalist look and the use of text, which subtly moves into focus. And I especially like finally getting rid of a menu bars and endless menus and sub-menus. (To the point that when I now open a Desktop app that makes heavy use of them, I get a 'WTf?' type reaction. (For example: TheGimp, Notepad++)

    However I'm not sold on running everything full-screen on non-tablet devices, with the fig leaf of a severely limited 'snapped' display.

    When comparing against other tablets it's clearly a big step forward.

    When comparing against the old way of running productivity apps, I'm not yet convinced. I guess I will have to base my impression on the Metro OneNote preview, which pioneers an interesting interface to get to particular functions. I'm just not sure yet.
    Han CNX
    • Then use the Desktop,

      Just like the good old days but with the new apps on the start page.