Is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on touch in Windows 8?

Can an operating system be optimized for both touch and standard input methods? Microsoft believes so.

As more information comes out from Redmond about Windows 8, it's clear that Microsoft has its sights set on the operating system being tablet ready. But is Microsoft putting too much emphasis on tablets at the expense of traditional Windows-powered systems.

In a blog post on Building Windows 8, Microsoft's President of the Windows Division Steven Sinofsky shows off the new Windows 8 start screen and how the upcoming OS will be both "a reimagined" and a "no compromises" release.

Some of you are probably wondering how these parts work together to create a harmonious experience. Are there two user interfaces? Why not move on to a Metro style experience everywhere? On the other hand, others have been suggesting that Metro is only for tablets and touch, and we should avoid "dumbing down" Windows 8 with that design.

So, how's it going to work? According to Sinofsky, Windows 8 will be a "balancing act" that will see "both of user interfaces together harmoniously" within Windows 8.

We knew as we designed the Windows 8 UI that you can't just flip a bit overnight and turn all of that history into something new. In fact, that is exactly what some people are afraid of us doing. Some have said that is the only path to take. Yet, even those who have fully embraced tablets also own a laptop for those times when they need more precise control or need to use one of the apps that are mission critical (and are still being developed). In people's desire not to carry around two different devices, "remote desktop" programs for tablets and phones have become popular but extremely awkward attempts to harness the usefulness of the Windows 7 desktop within a new form factor.

Sinofsky dismisses the idea of completely redesigning the Windows UI from the ground up and converting everything to the Metro UI because Microsoft as now come up with a "design that truly affords you the best of the two worlds we see today."

[I]f you want to stay permanently immersed in that Metro world, you will never see the desktop-we won't even load it (literally the code will not be loaded) unless you explicitly choose to go there! This is Windows reimagined.

I've got to admit that I'm worried. With the traditional UI now being optional, Microsoft is putting an awful lot of time and effort into making its Windows 8 tablet ready. But how big will the market be for "touch-enabled" Windows 8 devices such as tablets and high-end notebooks featuring touch screens? Right now the only company that can seem to turn out tablets in any volume is Apple, and Apple isn't shoehorning a desktop operating system onto its iPad.

While Sinofsky is clever enough not to say it in the blog post, the feeling I get is that Microsoft now sees the traditional desktop UI as "legacy," and that's worrying. It's worrying because it's now clear that Microsoft can't Metro-fy things like Windows Explorer and is instead relying on the using a ribbon UI. Problem with the ribbon is that it's hardly touch-friendly.

Does this look "touchy" to you?

This takes Windows in a direction that I don't want to see it take ... that is one of oversimplification, or to put that another way, dumbing down.

Balancing acts are tricky, and until I see it in action, I'm worried that Microsoft is getting too obsessed with touch. While Metro looks nice (well, it looks nice on smartphones, it's too early to tell what it will be like on the desktop), smearing lots of lipstick on a pig's snout doesn't change the fact that it's a pig. Unless Metro actually morphs into a complete replacement for the current UI, it'll be nothing more than a dumbed down shell hiding the "real" Windows underneath.

What do you think?


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