It's time for Microsoft to come clean over the Metro UI

Microsoft has kept us in suspense for long enough and it's now time for the Redmond behemoth to come clean as to what users can expect from the next-generation Windows.

We've had the developer preview of Windows 8 for a few months now, and there's a constant drip-feed of information coming from Microsoft via way of the Building Windows 8 blog. But there's one question that Microsoft is refusing to answer - whether there will be an easy way for users to disable the Metro UI start screen and get back to a classic desktop.

I think Microsoft has kept us in suspense for long enough and it's now time for the Redmond behemoth to come clear as to what users can expect from the next-generation Windows.

Note: None of the following applies to ARM-powered Windows 8 systems, which I believe will have no classic desktop support.

I think that in many ways what Microsoft has done is very clever. The company unveiled the Developer Preview and thrust the tiled, touch-capable Metro UI down everyone's throat. The classic desktop is there, but it's at least a click away, and if you want it back permanently, you need to don surgical gloves and start butchering the OS with third-party tools. If you prefer the classic desktop over the Metro UI, or have no need for a touch interface on the hardware you're running Windows 8 on, then this will put a crimp in your workflow.

There's a certain logic to what Microsoft did with the Metro UI start screen in the Windows 8 developer preview. What better way to get people to use the new UI than to make it the default option, and what better way to take the temperature for how people feel about it than by making it mandatory. If the Metro UI had been optional and the people installing the preview had been faced with the classic Windows desktop then I think that only a small number of people (those with touch hardware, hardcore users, masochists ...) would have taken the new UI for a spin, and that would have resulted in limited feedback as testers assumed that the classic desktop would remain the primary method of interacting with the operating system.

But has the metro UI really ousted the classic desktop? Well, Microsoft is being tight-lipped about the future of the classic desktop, but I'm hearing unconfirmed rumors that there are builds of Windows 8 at Microsoft that offer users an easy way to switch between Metro and classic, a move primarily driven by the negative reaction to the new UI (and associated costs, such as related to training) expressed by enterprise users, and apprehension from big name OEMs who fear that users will shun the new OS and land them with yet another Vista-esque debacle (given that PC sales are already precarious, OEMs don't want to do anything that might push things over the edge).

As much as Microsoft might want to push a new user interface (and the associated app store, which could be a sweet little revenue generator) onto the masses, the company is also sensitive to the fact that another Vista-style foul-up could mean serious trouble for the company, if not the industry as a whole.

My betting is that Microsoft will play it safe with Windows 8 and give users the option of how they want to view their PC. It's the only sensible thing to do.