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

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.
Written by Scott Raymond, Inactive

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.

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