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September 15, 2011 · 3 minute read

On Windows 8

This is a post I thought I’d never write. I just installed the developer preview of Windows 8 and really like it.

The thing is, Windows 8 is a very impressive operating system. Shockingly good, if you consider the low standard we expect from Microsoft. Metro is utterly gorgeous. I fundamentally disagree with Apple’s descent into skeumorphism. I disagree with the principles behind it and the way I see their interfaces going in the next 5-10 years. On the other hand Metro is fresh and bold, but most importantly it looks like something one of my favourite designers would have created. It’s straight out of 1960s Switzerland, but rather than falling into the trap of being too flat and too rigid an interpretation of 60s Modernism, the whole thing feels clickable, touchable and interactable. It’s a balance I’ve struggled with for as long as I’ve been designing interfaces, so I can appreciate the solution they’ve presented.

It neatly avoids the trap that Apple and Android UIs have fallen into - hinting at depth is fine, but descending into a clusterfuck of of faux-leather textures, glossy buttons and redundant metaphors is taking it too far.

But wasn’t Windows Phone 7 a bit shit?

Yup. I’ve admired Metro for a while, but found it to be too ambitious for a smartphone. It just feels cluttered on a 4” screen. Or maybe it was just badly implemented. There was a huge disparity from looking at the beautiful screenshots and actually using it. What does this mean for WP7? That’s not within the scope of this blogpost. On a 10” tablet though, with more room to let the design breathe? This could be a serious competitor for the ‘lounging on the sofa checking Twitter’ category.

What about Aero?

I can appreciate a juggernaut like Microsoft being afraid of alienating users with a rapid change of direction. I don’t like it, but I can appreciate their business goals. I think there will have to be some future iteration of Windows with Aero in it. But I don’t see the dual-interface thing working out well for them - it presents too many compromises in hardware performance and interface usability. It shows that Microsoft didn’t learn from a decade of unsellable ‘tablet’ devices. With that said, Aero does look a little nicer than on Windows 7. Perhaps they should release an updated Aero as Windows 7.5.

Bi-interfacing ≠ #winning.

Switching between two interfaces just isn’t going to work. Not for a tablet OS. Click targets and tap targets are too different.

Gruber made an interesting point the other day - perhaps on desktop you’ll have both Metro and Aero; on tablet devices just Metro. That would be fantastic. I wouldn’t use a desktop version of Windows any time soon, but in the event that they really nailed the tablet ecosystem I could see myself trading my iPad for a Windows tablet for casual use.

If they get rid of Aero on tablets they’ll have a shot at producing cheap, light tablets with modest hardware and excellent battery life.

So you think Microsoft is going to whoop Apple’s ass?

Nope. My spidey-sense is telling me Microsoft is organisationally incapable of doing anything exceptional. They’ve hired some fantastic designers but I just don’t see them working as a team to create a great product. The design teams are only a tiny blip in MSFT’s organisational structure, and there are too many potential conflicts of interest that will prevent them from creating a beautiful and pure OS. Godforbid they make a Metro-style Ribbon…

The other reason is fragmentation. Without a full-stack offering to compete with Apple (or soon, Google-Motorola) it will still be Windowsy. Things will still break. Asian OEMs will still release shitty hardware, and that shitty hardware will work like shit with Windows 8.

Let’s not forget why we made (and enjoyed) the switch to Macs -** it wasn’t that OS9/X was prettier than Windows** (arguably the first few iterations of OSX were ugly as sin compared to the more restrained XP) - it was that Macs just worked, and we were sick of .dll files, registry entries and things breaking on PCs.

And that’s the most important thing Apple still has going for it, because they can’t rely on their interfaces any more.

If you have Windows 8 installed I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments!


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Jon Gold

Jon Gold is a technologist, musician, and attention activist researching the long-term future of computation at Airbnb, focusing on the intersection of Artificial Intelligence & the creative process. Contact