The problem with metro is it’s hard to differentiate

I want you all to pause a moment or two.

I want you all to sit in front of Windows 8, and explore it some more and get to be intimate with “metro” as a user interface style. Really, immerse yourself in it and just stare at it, explore every pixel it offers up.

I now want you to imagine that this is going to be your user interface for the next 5years.

Still onboard?


I have been doing “metro” rinse/repeat designs for quite some time and it has long past bored me to the point where I wonder if I have metro-blindness now. That is I’ve stared at it for far to long that I really need a release valve, I crave something more interesting and has more depth.

This is the part where you respond with the usual metro rhetoric about content-first design, authentically digital blah blah the usual Microsoft Metro Zombie response that often the person at the other end of the conversation has no clue at what even it means, it just sounds smart to say and gives one a sense of authority over the conversation.

I am not saying the path that Microsoft has put the hordes of developers on is wrong but I’m not inclined to say it’s right either.

Who is the target audience?

Today, a 50 something non-techy came into my work pod to talk about the new iPad 3, we talked about what it has and doesn’t have but then I tried to get an unbiased non-technical opinion on Windows 8.

Me: “Have you seen the new Windows 8 yet?”

NonTechGuy: “Nope.. is it out?”

Me: “Not yet, it’s still in beta, but here have a look”

I then watched his facial expression; it looked like he wanted to go to the toilet but was holding back on saying so out of politeness.

Me: “Cool huh!”

NonTechGuy: “is that the whole thing?”

Bottom line was that he was not excited by it and we soon retreated to the iPad conversation. My thinking here is not that well this user speaks for billions of humans worldwide; it was just interesting to see a virgin reaction to basically metro.

This person uses Windows daily and has no issue with it, but when shown Windows 8 front-start screen it had this jarring effect on his senses, as if to say – “this is not what I expected”.

This is the part where someone now responds with “give them time”, “users over time will get used to it”, “I have xyz friends who see the opposite to this view” etc. etc.

I get it, I just disagree with it.

Windows 8 is targeted at us, the tech crowd, the more I think about its practicality the more I contemplate that maybe the reason why Apple is much more successful than Microsoft at this space as they target the baby-boomer style crowd. Microsoft and Google target us and in turn they fail more than they succeed simply because we are much harder to please than the Apple audience.

When Steve Jobs said that they only make products that they would want to use, I think we all in the tech-scene assumed he meant us. He didn’t, I think he meant to say “no, I mean guys my age and people who aren’t preoccupied with engadget/gizmodo style blogs.. I mean me, you people aren’t invited”

The thing that struck a chord today was the fact that iPad3 has failed in the eyes of most tech bloggers etc., yet 50-something non-tech guy walks into the IT cubicle and asks “Hey, you seen the new iPad!”..

Think about that a bit more. Firstly, he has already heard about it from mainstream radio stations and secondly he did not say iPad3 he said “new iPad” (interesting choice of words to parrot).

Metro will outdate itself.

Here is the problem I am starting to see with metro and I am arguably pushing it earlier than Microsoft is with a number of audiences. Metro fast out dates, that is to say initially people’s reaction to the design is positive and emotive. However over time the more and more it gets used, the more and more it will start to taper out, that is to say, you probably are already seeing this with Windows Phone 7.

There is no differentiation; there is no unique upgrade or themed approach to the way you react to data. There is just this metro-zombie existence where if you can slap together a few tiles, fluctuating typography case & size, few background pictures and then some minor rectangle decals here and there. Boom metro installed, payday occurs.

The design and experience over time becomes like chewing gum, the flavor disappears, and soon we are keen to discard and invite new flavor as soon as possible.

I see this as a problem going forward as Microsoft itself can’t control metro in a way that elevates and retains consistency in their emotive experience(s) and to be fair, metro wasn’t born from a scientific analysis, it was born from a group of guys inside Microsoft UX leadership who decided that they wanted to simplify the brand some more.

So what if Microsoft is wrong? What if Metro isn’t the correct way forward and what if it hurts our ecosystem much more than we realize?

Enter Metro-chaos.

Yesterday, out of pure design frustration I decided to do the opposite of what I know about Metro, that is, break the rules, and see what happens.

I came up with this design and then posted it online to see what people’s reactions would be.


I got wave after wave of “this isn’t metro” responses, I never got any reactions around how one could evolve this further. I was craving that and was really just curious to see what would happen if you assault this audience with the anti-metro design. I knew upfront what the audience would parrot back and sure enough I got lecture after lecture on what is or isn’t metro (some weren’t even accurate to the actual principles of metro itself).

I could care less whether people enjoyed the design I put forward as it was always just a throw-away composition and was more about me taking some time-out to just evolve a design.

It struck me simply that I worry now that metro-style as we see it from Microsoft will become tomorrow’s WinForm(s) that is to say we’ve replaced WinForm static UI with now a more monochrome blocky style UI. Developers rarely deviate from Microsoft’s theming (see Ribbon and Office theming as examples) and so from here it’s likely we’ll see the tired old look over and over and over.

I worry about this as I think this really could be the step backwards and not forwards in evolving our design energy.

With that, I leave you with just one question – What if Microsoft is wrong, how do we all collectively recover?

I don’t dislike metro, but I’m not excited about it as much as I should be. I want have more fun with it though, I want to see what others do with it out of the confines of the “rules”, as I think this could evolve further!

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  • Wozza96

    “I could care less whether people enjoyed the design …”. I think you mean “I couldn’t care less”. If you can’t care less, it means you have no care at all, and  think from the tenor of the rest of your article, that is what you meant.

  • Brianm101

    users live in the real world, they use desktops – touch is not an option
    neither financially or ergonomically.

    Microsoft is

    saying you don’t need to turn Windows off – they need to have a word with our Health
    and Safety – machines have to be powered down and unplugged at night.

    Put into
    hibernation?  Just doesn’t work reliably
    – Microsoft can’t even get that right or to be fair it could be hardware!

    2. You
    will go through the hardware.
    Sure –
    and that’s going to work reliably and consistently?

    has totally lost the plot – they are handing the game to their competitors (Apple),

    We have
    been a Microsoft application developer for the last 20 years (so are somewhat
    biased)  but even here Marketing and development
    departments are seriously considering porting and making the Apple environment our
    primary one.

    listen to what people are saying or you will become a footnote in history.

  • Brianm101

    Part of the experiment was to look at the usability of Windows 8 for someone use to XP or Windows 7- Suspect we have done more real user testing than Microsoft 🙂
    The main problem is that there are no visual clues of what to do – try going between Metro and Win 7 desktop. Even if a subject managed to get the charm to appear they couldn’t remember how they did it!
    I don’t know how the Microsft Windows 8 design team have managed to do it (probably tutoring from the Vista team?) they have actually managed to make Windows harder to use rather than simpler – unbelievable but true!
    But the saddest thing is they think they are doing a good job – Yes it probably is a Monty Python sketch 🙂

  • garyknott

    Dear Scott,  I don’t understand much of this essay or the comments, but
    maybe a case study would be interesting to read about.  Consider telling us
    how to:

    1. power-on and log-in

    2. run whatever and download firefox and install it.

    3. run firefox and download emacs for windows, and
    tell firefox what directory to put the setup program in.

    4. run the emacs setup program

    5. get a icon or something on the “desktop” that
    I can use to run emacs in one click.

    6. get an icon for a DOS command terminal
    so i can run it easily and use it to cd to
    places and then run emacs.

    7. setup the use of my old non-DHCP hardwired
    networked HP4 Postscript printer
    and then print the text file I made with emacs
    on my old networked HP4 printer.

    8. ftp or whatever a copy of my text file to my
    home directory on a linux machine on
    my network.

    8. power-down and log-off

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never tried XBox but I bet it’s cool.  Metro is just Win7Phone though, that most people didn’t like though, right?  I think MS is hoping to boost the poor mobile sales by getting everyone used to it by tying it as a side system, default boot to Win7, and calling it Win8 basically.  I’m not so sure it is a good phone UI, but maybe for a tablet it’s better. It was supposed to be the “phone that saved us from our phones” by trying to change people from actually using apps and just using tiles instead, which people didn’t like.

  • Anonymous

    It’s called dual boot or virtual systems for people that have been playing with multiple systems side by side for a long time.  As long as the “desktop mode” is the fully functional Windows 7 it will probably be OK, but that won’t be available on ARM tablets, likely, as MS is still debating back and forth.  They’ve already decided they will not allow bootloading multiple OSs on ARM tablets and mobiles, requiring manufacturers to lock the boot-loaders if they use Win8.
    If you use an x86, or basically a tablet PC, they’ve backed down to allow people to boot multiple OSs and have full functionality, which is great.  If you’re going to buy an expensive tablet PC, I would have rather they just added better multitouch, touch screen control and gesture support to Win7, if they really wanted to evolve to the next level, rather than shove Metro, or Win7Phone down people’s throats.  I didn’t like Win7 phone, not because I didn’t give it enough time, but because it was arrogant, trying to make people use an ADD ridden mess instead of using actual apps or focusing on one thing and moving on.  I’m sure you still can, but I like a nice clean list, menus to go through what I want, to open things I am using, and mov on.  It does add a coolness to expensive tablet PCs though, in that you have the tablet/phone OS as well as full Windows, now that they’ve backed down on locking the bootloader on those.

  • Anonymous

    I think they make systems that sell because they make deals with manufacturers, more than because they understand customers.  “You add your bloatware or charge extra, Windows seems free, and win/win”. Still, I was a Linux geek messing with Debian, Mandrake, Fedora, ect. because of the “openness” and myriad of free options to go through.  When I wanted to get to work, I realized buying Windows and using Windows was the way, not because of Windows, because most of the programs I needed to get real work done were on Windows and WINE (a linux thing to run windows programs) just didn’t cut it without a lot of work and futzing.  Then I went Mac and parallels and found true finesse and functionality rolled into one, multi touch gestures, swift response, excellent built in core UNIX commands and a Windows emulator that runs faster than Windows machines sometimes.
    I am not against evolution.  I think Windows is more about market deals and dominations than innovation though.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not Windows 7 with a touch friendly UI though.  That would have been cool.  It’s just Win phone as an alternative side system, defaulted to boot to make sure you get familiar with it and get developers to finally write apps for it.
    Still, you could look at it as a win win, windows 7 plus windows 7 phone into one system.
    I just worry since they didn’t listen to anyone’s feedback it seems on Win7 phone, and are shoving it down people’s throats because they don’t get why people rejected it, that they will continue to not listen and lead to innovative atrophy and wide adoption of their system, because people will get it just because it’s tied to every PC like the zombies they seem to think people are.

  • The Weather Guy

    One word about “metro”:


  • Pete

    How can the marketplace support classic apps? The entire ‘purchase’ security model is based around AppX packages and WinRT. The only way marketplace can support classic apps is as free downloads. I’m quite sure that Microsoft has said as much.

  •  Which is why I said “may” — I was uncertain, but pretty sure classic apps were out of the question. Just didn’t want to be absolute and get egg on my face if I were wrong.

  • ABG

    Congratulations to the MS UX team.  After looking over the Win8 preview (and VS11), I just went out and ordered my first Apple product since the Macintosh.  There were several reasons, but chief among them: I won’t be buying a Windows tablet again anytime soon.  It’ll be Service Pack 3 at least, or maybe Windows 10, if there is one.  I don’t think I’m the first to do this, and I definitely won’t be the last.  Job well done, guys! [for Apple investors, that is.]

  • Thats a big assumption around “they understand” having been on the inside, you’d be surprised at how little data Microsoft has on users. I think at times people just automatically assume Microsoft has a master plan that they drip feed to the world one month at a time when in fact most of the time its just a shotgun scattered reaction to world events?

  • Correct. They are trying to keep 1x OS for all devices that include mouse/touch. Problem is with touch i’m told they have to have a min 10mm hit zone combining this with targeting HTML devs ..they are facing an uphill and not as clearly well thought out battle.

  • @twitter-256053884:disqus  firstly, the iphone by itself makes more money then all of Microsoft’s current products combined together does so be clear, the iGeneration isn’t a toy that is going away.

    Secondly Apple have released a tool now that helps “Enterprise” use iPad/iPods etc so the race really has only just began going forward.

    Thirdly you are facing a large amount of uncertainty around which .NET skillset is to be used when targeting Microsoft platforms and furthermore given most of the “Enterprise” has only recently adopted Windows 7 the biggest thorn in Metro’s side isn’t Win8 but complacency around adoption.

    Fourthly, Metro works only to a certain point and many .NET devs in cubicles today aren’t housed with Designers by their side, in fact 90% of all development occurs without a designer (we commissioned a Gartner research to hunt this down at a cost to Microsoft of $500k)..

    So combine all of the above, Metro isn’t going to be a case of “look mah, easy UI, WIN!” it still takes a lot of change management to occur before you really sit down and plan out the application(s). 

    Keep in mind developers have had more UI realestate and more UI controls to play with than before Metro arrived, despite this they still struggled! … so… now they have to scale it back? 

    Its not as easy as you paint it to be.

  • I can see where you were heading with pencil analogy but its the wrong one – ie sit down with a sketch artists and watch the types of pencil he uses. Now ask him/her to use just one… they can use it, but it won’t be as good as if they had multiple.

    Point is, I see what your analogy was trying to do (disagree of course) but point was made.

  • Its not added, its actually centers around the whole idea of Touch. They’ve had to build out the entire UI that scales on both desktop and touch whilst making it easy for average developer to handle “layout” management in both these conditions.

    This has in turn created a huge issue for them, as now they have to figure at a way to increase feature density to attract a positive experience bias whilst at the same time handle the basic fundamentals associated with touch screen devices whilst still in desktop mode.

    Look at this

    Thats what governs the UI, and my point is that I think they are trying to ride two horses to win a single race, that Metro itself in turn is creating a boxed in vision (thus hard to differentiate)

  • There’s more than enough room to be creative (ie look at my mockup). The thing though with being creative is how much room you’re allowed to be creative. That’s the crux of the issue, as if metro becomes this bad collection of ideas on what is in and what is out then it still puts pressure on being less creative. If you rinse/repeat don’t think you are rewarded and again that’s where I see the problem occurs.

    You are right the idea is young but i’m not sure entirely that others understand that Microsoft haven’t got a plan, they are realistically beta testing the vision

  • I really like Metro, and I’m not at all tired of my Windows Phone. 

    However, it’s not the look we see in Win8 that I’m so much focused on, but the application design principle behind Metro.  I think it’s a GREAT way to present an application to the user, and the tile methphor is fantastic.  It’s up to us to get creative around how that looks and functions.

    Where my problem lies is this.
    1.  Metro is great, and the desktop is great, but they SUCK bolted together!  If I can’t boot to the desktop on a desktop PC, then this combination is a failure.  For Tablets and Laptops, I can live with Metro first.

    2.  Microsoft beat IBM, SUN, and others by eating their lunch from the bottom!  For lack of a low end solution to anything, the big boys of that time lost almost everything. So now Microsoft plans on beating Apple at close to the same price points with absolutely no “Cool” factor?

    3.  Missed opportunity to put the WP7 OS on a tablet for $149.00 and clear out all the suckers.

    4.  I have absolutely no interest in a WIN8 tablet over $200(better come in at $199.95), but I will spend for a good Ultrabook.

    Their only saving grace may be that Android can’t get it’s tablet act together to save their lives.

    Finally, this “We know best” crapola is getting on my last nerve.  I’m in too deep to dump them, but I’ve gone from doing as much as I could in Silverlight, to doing as much as I can in HTML, and I still haven’t installed SL5, and have no plans to.

  • SlimJim

     As a Windows tablet user (and have been for close to 10 years now), I have been anticipating the heralded touch-and-tablet friendly Windows 8 ever since it was announced at least a year ago. But now that I have tried both Developers and Consumers versions, I keep crying with dismay every time someone brings up the point that Metro is really built for and is great for tablets. Nobody seems to be listening to current Windows tablet and slate users. Metro is OK for quickie one-off apps, for your typical dumb-down stuff, but the real advantage to having a Windows slate is that it can do EVERYTHING that a laptop or desktop can do. That is a HUGE advantage over the competition. The whole “Big Deal” about apps on smartphones and iPads and Android tablets is the “Hey look what it can do” factor – “It can do some of the same things my computer can do”. With Windows slates they already have that. Who needs apps or an app environment? OK so now they have one but who really cares. The problem with Windows tablets have always centered around bulk, battery life AND the desktop UI’s mouse-point layout and configuration. I believe the first two items are being addressed and looked at, but the third point has not. Metro doesn’t cut it as an answer to that. I still find myself 95% of the time in my desktop environment on the tablet, but just as frustrated as always with tiny scroll bars and menus and min/max/exit buttons etc. (and they’ve even removed the ability to change the sizes of these items in the Personalize area). They have completely ignored their greatest strength with tablets and touch screens – that they already the most powerful apps in the world built for them – they are called “programs”. Remember them? When I show friends and colleagues my slate they usually ask “Oh is that an iPad?” and I respond “No, it’s Windows” “You mean it has all the stuff on it like on a laptop. All the same programs. Sweet. I have to get one.” Well, I’m telling them to hold off on that idea for now. Unfortunately, in it’s current state, Windows 8 desktop programs are just as frustrating and for practical purposes as unusable as they have ever been. Why did they not spend time on just making the desktop area skinnable and functional and offered as a Global Tablet Setting. Or encourage developers to make their already existing programs slightly more touch-and-tablet friendly, instead of telling them to throw the baby out with the bath water and enter into the world of “app” wrestling.

    So I only ask to please keep us tablet users out of the argument of how Windows and Metro are such an advancement in thinking and innovation. Microsoft, in this case, I feel, has gone so far into “thinking outside the box” that it has put its head in the sand.

    Sorry Microsoft. I did not need my slate to be as dumb as the competition. It was already smart enough as it was. All I needed it to be was finger-friendly. Simple.

  • The problem with Win8 is that it is trying to be too much, you can’t have an interface that is perfect for the mouse/keyboard and perfect for touch… You just can’t… The two are different enough… At least, not without restricting the experience a lot further for the framework to make the app  look different on desktop than on touch devices… but that is another story.
    The bottom line is that win8 is not optimized for desktop, win7 was actually better optimized and it didn’t offer a big deal as a tablet since they removed desktop mode and no-way to use your old apps, unless it is an x86 tablet, which then will have all battery problems and most of the problems we had in older win7 tablets…

    In the end Microsoft is trying to push developers to write apps for metro as it would run on all devices, which will happen, but I think they are actually helping people even more move out… and force people to learn to change… If I am not using my old apps. I want something really better, and there is a high percentage that this new thing is not Microsoft based… Microsoft initially succeeded because end-users used their products all the time at home which by time led them into the enterprise apps, if people use something else at home, they will slowly push that other thing at work and it will move Microsoft out of the enterprise. 

  • Instead of committing to the importance of “design language”, Microsoft has committed to Metro, and like you, I believe that’s going to come back to bite them. As the interface tires out and improvements in battery life and processor power make the “fast and fluid” (read: cut out anything but the bare basics) interface not so important anymore, what will come next, and more importantly, how?. Have there been changes at Microsoft to make the change to the next “design language” more easily deployed across the company, or has each siloed division just been handed a Metro can of paint?  I think you know the answer.

  • still liking vista very very much both using and developing on. I’m definitely not sure about 8, but I suspect it’ll be more like ME then vista is/was. Perhaps after 8 microsoft will get it right like they did with 98 and XP.
    If their goal is to have one operating system that looks and feels and is controlled the same way no matter what device it’s on, I think they are there, but at what cost, making the development field that much more competive and there by reducing the number of developers and there by reducing the number of potential sales in the training market? Microsoft – Are You Sure?

  • No, it’s not just you.

    It may be that business customers will (generally, but with some exceptions) refuse to adopt Windows 8 because of the Metro interface, and then Windows 9 will backtrack, perhaps detecting the hardware platform on boot up and going into a desktop mode or a tablet mode appropriately. At least in some way the desktop/start menu of old will be restored to first class citizen.

    The whole ugly cycle, starting last year, might be 3 years long:

    Year 1: Hype and then release 8.
    Year 2: Corporate customers don’t bite, big shake-up internally at MS. Stock drops.
    Year 3: Release 9, corporate America starts upgrading.

    I don’t pretend to know how successful Windows 8 will be on the tablet and with consumers. But I can easily picture the above scenario for the enterprise environment.

  • cpsltwr

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re calling “Metro”, but if you’re trying to differentiate my advice would be to go back to the Swiss style design that inspired it and find inspiration there. Try looking through for example. IMO there’s plenty of room for expansion. In fact a big advantage of paring back to a minimalistic style to begin with is that it leaves you with a lot of room to gradually add complexity back in over time as appropriate.

  • Kay

    I don’t know anyone who used it who didn’t like it. However, with verizon refusing to sell them, and AT&T sales reps pushing people to android handsets because they make more money on them, there’s not a pervasive sample group.

  • Kay

    Yeah, this is a less than cleverly disguised block of text by an apple enthusiast.

    Nice try though!

  • Kay

    I find it amusing how php hacks call themselves devs on a regular basis.

  • Kay

    I suppose on the bright side they have a more cohesive direction now than they did 4 years ago. Unfortunately the man providing that direction has no vision.

  • Kay

    I think that Apple becoming “the it thing” in enterprise largely depends on a number of factors. The problem apple is going to face very soon is that the phone companies are preparing to stop subsidizing the iphone, while at the same time windows  8 and android are making progress towards the one thing that apple has never been able to actually deal with: commoditization. I don’t think MDM’s thin support for enterprise integration will provide competition for AD integration and App-V.

    Per my own observations, I’ve seen people initially enamored with the iPad, then they quickly abandon it in a professional setting for reasons ranging from UI is too small to get even simple data entry done to the format support is far too limited to make it an effective information distribution sans writing nacl.

    I agree with and have explained to a large number of people that the completely opaque roadmap present for windows 8 development, the uncertain future of silverlight and the unintuitiveness of windows 8’s ui on the desktop are going to introduce a large number of problems.

    I also realize that at this point Microsoft has so much banked on the success of windows 8 that they’re scared to release anything of substance that indicates a direction the competition might counteract. To a large extent, they’re right in that, Apple frantically shoved mountain lion out the door to push the ‘integrated experience’ a few months after the point being windows 8 being a unified platform became evident.

    I really want microsoft to succeed with windows 8, I don’t have enough information to call that ballgame. I’ll wait on Q1 of next year and see how things are shaping up. By then the tablet market should be normalized, touch screen laptops should be shipping en masse and adoption metrics will be more reliable. At the moment all we can get are miniscule samples of users on a piece of beta software.

    P.s. Did you design the “mind on fire” logo for microsoft learning? Great image, terrible campaign (we affectionately refer to it as ‘burn learning’ around here).

  • Crash1013

    I tried the Windows 8 consumer preview. I have been an early adopter since windows was called Daytona. Every step of windows evolution seemed to be moving forward. This, I am pretty sure is not forward.

  • Anonymous

    You can’t blame everyone else for Windows phone failures. MS shot themselves in the foot back in 2010 with Verizon on Win7 phone by saying they would be GAM only until 2011, after botching the Kim line and deals with Verizon due to people not liking those either. Then I hear that they just have a hard time in an industry dominated by iPhone and Android, but Win6 phones have been around longed than either, and Windows pulls no punches with their manufacturer hidden cost deals and PC market domination. Even back in the day Palm Pilots were more open with better select integrations than Windows 6 phones.
    Look up some of the reviews over the pasty year and a half and you will find people mostly disliked Metro, if you don’t believe the real sales and market response numbers. They have to drag Windows down with it rather than bring it up to what people have asked for. Even Apple and Google learn from each other but MS is so stubborn they hide their copying until the point of the innovations are lost.

  • I find the Windows out quite good.  It little too blocky, and cumbersome without touch screen but in all I see it has great potential.
    I find for example, the ipad to be a reasonable device, but general gui is what puts me off, definately aimed at the non technical user.  Android a little rougher around the edges but more versatile and customisable, and the Windows 8 metro is different which is refreshing and seems to have a lot more potential. 
    Simple is not better! Thats a cop out, thrown at us by Apple advertisers. 
    The ability to have uniform experience across many products is great and Microsoft seems to be aiming at that.
    Windows 8 is not just a tweaked up mobile phone OS, its simplified metro system is fine for tablets and toys, while maintaining the power and versatility for real applications and hardware. 

  • Anonymous

    To be honest, if they were just upfront and a little less heavy handed about forcing people to boot into Win7 phone Metro to boost their mobile sales, and you knew how much you were paying for it in market deals (bloat ware/pc costs), I think it’s a good idea. I would love for Linux to have an android mode or osx to have a iOS mode, likewise.

  • Dineth

    You are spot on with most of your article. I think Microsoft will soon learn this. Especially given that Windows is used by lots of power users, there will be a need for some complexity. I’m interested to get there really soon actually — complex UI with metro. Maybe that is an oxy moron by itself, but I think it is possible. I haven’t been able to imagine a complex metro world yet, but it has to evolve there. A way that both simple and complex content can live side by side. Once we solve that, Metro itself might stop being boring. I think the boredom comes from the sheer lack of complexity.

    I hope the Office team comes up with a good innovation to this space. When everyone’s had enough of that pathetic Office on ARM design thing they have going on, they’ll do something great — I hope. Microsoft will have to lead by example.

    While at it, I’d like to mention 2 more things:

    – I know one of your previous posts were about context-breathing-UI. That really captured my imagination and I hope Microsoft gets there… eventually. Metro will be more fun then. It’ll be simple but the context will constantly update the UI — taking the boredom away.

    – Why MS made Metro apps not run in a window-mode is an interesting thought. Remember Zune Software that everyone loved and drooled over so much? It ran full screen and in Window mode… staying true to the name… Windows. I think there was something there… mixing with something like OS X Lion where fullscreen apps get their own ‘space’ and ability to drop them back to the desktop with a reduced size. That way, the Windows desktop would have had a chance to morph and be a more consistent experience right across Windows.

    Good post. I hope you get to read my comments!


  • I never said iPhone wasn’t popular, in fact I even said the iPhone and iPad are very nice gadgets.  But read what you and Kay say and reread what I said.  The vast majority of Apples 127 Billion in revenue comes from the iPhone and iPad and compare that to Microsoft’s 75 Billion from its portfolio of OS’s, Sever software, security and other services.  The vast majority of the world’s enetrprise is highly leveraged with Microsoft solutions embedded throughout.  The iPhone and iPad are on 2 year probationary periods guided by the fickle individual user (having said that, Appple is smart to infect everyone with that virus called iTunes).

    The race has only just begun?  Really?  How many times have I heard that MS Office will be replaced.  Or that Linux and it’s open source is better the MS Server or MS SQL Server?  What does Apple have to compete with SharePoint?  Where is Apple in gaming and home entertainment?  XBox and Kinect anyone?

    So MS maybe a poor choice with Metro as a UI, I merely pointed out it’s potential as a common interface and it certainly is no death knell.  Microsoft maybe poor at monetizing their product, but pointing out the voltaility of Apple’s products (yes, by you mentioning that the iPhone singley outperforms all of MS’s products together is demonstrating how they have all their eggs in one basket) is not an indication that MS products are more voltile and some how doomed to Apple’s superiority.

    I am trully confused about this wrangling over a UI choice by MS and the concern over .Net devs (you commissioned a Gartner research (what?) at a cost to MS of $500K (? they felt compelled to pay because?) to find out something any .Net dev could have told you over coffee) when everyone and their brother knows the UI world is going to HTML5 and CSS and web apps which will replace all local apps will no longer allow any plug-ins (for security reasons alone this is genius). Metro is a UI and .Net devs mostly deal with the engine behind the OS and in W8 as WP as it is in Win7 is .Net.

  • You know, I really don’t know why I am spending so much energy defending MS.  I’d rather be talking Walking Dead with people than discussing the perils of UI’s.

  • Anonymous

    It seems like the clear distinction between Metro and Desktop apps is designed to guide people more into a “Metro only” familiarity, to get used to what will be available on the phones and ARM tablets.  It will also help guide and encourage some developers to writing Metro apps that can be ported to the phones and ARM, or “tablet tablets”.
    The PC tablets, or x86 tablets should be a different story, mirroring the desktop functionality of both worlds for now.
    It may confuse some, Metro being the default desktop boot, but mainly designed for phones and tablet screens, but it does seem like a clearly considered strategy.

  • Anonymous

    Apple is not simple, it just works simply.  OSx has a core UNIX backbone, and way more built in utilities to customize and geek out on than Windows.  It’s more like an ultra-refined version of Linux, with carefully controlled drivers, than anything.  I am a power user and I’ve worked with multiple Linux, Windows and OSX incarnations.  I think it’s BS, like a political or religious blind argument when someones says any of them “blows the other out of the water in all respects”, because that is a blind and untrue perspective.  Android, Metro and IOS all have their relative strengths and weaknesses, and Win7 phone, or Metro, is the one most designed for the non-technical user with the least customizability (just going on the Win7 Metro phones around for over a year).
    Android is a super geeky, and powerful toy.  It is something to mess around with, like a project, as apps and the OS itself are designed to collect more information on you.  You are the product.  Even the simplest video player takes ridiculous system privileges to log your information.  IOS is a more refined version, and the simplicity of use does not take away from the multiple settings for power users.  In the carrier IQ scandal, it was the only one that already let you choose whether to send out the debug info or not.  It does have some areas where it’s cleary designed for “non technical” people or they don’t allow people to change.  There are also silly stupidities, in my opinion, like the tight integration with iTunes, but all in all, it has been much more a productive device than Android phones or tablets, more time using it and less time fighting it.  There are blinding gaps of arrogance though, like the inability to have simple shared storage space, outside the cloud, or copy your music back to a different PC.

  • Robert S.

    Huh? I bought a Win7 Phone from VZW (and love it).

  • Robert S.

    You must have read different reviews than I did when I was considering buying a Win7 Phone. Almost every reviewer — even from several iPhone fanbois — loved the phone and the Metro UI. The only consistent complaint was the smaller number of available apps compared with Android or iOS. And I must have read 50 – 60 different reviews.

  • Anonymous

    I think it goes a little beyond that.  I’m not sure where you were getting reviews from.

    It’s like with Microsoft, now matter how many people tell them they don’t like it, by NOT buying it, or saying straight out they don’t like it, Microsoft doesn’t hear anything but it’s own paid studies and research that say people should like it.  So rather than changing it, they just make everyone buying a windows PC boot into it, because they can’t hear anything but their own self assurance.

    I’m sure you can find some good, not paid for reviews, and it was fine for some, but to completely ignore the millions who chose NOT to use it at all, and the many vocal people wishing they hadn’t, just saying all the feedback was good and it was the reason of carriers, manufacturers, or everyone else but the phone UI itself why it flopped is just being arrogant on MS’s part, and not the best listener.  To me, it’s like an ADHD ridden parody of what MS thinks we use our phones for, and if they can just force us to get used to it on the desktop, they think we’ll run out and quit thinking for ourselves of what we like or don’t like.

  • Don
  • Subzero

    Well said Kay, just deny anyone who say anything bad about Microsoft.
    Imagine they are Apple enthusiast, they must be evil ! How dare they bother to disguise as MS users !

    Microsoft is the best ! No matter what they do !

  • Jedeco3

    I think the problem with your reasoning is there are simply not enough people like you using Windows slates. Period.
    Why would MS go further down a path it’s already failing on miserably to the competition? 
    I realize now they have full touch and it’s win8 and all, but to just keep the full OS on tablet would be going against the vast majority that believes smart device version has to be it’s own smaller footprint version                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

  • G.

    There is something with Metro style that says “Made in China”. This is the strongest impression I have looking at Win 8 screen… It looks like it was ordered to be made for Microsoft. Apple on the other hand makes opposite impression (although not being a user), like something EU / Bavarian cool latest BMW-ish new line… Hard to explain this feeling of not being interested in Win 8 as senior .NET Dev.

  • To be fair, Apple have built up a lot of trust in their brand over time around quality, so initially they’re risk at the start of ignoring the customer was just that.. now over time they don’t have to listen as much as again the trust equity has been built and despite peoples religious views around Apple vs Microsoft, in the end Apple do still produce a 80% quality band in product(s).

    I can’t say the same for Microsoft as it in my time inside and outside the company seems to be tapering down each year which is quite heartbreaking to witness (thus my blog posts often get filled with venom towards that… i feel like i’m a fan of that team that has so much potential if only we’d change coaches …)

  • To what gain would this be useful?  I mean you can always change or improve Windows 8 appraoch to variety of tasks through enough marketing / education blitz.. My main crux to this blog post was around the idea that repetition in the metro design will be its biggest emotive problem.. and when you deal with change management it has little to do with “can you” and more to do with “will you want to”.

    I am simply saying that if we had an army of metro-designers around the world pumping out designs for this digital fashion style, sure I could argue that differentiation would probably be a non-event. The reality is though that Microsoft culture both internal and external do not attract these types of audiences. In fact today you’ve got around 6million NON-designers looking to rinse/repeat on metro designs.Over the next 5 years you’re going to be staring at the same metro-tired blue/green look and feel over and over via the .NET developer scene generating these turnkey designframeworks.Thus differentiation will be hard to come by as its a supply/demand issue as much as it is around execution.

  • Jack

    I see this slightly differently from you. I think the “Metro style app” on Windows 8 offers a designer an opportunity to create an experience where they get to control every aspect of the display.

    I think designers with rich creativity will do exactly that and will either ignore “Metro” as a design language or they will downplay it in favour of their own vision.

    I think developers/designers with less creativity will stick to the style guide and produce apps that are solid and behave in expected ways but are less original.

    I think it’ll take a bit of time for that to work itself out.

    This isn’t so different from Windows over the past years. Most applications used a file menu and a right mouse menu and ended up looking largely the same even though File menus didn’t actually make much sense for a lot of those applications.

    Some applications (e.g. Windows Media Center where you can argue ‘Metro’ was born) ignore all conventions.

    I do agree that I’m a bit tired of hearing someone say “Content over chrome” with no real explanation as to what the heck it might mean 🙂

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