Regarding Windows 8 and Metro

Marco Arment on Windows 8:

One of the reasons Metro is interesting to people like me who usually ignore Microsoft is that it’s full of very un-Microsoft-like decisions, generally for the better.

Windows 8’s new Metro UI looks interesting to me, but I’m worried about it’s success for the long term. Sure, people are interested now and many seem to like it, but will anybody actually use it?

There’s always a segment of users that are resistant to change, but I’ve always had the impression that the percentage of Windows users that are resistant to change is significantly higher than Mac users that share the same sentiment. I believe that’s why Apple has always been wildly successful at selling new versions of OS X to existing Mac owners. And, Microsoft has never been successful selling OS upgrades to PC owners.

Windows users don’t like change. So, I don’t think many PC users will use Metro when the traditional desktop interface is available to them. Their accustomed to it, and will continue to use it until their forced to move on. Luckily, Microsoft has made the right decision by not allowing Windows tablets to run traditional desktop apps and instead will be forced to use Metro apps.

Paul McDougall writing for InformationWeek:

In a clarification, a Microsoft executive said x86 applications built to run on the desktop version of Windows 8 won’t be compatible with the tablet version of the operating system. The executive also said that the tablet version won’t be able run any applications built for previous versions of Windows.

That’s a step in the right direction and it’s certainly a good decision, but I’m worried that it’s not going far enough. Microsoft is only forcing tablet-specific users to move on to the new interface but everyone else will continue to have the option of using traditional desktop applications. I think this will limit the number of Metro users because I get the feeling that owners of Windows 8 PC’s that aren’t of the tablet variety will seek out non-Metro software.

Marco sums up my worries nicely in his aforelinked piece:

Will Metro be meaningfully adopted by PC users? Or will it be a layer that most users disable immediately or use briefly and then forget about, like Mac OS X’s Dashboard, in which case they’ll deride the Metro-only tablets as “useless” and keep using Windows like they always have?

Marco is a developer and has to think about these questions because there’s always the possibility of him developing an Instapaper client (or something else) for Metro. But if Metro turns out to be a flop, he doesn’t want to find that out after spending time developing for it. It’s likely going to be a “wait and see” situation for him,  he seems very comfortable developing for iOS and hasn’t indicated that he’s seriously interested in moving to other platforms.

But, for Metro to succeed it needs developers to write applications for it. Users will lose interest quickly if developers all take a “wait and see” approach to Metro. Or they decide to ignore Metro and build their applications the way they always have. Which is exactly why giving users the option to run traditional desktop applications was the wrong move. Microsoft should have released a tablet-specific operating system that couldn’t run on traditional desktop PCs. They shouldn’t have called it Windows 8 and they simply shouldn’t have announced one unified operating system for two, very different, form-factors.

John Gruber and Dan Benjamin talked a bit about this on an episode of The Talk Show (I wish I could find the specific episode) where John came to the conclusion that what Microsoft should do is release a new operating system specifically for tablets calling it anything other than “Windows.” Continue to support Windows as it is today but make it very clear that they could discontinue support for it in the future (likely the distant future). This would allow Microsoft to discontinue support for legacy software and hardware and could mean for an overall better user experience.

Imagine a world where Microsoft announced Windows 8 and Microsoft Tablet OS. Windows 8 would consist of all of the improvement Microsoft made to the desktop environment in Windows 8, as we know it today, but with the Metro environment only available in Microsoft Tablet OS. Microsoft could make the decision that the only updates to Windows 8 would be in the form of security and bug fixes with all of their energy for new features going towards improving Tablet OS. That sounds like a future I’d like to live in.