Windows 8: The Best of Both Worlds

In the first post in Windows 8 series I pointed out that Windows 8 is influenced by Zune and the Windows Phone. Let’s take a look at the interface enhancements in Windows 8 before we go into the features.

Like I said, for Windows 7 Netbooks were the in-thing, now it is tablets. Microsoft isn’t new to tablet computing. In fact they’ve been doing Windows for tablets for a really long time. Unfortunately for Microsoft they were ahead of their time. There was no Gorilla Glass, capacitive screens weren’t there and multi-touch simply wasn’t commercial, SoC GPUs weren’t as powerful. Simply put, it wasn’t just Windows that led to Microsoft losing the tablet race. Cut to 2011, all these ¬†peripherals ¬†are in place and it is now on Microsoft to come up with an OS that is for tablets.

A few years ago Microsoft released their iPod competitor, the Zune media player. While the player wasn’t able to garner competitive sales, it gave birth to the design philosophy for Microsoft’s consumer products. Christened Metro, crisp typography, clean icons and sharp corners are quite different to iPhone’s bevels, gradient overlays and rounded corners. The Zune desktop interface was quite a stunner compared to Microsoft’s other products. Media Center came close but wasn’t remotely as gorgeous as Zune. We saw the sharp corners and tiles in Zune and many loved it.

The next iteration for Microsoft’s Windows Phone was expected when Zune HD was launched. Initial leaks showed an evolution of the ugly Windows Mobile. Microsoft did what nobody expected them to do. Engineers from the Zune team worked on the interface for Microsoft’s mobile platform and everybody was stunned at what they announced. A beautiful fluid UI with well thought-out social, communication and entertainment capabilities. In many circles, Windows Phone is also known as the next Zune.

One feedback for Zune and Windows Phone’s UX/UI was for Microsoft to bring the interface to the tablet, like Apple. Microsoft is well aware of the tablet market and their PC stronghold. For Microsoft, they could either bring the mobile OS to tablets (Android/iOS) or use the collective genius of the engineers to offer users the best of both worlds (PC and tablet). They went with the latter and we have a new start menu or shell for Windows on tablets. The new shell is based on Metro and uses the same principles. The interface brings some innovative features for tablet use, like a split keyboard for landscape mode that makes holding the tablet and typing with two hands quite easy.

(Image credit CNet)

The idea that Microsoft’s beautiful Metro UI will be masking the regular Windows UI, has been met with strong criticism. Unfortunately those who make that argument have sort of ignored the millions of Windows users. There are more desktops than tablets and Microsoft needs to cater to the market while they find footing in the tablet market (Netbooks : Windows 7 :: Tablets : Windows 8). I have written considerably on the topic and how enterprise is a huge factor in Microsoft’s decision.

The Metro UI from Zune to Windows Phone and now on Windows (for touch) along with Windows’ Explorer UI (for mouse) lets users switch seamlessly between intensive work and leisure activities. It is not scaling the phone OS to a tablet like iOS but bringing the phone’s interface elements to the desktop (like OS X Lion). The approach offers the best of both worlds.

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Manan Kakkar

Manan is a technology enthusiast keenly following the consumer products from Microsoft, Google & Apple.