The user interface for Windows 8 blurs the line between tablet, desktop, and smartphone. That’s a good thing.
The Microsoft Build conference starts October 30. For a week developers will be exposed to the latest Windows technologies, analysts will write megabytes of blogs, pundits will tweet reactions both pro and con, and the way we experience computers will change in dramatic and obvious ways.
For developers and users alike, the Windows 8 interface is an in-your-face change. No longer based around overlapping windows and desktops, information and applications are now presented as colored tiles. It is possible to slip back into the traditional Windows interface where each running application is visually separated with windows that can be dragged on top of each other, hidden, and closed; but most of the time the new Windows looks, and functions, very much like a well-designed webpage.
Opinions are harsh. Windows traditionalists miss familiar icons such as the Start menu, Control Panel, File Explorer, and Close button, and are finding the years they spent deciphering the nuances of utilities to now be irrelevant and useless. Worse, users stumble into the traditional Windows interface, but have no idea how to return to the new tiled interface, and developers find creating applications now requires new ways of programming, use of new interfaces, and new ways of thinking about interacting with users. What was Microsoft thinking?
DOS to Windows, windows to tiles, desktop to phone
In 2011, computer vendors shipped more smartphones than desktop computers further supporting the idea that handheld devices—such as smartphones and tablets—are pushing desktop and laptop computers into obsolescence. Apple and Android are battling for first place, with Microsoft scrambling for a piece of the action. Dell, the king of laptop manufacturers, has lost almost half of its value in eight months. The future is painfully clear, and it looks like a handheld device, or smaller.
Microsoft correctly reasons that making improvements to an interface that depends on a keyboard and mouse is corporate suicide, but what about our former Windows Vista user futilely searching for the Windows Start button? Is there nothing to be done for them?
Short answer: The pain is only temporary.
Long answer: We’ve done this before. New interfaces, like apps or tiles, are simply normal innovation. They’re disruptive, sometimes annoying, and the first iteration is often clumsy, but the process is normal, expected, and necessary.
lynda.com is working on a collection of classes for developers and users of Windows 8. In the early part of 2013, you can expect to see courses that show how to get started with the Windows 8 developer tools, as well as more in-depth training intended to assist with advanced developer questions.
Nobody on Star Trek uses a mouse
Science fiction explores a possible future, and most science fiction computers don’t use keyboards or mice; they use gestures and voice recognition. Our grandchildren will think our computers are quaint.
Personally, I have enough years under my belt to remember the jump from CPM, to DOS, to Windows 3, and the jump from my beloved Apple IIe to Macintosh OS X. Each was a move away from a known paradigm to something better. Everything changed for the traditionalists invested in the existing technology, and boy, did they complain.
But the number of people using the new tools soon outweighed the traditionalists. New users with curiosity about how the system does work, rather than assumptions about how the system should work took over.
Here’s to a lifetime of learning!