Microsoft Talks Metro UI and User Experience Changes in Windows 8

The Windows 8 user experience is forward-looking, yet respectful of the past. It reimagines what a PC is capable of, the scenarios for which it is optimized, and how you interact with it. "It enables tablets and laptops that are incredibly light and thin, with excellent battery life, which you can use with touch and […]

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The Windows 8 user experience is forward-looking, yet respectful of the past. It reimagines what a PC is capable of, the scenarios for which it is optimized, and how you interact with it. "It enables tablets and laptops that are incredibly light and thin, with excellent battery life, which you can use with touch and keyboard and mouse in any combination you prefer. It is also the most capable, lean, and usable OS ever to power desktop PCs and gaming rigs," wrote Jensen Harris in a new Windows 8 blog post.

"The new Windows 8 user experience is no less than a bet on the future of computing, and stakes a claim to Windows' role in that future. The full picture of the Windows 8 experience will only emerge when new hardware from our partners becomes available, and when the Store opens up for all developers to start submitting their new apps. In 1993, when today's familiar Windows 95 user experience was first designed, PCs were beige, heavy, disconnected, and sitting under an office desk plugged in all the time. An average PC cost $3450 in today's money! Today, PCs are in the kitchen, in the living room, at the coffee shop, in your purse, on the train, in the passenger seat of your car. Increasingly they are mobile, always connected, affordable, and beautiful. And Windows PCs are in the workplace, no matter where that is or moves to. What would have seemed unrecognizable and "post-PC" 20 years ago is now the very definition of a PC," he said.

The world changes and moves forward. Windows will continue to change too, as it has throughout its 27-year history.

"As we started planning the user experience of Windows 8 in mid-2009, just around the time of Windows 7 RTM, we looked around and took note of some of the trends playing out around us. This was a pre-iPad world, a world before the recent proliferation of new form factors and device types. And although more than 93% of PCs run some version of Windows today, it was clear even then that the world we lived in and people's expectations of computing devices were rapidly changing."

Our vision for Windows 8 was to create a modern, "fast and fluid" user experience that defines the platform for the next decade of computing. "Fast and fluid represents a few core things to us. It means that the UI is responsive, performant, beautiful, and animated. That every piece of UI comes in from somewhere and goes somewhere when it exits the screen. It means that the most essential scenarios are efficient, and can be accomplished without extra questions or prompts. It means that things you don't need are out of the way," Harris explained.

Roam allowing you to sync your personal settings and customizations across devices. "Just like the experience of using most websites, you can sign in to your Windows 8 PC using an online account. The account used to sign in to Windows is called a Microsoft account. It can be an existing Windows Live ID (the email address you use for Xbox Live, Hotmail, and most other Microsoft services), or one can be created using any email address you own. Once you are signed in, something magical happens--as you personalize and customize your Windows experience, the changes roam to any other PC."

"Our goal in Windows 8 is to redefine people's expectations of their PC. The most commonly used settings (those similar to the ones exposed on most phones or tablets today) are available within the new UI. New Windows 8 apps cannot alter system settings for the most part (with the exception of a few specifically architected capabilities, such as enabling location services or using the webcam, which require user consent.)

Windows updates are applied silently in the background and in the middle-of-the-night "maintenance window" whenever possible. Because Windows 8 apps know how to preserve their state, this is totally seamless to you.

On SoC-based devices, you touch the power button to turn the screen off, and behind the scenes, your PC is immediately moved into a low-power mode. Press it again, and the device instantly wakes up. Windows 8 turns the PC into a device that delivers the kind of experience people expect out of a modern mobile device."

Windows has continually innovated to adapt to and enable new ways of working with the PC. Microsoft has focused Windows 8 around touch, but not only with Metro. "Within the new UI and WinRT apps, touch is promoted to an equal citizen alongside mouse and keyboard. Just like you can use a PC with mouse and keyboard only (or just keyboard,) you can also have a great experience using the UI with just touch," he said.

Windows 8 will include enhanced support for touch on the desktop. "... we do believe that touch is a useful adjunct to mouse and keyboard on the desktop. Historically, a new input method is seamlessly integrated as people learn the best use for it. Context menus, keyboard shortcuts, toolbars, and menus are all different ways of doing the same thing, yet everyone makes their own choice about what works best for them."

"We designed Windows 8 to take into account the desire to have a PC that works the way you do--whether you want a laptop with a permanent keyboard, a tablet with a keyboard you can attach (wired or wireless), or something in the middle. Touch works across all of these form factors, and you choose which input method to use when," Harris said.

One of the main things people have been looking for on Windows 8 is a redesigned desktop, which is yet to be seen. So what is the role of the desktop in Windows 8?

"The desktop is a great way to work with mouse/keyboard and a large monitor or several monitors. It is really your choice. You can use only desktop apps if you want. You can use only new apps and never leave them if you want (in which case all of the desktop code is not even loaded.) Or, you can choose to mix and match apps that run in both environments. We think in a short time everyone will mix and match, simply because there is so much creative development energy being put into the new scenarios made possible by new Windows 8 apps," said Harris.

"Windows 8 imagines the convergence of two kinds of devices: a laptop and a tablet. Instead of carrying around three devices (a phone, a tablet, and a laptop) you carry around just a phone and a Windows PC. A PC that is the best tablet or laptop you have ever used, but with the capabilities of the familiar Windows desktop if you need it. You may choose to carry a tablet, or you may choose a laptop/convertible, but you do not need to carry around both along with your phone. You never think about a choice, or fret over your choice of what to carry. Things just work without compromise."

"We have made a number of improvements to the desktop visual appearance in Windows 8. While a few of these visual changes are hinted at in the upcoming Release Preview, most of them will not yet be publicly available. You'll see them all in the final release of Windows 8!," he said.

Windows 8 Metro UI

Harris also talked about the user interfaces of the previous versions of Windows,

Starting with Windows 1 in 1985, which was made to be interacted with mainly by a keyboard (the PC mouse was just an option).

Windows 3.0/3.1 in 1990, the first commercially successful version of Windows featured a totally new interface, centered on a new shell called "Program Manager" for launching, arranging, and switching programs.

Windows 95, released a few years later in August of 1995, included a substantially reinvented user experience--the Start menu, taskbar, Explorer, and the desktop--which remain even now in Windows 7--but in very different forms.

Windows XP released to PC manufacturers on August 24, 2001 represented another important evolution in the Windows user interface, including the Start menu.

In 2006, Windows Vista introduced the "Aero" glass visual style.

Finally, Windows 7 released in the fall of 2009, camed with significantly transformed UI. While many of these changes centered on an overhaul of the taskbar, significant modifications were also made to the Start menu, windowing, and to the logical organization of files on the PC.

For comparission, below are the screenshots of Windows 1 and Windows 8:

Windows 1 graphical shell around DOS:

Windows 1 graphical shell centred around DOS

Windows 8 Metro UI

Here are a few video showing of Windows 95 and Windows 8 UI.

Windows 95 Start button:

Windows 95 usability testing:

Windows 8 Metroo UI (earlier versions)

Speaking at the JP Morgan technology conference, AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega, praised both Windows Phone and the Lumia 900 saying, "The operating system works really well. It is simple, it is easy to use, it is intuitive. The reception to the Lumia launch has actually exceeded our expectations."

"I am really pleased with what I am seeing out of Microsoft and Nokia coming out with their first product. The operating system works really well. It is simple, it is easy to use, it is intuitive. The reception to the Lumia launch has actually exceeded our expectations. So we think there is "a very good chance" that Microsoft will have a very good OS that will be right in there to compete with the two dominate smartphone operating systems, Apple's iOS and Google's Android."

On Windows 8 he said, "When they come out with Windows 8 in the fourth quarter, I think it will actually add to the value that that OS brings to the marketplace, in that that will be the first time that you can truly have a similar experience on your PC, on your tablet, and on your smartphone from soft Microsoft. From what I have seen and the previews that I have been given, I think it is going to be exceptionally good. I am very upbeat in what they are bringing to the market," the CEO stated.

According to him, Windows 8 will be released at the end of this year and it will affect the Windows Phone platform in some manner. He said, he is "upbeat" about Microsoft's chances in the smartphone market and that Windows 8 will actually help boost sales of Windows Phone.

In other Windows 8 news, Digitimes citing unnamed sources is reporting that Windows RT tablet vendors are encountering issues with the pricing of these products. According to the report, "Taiwan-based tablet vendors are able to price their products at between $300 to $350 for a 10 inch tablet running Windows RT, along with between $150 to 200 for seven inch tablets."

The report also claims that Microsoft's fee for including Windows RT adds another $90 to $100 to those tablet prices.