The Latest Windows 8 Fiasco

OMG, this is getting more bizarre by the week. The latest is that Microsoft has run away from their new and cool name, Metro.

You gotta be kidding! Microsoft has spent so much time promoting the Metro name and establishing it as the new and cool tablet design. People like it!!! They don’t want to give it up! To walk away from it now is simply amazing.

The least of it is that it abandons a useful vocabulary that had been used to clarify a complex situation. Let’s go through these terms in slow motion.

Terminology

  • Windows 8 is used to denote the new version of the OS. It is the sucessor to Windows 7. Roughly translated from the German Die Götterdämmerung, it consists of two parts:
  • Metro is the new and cool tablet interface. It consists of brightly colored blocks that contain text in a large sans-serif font. It is the only app launcher in Windows 8, replacing the Start menu.
  • Desktop is the compatibility environment and more. It looks like a Windows 7 desktop without the Start menu and with a few options rearranged to increase confusion. It runs the Windows apps, except for the few new Metro apps. Notably, MS Office 2013 runs in the Desktop, not Metro.
  • Metro-style denotes a new Desktop app that uses some Metro fashion cues but does not actually run in Metro itself. Unlike a legacy Windows app that runs in Desktop, a Metro-style app uses different fashions. It does away with the Aero interface and any texture, shading, or illusions of depth. It is a flat, simple UI that features large type and a lot of white space. Office 2013 is a Metro-style app but it runs in the Window 8 Desktop environment. There is also a version of Office 2013 that runs in Windows 7. It is obviously not running in Windows 8 but it is Metro-style. Got that?

Are you confused yet? If not, this should help. IE10 is one of the few Metro apps that is available in the Preview release. When you tap the IE10 color block in the UI formerly known as Metro, IE10 starts and runs in Metro. This version of IE10 is windowless and there are no options to add tab panels or use menus. However, if you switch to Windows 8 Desktop, you will find an IE10 icon in the leftmost position in the Taskbar. If you click that, a Metro-style version of IE10 launches in the Desktop environment!

The Metro-style version of IE10 (Desktop!) has windows, has menus, and you can add tab panels! Two versions of the same app! One Metro and one Metro-style.

Now, they’ve tossed the term Metro and are scrambling around, trying to figure out what to call it at this late date (hey, its past RTM and they’re still picking terminology). The latest news that I hear is that they will call the artist formerly known as “Metro” the global name Windows 8 UI.

Does this Matter?

In the context of all the other problems they’ve got, probably not. But it will come up soon enough, as soon as customers try to figure out what the hell to do with the beast. Something’s got to give.

It’s clear enough that Microsoft is going all balls out in their belated attempt to enter the tablet market. It really is very cool that they are not trying to copy Apple again. Especially considering that this is Microsoft, it is very welcome.

However...

...realistically, you gotta admit Metro is a version 1.0 release of a new OS. It looks it, feels it, smells it. Entering the tablet (a.k.a., the iPad) market at this late date is tough. Even the one successful Android competitor, Samsung, isn’t doing anything with their tablets — except blowing smoke in the analysts’s faces. The latest was that they’ve been forced to reveal the real truth about their tablet sales.

The AppleInsider has a good summary of the bad news:

Samsung, which once claimed its GalaxyTab shipments were in the millions, saw sales of the devices fall to a paltry 37,000 units in the United States last quarter, suggesting that although Korean electronics maker is holding its own in the battle for smartphone unit share supremacy, it’s clearly lost the war it waged against the iPad.

That means that Metro (or whatever you call it) has to go toe-to-toe against iPad! That’s three generations of Apple tablets (and counting), an HD display, and an unchallenged lead in third-party made-for-iPad apps. Realistically, It’s going to take time. Time is not on Microsoft’s side...

The library of third party apps that Metro can bring to the table is the universe of legacy Windows apps — which all run on Intel, not ARM, and are designed for mouse and a keyboard. That’s the extent of the “no compromise” opportunity that Gates and Ballmer have been talking about.

Is this even fair??

Come on. The version 1.0 of this thingie isn’t going anywhere, but Microsoft never gives up. They’ll keep going and I expect that they will regroup before they’re ready to build version 2.0. Version 2.0 will be more realistic and perhaps start to become interesting.

For one thing, they’re going to have to get over the basic philosophy that led to many of the design decisions are expressed in Metro. It’s striking to me that they misinterpreted the kind of simplification that is expressed in Apple’s Cocoa Touch UI. Simply put, the Metro version is “dumbed down.” It reminded me of the elementary school readers known as Dick and Jane. They stressed repetition over thought and led to mind-numbingly boring readers that were used in place of actual children’s literature.

Compare the Metro implementation of IE10 to the Desktop version of the same app. That’s what I mean. The Metro version is practically useless as a browser. There is no way anyone can use Metro IE10 as their only web browser as a low cost replacement for a laptop. No way.

Now, try the same experiment on your iPad with the Mobile Safari browser. There you go.
Regardless of the name, Metro will be stillborn. That’s going to be a problem.

Meanwhile, Windows 8 will have put a hit on their own customer base. Right now, they are adamant about prohibiting their own customers from launching into Desktop!

Huh?

Let’s think about this. The one new Metro-style app that Microsoft has for enterprise is Office 2013. It runs in Desktop. For those users, the new Metro UI is only an inconvenient app launcher. To get going, the need to get over to Desktop. For an Office 2013 user, Microsoft is blocking their ability to boot into the environment that they need to use! Can this get worse?

Perhaps they figure that their customer base will stick with Windows 7 anyway and this bizarre approach will somehow help them establish a presence in tablets. I don’t see why.

If any of their business/entrprise customers buy Windows 8, I expect calls for a version of Windows 8 Enterprise (for example) that launches into Desktop so that the system is usable — or free downgrades to Windows 7. More realistically, the existing base will stand pat with Windows 7 and hope that Microsoft will regain their senses after Ballmer is shown the door.