Windows was always going to head in the Metro / Modern UI direction. It's been coming for some time. I recall some early noises about this as the Zune evolved, but Wikipedia does a decent job of summarising the early history;
"Early uses of the Metro principles began as early as Microsoft Encarta 95 and MSN 2.0, and later evolved into Windows Media Center and Zune."
It's hardly the first significant change to Microsoft's user interface - think DOS to Windows and Windows 3 to Windows 95, as obvious examples. Microsoft evidently like to shake things up periodically. This is, though, undeniably a big change.
I have a Zune HD, and I love it (although of late, it's developed some increasingly odd quirks). It's a nice device, with a nice user interface/experience. Something I miss from later iterations of the UI is the idea that you can tap on the top 'heading' to go back a screen. Metro was always going to develop further, but in this early version, there was something simple and elegant that later iterations miss.
Xbox, of course, moved to gradually incorporate the Metro style from the New Xbox Experience update onward. It works, for the most part, although I can't imagine that anyone is in love with the marketplace's habit of displaying long rows of square tiles for individual songs for Dance Central (to pick an example).
Although ZuneHD certainly had some apps, it was perhaps Xbox that first really introduced us to the idea of modal apps - the introduction of Twitter and Facebook, not as integrated functionality throughout the system, but as discrete apps that existed in their own silo, isolated from the rest of the system. Those are examples that I'm not sure have ever really worked out so well. The more recent introduction of third party apps has perhaps been more successful.
Windows Phone 7 was the next iteration to emerge. It introduces Live Tiles and the single "All applications" view. It's a break from previous iterations, yet reinforces the modal app idea - and it very much perpetuates the silo approach to applications. There were no more native apps, with just a few exceptions; only Metro-style apps downloaded from the marketplace. I haven't been a fan for a number of reasons, but I've persevered over the past year with a HTC HD7 that I won.
And now we arrive at Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8. Many of us have played with Windows 8 - whether the preview releases or the RTM versions - but Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 are device dependent, and as such, many haven't yet seen them in action. And of course, for the first time, Microsoft will release its own Windows hardware - the Surface RT and Surface Pro.
I have been running Windows 8 as a VM for some time. I'm not in love with using it on a mouse- and keyboard-only system, and as such I don't plan to upgrade my primary OS for the moment. I've been making more and more use of the VM as the launch approaches.
Although this isn't a review, I don't generally mind the Modern UI and apps. It's frustrating to have a full screen modal app, and it makes it feel clunky, until you get used to the ability to snapping two apps side-by-side. For example, when firing up a game of pinball while being able to keep an eye on emails, it's possible to start appreciating this over the previous Windows approach.
I'm not so enthralled at a lack of visual indicators - it seems counter-intuitive to just start typing at the menu screen (and other places) in order to search, to hover the mouse at a particular screen area in order to navigate. Right-clicking brings up some application-sensitive options - ok, but the Settings within the charm bar being context sensitive is non-obvious.
But again, this isn't a review - and nor is it a "criticise Windows 8" post. Windows 8 is different, and many will have to adjust when adopting it, or purchasing a new computer. I'm the last person who'd be suited to predicting its success or failure - I still struggle with the Office Ribbon. Windows 8 is a dramatic break with previous versions, much like Windows Phone 7 was - at least on the surface. It may be that the passionate opinions being offered across various media and websites is exactly the desired effect, in terms of shaking things up. Time will tell as to whether the gambit succeeds.
My primary interest at present lies in Windows RT, and what it may have to offer as a pure Modern UI device - particularly with the Surface. I'm not sure that Windows RT should have the concept of a "desktop" - and I've seen a few people saying that. It brings to mind the old Windows CE devices that I've had, from Palm-sized PC through to Windows Mobile (and a couple of oddities along the way). But it's not the primary focus of the device, and I don't plan to live there.
I've pre-ordered the Surface RT. As a piece of hardware, it's very cool.. and I can have some confidence that I'll be able to productively use it as a tablet, from my experience of using Windows 8. I'm less interested in the Surface Pro; for serious work (and PC-based games), I have my ultra-powerful notebook, but the RT-based Surface should comfortably fit a niche for when I don't want to have to fire it up. It'll be my first tablet, because I've been waiting for the right one to come along. There will be gaps found and adjustments to make. I'm hopeful that some of my favourite apps (like Royal TS) will make a transition to Modern UI, and that others (like MetroTwit and Lastpass) will get closer to parity with their Windows versions .. but I won't be missing too much at the outset.
For Windows 8, I'll see. My Inspiron 2320 could probably work well with it, but the rest of our machines are notebooks without touch. I'm not sure how I'll go with getting the family to adjust, so I will probably leave it for a while.
And for Windows Phone 8? I'm not fond of WP7, but I'm glad to see in WP8 an apparent move away from the aging Windows CE at last, and I'll hopefully be getting a review phone to try out. But again, I'll see.
What about you? Will you upgrade? Buy a Surface? Take a punt on WP8? Wait and see? Or avoid?
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