Windows 8 Interface: Lowest Common Denominator


If you are a nerd, you probably remember the days when there were two completely separate versions of Windows. We had the consumer version (Windows 95, 98 and ME) and the professional version (Windows NT 3.5, NT 4.0 and 2000*). Along came Windows XP and everybody got on the same system. Microsoft gave us Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional, but they were almost exactly the same OS save a few useful features missing from the Home version. The Home vs. Pro distinction has continued with Windows Vista and Windows 7, albeit with many more levels (Home Basic, Home, Home Premium, Home for Occasional Work, Professional, Ultimate, Ultimate Professional, Elitist**). For the most part, Microsoft just creates the ultimate version and then takes stuff out to create cheaper versions for home use.

I say it's time we go back to two separate versions.  I'd call them "Windows 8 Professional" and "Windows 8 for people who don't need to do anything useful".  The Metro interface is worthless for work.

Read this excellent article from Hot Hardware graphically comparing Windows 8 Metro interface to the classic desktop.

I was holding out hope that Microsoft would come out with an innovative new interface for Windows 8.  It appears they succeeded, but it's only great for consuming content.  If you want to watch a video, read some email, read the news, etc., it's as easy as could be.  You touch the big box that has a picture of what you want to do.  It's more or less like an iPad***.

But if you're trying to build a website, edit a bunch of graphic files, or heaven forbid refer to one document while working on another, you're stuck.  Microsoft's solution is that you can just go back to the traditional desktop if you need to actually do some work.  Why bother?  If there's going to be that big a disconnect between the work interface and the consumer interface, let's go back to two versions of Windows.

I'm being a bit facetious here -- having two versions of Windows was a big nuisance because programs weren't always compatible -- but it seems like we're back there anyway.  Some programs will create two interfaces.  I'm sure there will be a Metro view and a somewhat similar Classic (desktop) view for Outlook, Firefox, Skype and the like.  For stuff like Photoshop, Visual Studio and even good old Windows Explorer, a Metro version just doesn't make sense.

Dear Microsoft, I will stop criticizing your interface choices if you send me a free copy of Windows 8 (useful edition only, please).

**** Update Nov. 19, 2012: Jakob Nielsen agrees! ****

**** Update April 12, 2013: Why I Still Use Windows 7 After a Year of Trying to Like Windows 8 from How-To Geek ****

**** Update February 18, 2014: A Windows 8 UX designer says this is what they were intending to do in the first place... ****

* To this day, I cannot figure out what marketing genius decided to name things Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows 2000 when the third was a part of a completely separate product line.  Who in their right mind would make this decision?

** I think at least one of those isn't real.

*** Does anyone remember DOS?  You do one thing, then you do another thing.  You can view exactly one program at a time.  Doing two things at once meant having two computers.  Why does everyone want to go back to that?

Jeff Robertson

Jeff Robertson is a digital marketer and an online development expert with experience stretching back to dial-up. He is partner and Chief Technology Officer at Carbon8, where he helps bridge the gap between the technical and marketing worlds, as well as oversees technical infrastructure.

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