Everything to Everyone
Needing to test a component in Internet Explorer 10, I spent some time with Windows 8 today, and boy, oh boy.
I have very little to say about IE10; it seems a capable browser, though that's what we said about every iteration of that accursed line of software for well over a decade. There's some sort of high brow Dante's Inferno reference with IE1-9 lining up with the nine circles of hell. For a moment I thought perhaps we had made it through to the other side, then I noticed the compatibility mode icon in IE10 and decided that we probably just found the secret level...
Whatever the case, what really bears mentioning is Metro, because, well, it's much worse than I thought.
I've long been a fan of Metro (it's great to see a genuinly original take on a new interface; right Android? Right?), but aside from the occasional stark design element feeling not so much modern as unstyled, the clash between Metro and the so-called desktop mode is like continually submerging your body in a nice warm bubble bath, only to immediately get up and jump into a tub of ice water, only to then get up and get back in the warm bubble bath, ad nauseum. You may prefer warm or cold, that's really irrelevant, the point is that you don't get to pick which one to stay in, which makes for a schizophrenic user experience at best, and at worst one of complete disoriention. Metro feels like a foreign concept on the desktop, having clearly been designed for touch only to be brutally Frankenstein'd on top of Windows, a mash-up which makes if nothing else is echoed very clearly in the newly announced Surface: Everything to everybody
And because Metro simply feels wrong on a desktop computer, I intuitively switch to desktop mode, only to find nothing where I would expect it. No Start button, no control panel, no nothing. I can't do anything! It took me a while to figure out that I had to press the Windows key, except that sends me back to Metro...
Now if Metro and desktop-mode had some sort of kinship, but there is no spill over, no shared DNA at all in fact. And that's half of the reason the switch is so jarring, with one stark, typographical and modern (for now), the other glass, blur, curves and traditional UI. Both are actually quite nice in their own right, but it simply doesn't feel like an OS, because really it's two.
This paralysis of choice is deeply endemic of Microsoft's design culture (or lack thereof), and doubly ironic because Microsoft's mantra for Windows 8 has been 'no compromises', which is exactly what Windows 8 is full of! It's reflected again in how applications like Internet Explorer 10 (and other, though not all of course) has two different clients that are as far from one another as night and day. And paralyzed by the very notion of drawing a line in the sand on behalf of its users, Microsoft has left it up to the user to figure out which is the best choice at any given moment, because hey, what if it's everything to everyone, all the time!?
It would, unfortunately it looks very much as if it'll be half of the thing to half of the people, half of the time.