Windows 8′s Look and Feel: It’s New. New, New, New, New, New!

By  |  Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Well, gee whiz. At the D9 conference this afternoon, Windows honcho Steven Sinofsky presided over the first good look anyone outside of Redmond has gotten at “Windows 8.” And it turns out that it has a strikingly new user interface. Maybe the most strikingly new one it’s gotten since…well, Windows 3.0 back in 1990. (Windows has added plenty of new features over the past twenty years, but the basic metaphor has barely budged at all.)

In short, Windows now has a touch-first user interface that looks a lot like Windows Phone 7, which means that it draws on ideas that originated in the iPhone without mindlessly mimicking them. The Windows 7 keyboard-and-mouse world is still in there, but it’s subsidiary. That’s Microsoft’s apparent intent, anyhow.

Here’s a video Microsoft included with its blog post about today’s reveal:

Reacting to this will require a lot of mental processing, but here are a few initial thoughts:

This is going to run best on PCs which don’t exist yet, for the most part. Something like an HP TouchSmart will be well-suited to it. Possibly a convertible notebook along the lines of a Tablet PC, too. But I can’t quite see how it’ll make sense on a garden-variety notebook or desktop. Or, for that matter, on a garden-variety tablet–at least if you intend to run old-style apps as well as touch-centric ones. It wants a new type of computer.

This is going to run best with apps which don’t exist yet, for the most part. Microsoft’s demo includes IE 10, which is designed for the new interface. Cool. But what about Office, Photoshop, Firefox, Chrome, Quicken, AutoCAD, Norton Antivirus, and thousands of other apps which are meant for the keyboard and mouse? Are their creators going to rewrite them? If not, will they feel like second-class citizens even if they’re the first apps that most of us call on?

This could be like oil and water. There aren’t a lot of examples of technology products doing things two different ways and succeeding. (Exhibit A: Tablet PCs.) Doing one thing really well is a far safer bet. (Exhibit A: The iPad.) But Windows 8 makes no sense unless it’s really pleasing with a keyboard and mouse, and equally pleasing with touch. I’m not predicting that Microsoft will fail to pull it off–just saying that it’s created a gigantic challenge for itself.

This sort of explains why Microsoft hasn’t shown interest in Windows Phone 7 tablets. It looks like a Windows 8 tablet that runs on a low-power chip like one based on ARM architecture will provide an experience similar to why the Windows Phone 7 tablets some of us have been wondering about would provide. Or it’ll try to, at least.

This can’t be forced down anyone’s throat. Microsoft gets to give Windows a new interface, but it doesn’t have any say about whether people use it or not. We won’t know if this thing is the future until it hits the street. And the one thing that every PC user on the planet has in common is that we know how to use a keyboard and mouse. People could choose to avoid the new user interface. Or they could choose to avoid Windows 8, period.

This is a lot like Apple’s OS X 10.7 Lion. Both are desktop operating systems that show heavy smartphone/tablet influences.

This is nothing at all like Apple’s OS X 10.7 Lion. Apple remains adamant that touch doesn’t work on a traditional computer like a Mac or a typical Windows PC. Microsoft appears to think that touch can become the primary interface.

This is fun. Windows Vista was a Windows with no vision. That didn’t work. Windows 7 is a Windows that just tries to be a more civilized, pleasant Windows. That works quite well. Windows 8 could be a big bet on the future of computing–the first Windows designed for the post-PC era. We don’t know anywhere near enough about it yet to form any conclusions about its chances of success. But it won’t be boring.

Microsoft says it’ll have more to show at its BUILD conference in September. I hope to be there. In the meantime: what are your first impressions?


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43 Comments For This Post

  1. Tim Joiner Says:

    I think that interface would be fun to play with, then I'd turn it off so I could get some work done.

  2. The_Heraclitus Says:

    So, what version of NT is this one?

  3. Guest Says:

    Looks Great!!

  4. Linux Lover Says:

    Great article!

  5. Steve3562 Says:

    I think this is a disaster in the making. A few hundred million PC users aren't going to buy new systems just because Microsoft launches a new version of Windows. It would be another ME/Vista/2000 epic fail.

  6. windows8 Says:

    Its funny; reading your earlier article,8599,…

    it seems Microsoft listned and dilevered on each of your 8 request :-) but you still seems to sound pessimistic

  7. Jason Says:

    I'm very much in favor of Microsoft making radical changes to Windows… although this kind of looks like a Zune-ified iPad interface, it does look nice.

    I'm kind of thinking that this will end up being a fancy dashboard that people "ooh" and "ahh" at a little bit before closing it and going back to a desktop that looks pretty much the same as every other version of Windows. I hope Microsoft proves me wrong. I'd really like to see them do something that's truly innovative.

  8. Harry McCracken Says:

    I don't think of my self as pessimistic or optimistic yet–it's too early to know. I'm just interested.


  9. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    The average sales price of a Windows PC is only about $400, so evoking a $625 average sales price iPad is a step up for Windows, not down. Way too many people don't use features of their Windows device because it's too complicated to use or unreliable. So making it simple is really necessary. So few of my friends who use Windows can even install an app.

    But when will this ship? They move so slowly. How long until they catch up to where iPad is today? How long until their app platform catches up? It is really iPad-centric in consumer PC's until 2015.

    They are right to bring NT to ARM, though. CE is not going to cut it against Apple.

  10. Swamykant Says:

    Nice article. Thanks for share :)

  11. Henry Says:

    Up until now, Honeycomb has been the most impressive tablet OS in my opinion; for its ability to marry desktop like functionality to a tablet form factor. Windows 8 appears to be going one step further and offering an ecosystem that is identical across form factors. Which obviously means much more functionality than we see on the ipad or current Android tablets. However, with rumors of the next gen of Android running on Kal El chips, I suspect Google is headed in a similar direction with Ice Cream San which and future iterations of Android.

    I’m excited by the potential of Windows 8 and the prospect of using full featured software on a tablet. But the interface is horribly ugly, and I’m also cautious to wait & see where Android evolves from here. Frankly, if Android matches the Real multi tasking of Windows, I’d prefer their interface on tablets. And that’s the only area Windows 8 looks even remotely appealing to me in… tablets. I’m not sure I’d want it on my next desktop purchase unless I go the HP all-in-one route.

  12. Henry Says:

    Perhaps not. But then again, adoption of Windows & has been very strong. More importantly, it is a tablet compatible interface that could seriously threaten Apple’s primary area of growth… ipad sales.

  13. Clam Says:

    The only thing worth noting from the blog post is the video demo is in Flash and posted on YouTube, which is pretty unusual for Microsoft. Videos posted on Microsoft blogs are usually 'encoded' in Silverlight these days.

  14. MJPollard Says:

    “Windows 8′s Look and Feel: It’s Crap. Crap, Crap, Crap, Crap, Crap!”

    There, fixed it for you.

  15. David Hamilton Says:

    Windows gets schizophrenia! Wonder if the two personalities will talk to each other?

  16. James Says:

    I really do think you can throw 2000 in there as an "epic failure", especially in the consumer releases of Windows. It wasn't aimed for the consumer. Windows ME is undoubtedly the epic failure in Windows releases. I still remember installing it, rebooting and it immediately crashed. Anyway, Vista was a jump from XP but reception was poor.
    I do not think anyone can gain too much of an opinion from this video. I believe Microsoft will be aiming hard at the tablet market which has exploded with iOS and Android leaving Microsoft in the dust. They are playing catch up so will be touting the tablet features a lot…but I'm certain us desktop and notebook users will not be forgotten.

  17. Daniel Says:

    lol! ..copying Linux again… why can't they just try to invent something of their own? And as it is closed source it will never be able to compete. They will probably not have this running until late 2012 so it will be at least two years behind Linux.

  18. Daniel Says:

    Problem is… it is not innovative. Linux are already doing this. The main desktop environment Gnome-shell currently runs on javascript. It also allows a classical desktop for those that prefer the old look. Microsoft have just stolen the idea…. as usual…

  19. @AaronHawryluk Says:

    "Never be able to compete…"
    I think you have your market shares a little confused there. Microsoft is the one with 90% of the market, Linux is the one with 3% of the market – despite decades of sallow Linux geeks protesting that Linux's market share is growing, LOTD is still teh suxx0rz.

  20. Israel Says:

    This is just a tendency not a copy from any one.

  21. Aaron Says:

    The problem with your hypothesis is that you did not give any sort of reason why it will fail. I personally think that it will be a real threat to the iPad (the most worthless piece of garbage on the planet) because it shows innovation, and it's a REAL desktop computer running on a tablet.

    Also, the argument saying that it has to be pleasing for "Mouse and Keyboard" use (mentioned in the article) is not valid, because you can CHOOSE which UI you want to use. Windows 8 is designed to have a dual UI, and they are also planning you put Windows 8 on phones. They're trying to set something up like the Motorola Atrix; Where you can take it, plug it into a computer and it "Acts" like a laptop. But in this case, when you plug it into a computer it goes from a phone, to a full fledge OS.

    Also, in a press conference, Microsoft specifically said that the work put into the new UI was done before the IPad's (the first one) launch, so really no one is taking ideas from anyone. Except Android, which I consider an "Open source iOS" because they are incredibly similar.

  22. Aaron Says:

    This makes me laugh, because it's not like Linux operating systems have never stolen an idea. Same with Apple, and same with Microsoft. But even when they "steal" ideas from each other, they put their own twist on how it'll work.

  23. Aaron Says:

    I prefer closed source vs open source any day. Open source may be free, but you don't get the quality, or the support. There's a reason why I decided to give Ubuntu a try, used it for a week, decided it sucked, and went back to Windows 7. And while Linux has decent features with it, it's never going to be an operating system that can compete in todays market. Because, I don't know if you've noticed this, but Linux is almost always taking ideas from other operating systems and claiming to be their own, then when you ACTUALLY come up with a decent feature (Compiz is one of the note worthy ones, yet it's just for show) it's normally useless and just a feature that people can "Brag" about. So to speak. I consider Linux a toy, more than an OS.

  24. Sam Says:

    In reply to your comment that "its a real desktop computer running on a tablet" Is that a good thing? You've had such a thing for years – utter failure. Did you buy a tablet pc when they came out years ago?

    Apple comes out with tablet that's not a desktop computer – spectacular success. Whats the lesson?

    People dont want a desktop computer on a tablet. Microsoft hasn't learned a damn thing from their mistake. Thats why microsoft will fail AGAIN. Microsoft is really pathetic.

  25. raven Says:

    ill kept windows xp pro

  26. ebpp Says:

    Windows has really stepped their game up in the quantity of their releases

  27. MintUser Says:

    Very nice interface – at least in the video…

    The biggest stumbling block Windows 8 will have to overcome is the price… Linux is free!

    And you'll see interfaces like this (but better) on Linux within a couple of months.

  28. Mark Says:

    I've played with the preview. It's not bad, but I've found it frustrating when trying to actually work. We've loaded it onto a tablet, and had trouble pressing ctrl-alt-del to login. I'm still reserving judgement, but it's built for touch, and I'm beginning to mourn the loss of my start menu. It's a little Mac like (I use Mac and Windows for work and Mac only for home) but I think that Microsoft may have done this better than Apple could've.

  29. J. Cuervo Says:

    Crapware, businesses will skip it entirely. Great way to pump your mobile platform (that despite many versions and UI overhauls, has never been a serious contender) and kill your desktop user experience all in one fell swoop. Good thing Windows 7 is solid. Windows 8 is basically 7 with Mango integration. Oooooh, aahhhh…not!

  30. Mrgote Says:

    J. Cuervo, I agree with you. I was looking for thoughts from people who attended and found this post today in line with what you said

  31. Gee Says:

    Once again , Microsoft clutching at strawsto try and create a new market for something nobody needs. Just watched the Build videos and I am deeply disappointed. Everytime the launch a new OS, the claim to have solved some or other UX issue and in the end, it turns out to be yet another piece of useless feature, nobody asked for or uses. Think about all the useless stuff introduced in Vista, then Windows 7 and IE9 is currently the worst browser on the market. Everyone hates it.

  32. gug Says:

    it’s horrible, bye bye Microsoft, Apple and Google eaten you

  33. Zahidfal Says:

    A few hundred million PC users aren't going to buy new systems just because Microsoft launches a new version of Windows. It would be another ME/Vista/2000 epic fail.
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  34. larzze Says:

    I hope Microsoft proves me wrong. I'd really like to see them do something that's truly innovative.
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  35. larzze Says:

    Yo are right Microsoft gets to give Windows a new interface, but it doesn’t have any say about whether people use it or not.

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  39. CTSmithey Says:

    After checking out the Technical Preview and working on it, well, I liked Windows ME better. HAHA! Honestly it is the most unfriendly OS MS has ever released, or is thinking about release. I worked on W7 and on W-Vista with MS Devs and in Betas ect, and I must say this is the norm, for every GOOD OS MS releases there is always a Turd to Follow. Here is how this translates: W7=Good! – W-Vista = Crap! – WinXP=Good – WinME=Crap! – Win98=Good – Win95=Crap – Win3.11=Good! Do you see the trend here!

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  43. Video maker Says:

    Windows 8 is looking awesome and i think it will rock the markets. :)