Windows 8, Microsoft’s new operating system, is on the horizon, and the Seattle Times has chimed in—
Windows 8 is supposed to tie together Microsoft’s PC, tablet and phone software with one look. But judging by the reactions of some people who have tried the PC version, it’s a move that risks confusing and alienating customers. [full article]
Personally I am excited about Microsoft’s new direction. It is a big departure from the way Windows users interact with their computers and will require a big change in behavior. Very clever and very classy. Will it work?
Operating systems have evolved into places that we work, play and live, so much so that they have similarities to physical environments. Designing an operating system is like designing a city—both need to be organized in a way that makes sense but both must leave room for a user to make it their own.
In an article by travel writer Bill Bryson, the author describes a town that had been redesigned by city planners. What once was a standard “drive ‘em up and buy ‘em up” town became a pedestrian city center that was beautifully structured to encourage harmony and flow. Cars were kept away and, at last, people were able to walk freely from place to place and just enjoy life as part of a re-planned community.
Critics within the industry descended upon the town and hailed it as a triumph of design. Then they left. Unfortunately, the critics were the only ones populating the redesigned area and in their absence sat a ghost town. People had gotten used to driving from store to store. This was a normal town and this was the way they interacted with it. Now they were forced to leave their cars at a remote site and walk. No one came.
One thing became quite clear—you can’t design away behavior.
City planners love order and harmony, but sometimes they design for order and harmony’s sake and forget their creation still needs to be used.
Microsoft is taking a massive leap trying to join all the various ways people interact with Windows. I can almost hear Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer say, “People like squares and colors and slide-y things! We need that!” The new operating system is perfect for a phone or tablet, but can the same user interface be dragged and dropped directly onto a regular old computer?
Certainly Apple has elements that crossover between mobile and desktop, but their design process has been far more evolutionary, allowing the environment to grow organically (if there is such a thing as “organic” when talking about computers). When Mac users have been confronted with change, typically the changes have a logic to them that makes the user say, “Ooohhhhh…well yeah. Of course it’s that way.” In this case, Windows 8 might be a leap too far.
Microsoft is a company looking to retake the lead. Apple’s position as the coolest kid in school could be coming to an end. Steve Jobs always sad that Apple was the biggest startup in the world and ran the company as though it always had everything to prove. If Microsoft can “stay hungry and stay foolish,” they just might be able to slip back into the spotlight. Then again, the bloated Microsoft is hungry and foolish…hungry for “me too products” and foolish in the way it produces them.
Time will tell. Personally I am excited by Microsoft’s new direction. Very clever and very classy, a triumph of design. Just like a pedestrian city…..