What Will be our Options When it Comes to Metro?

Microsoft isn't being entirely clear on the options surrounding the Metro UI.

Microsoft has been talking up its new Windows 8 UI, called Metro, but some of the signs it has given are leaving people wondering what will happen to their old friend Explorer.

Windows chief Steven Sinofsky posted another lengthy blog update last week on Windows 8 that left some serious questions hanging in the air. Here's what we know: Windows 8 will have a tiled desktop look similar to Windows Phone 7. Windows 8 will feature a "touch-first" interface, since the OS is being developed for both x86 and ARM processors and Microsoft is targeting the tablet platform.

Sinofsky made it clear in his most recent blog post that Metro does not mean Explorer is going away. "The things that people do today on PCs don’t suddenly go away just because there are new Metro style apps. The mechanisms that people rely on today (mice, physical keyboards, trackpads) don’t suddenly become less useful or “bad” just because touch is also provided as a first-class option," he wrote.

Here's where things get not-so-good. The Metro UI will be what comes up when you boot your PC. If you want to go to Explorer, then you have to exit Metro to go back to your standard desktop. "If you want to stay permanently immersed in that Metro world, you will never see the desktop -- we won't even load it (literally the code will not be loaded) unless you explicitly choose to go there," Sinofsky wrote.

"Essentially, you can think of the Windows desktop as just another app," he said.

Wait, that was our DESKTOP. Now it's "just another app?" Left unanswered – and asked by one reader to the blog – is whether there will be the option to never load Metro and stick with Explorer. Sinofsky didn't answer this, and my query to Microsoft's PR department was met with a no-comment.

I have to think that not allowing us to boot into Explorer would be suicidal for Microsoft and they know it. Business users are not going to want Metro, they are going to want the familiar desktop. Sinofsky did hint at it: "Having both of [the] user interfaces together harmoniously is an important part of Windows 8," he wrote.

The major concern I've seen articulated is that Microsoft is spending so much time emphasizing the tablet aspect of Windows 8 that it's forgetting the PC. Do I need to remind them that Apple has sold about 25 million iPads and the rest of the tablets are struggling, while Windows 7 has sold 400 million licenses on PCs?

The choice of UI has become one of my top questions to get answered at the BUILD conference in two weeks. Metro should be just another app, not Explorer.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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