History Repeats Itself With Metro.

Windows 8 Logo There’s been a lot of vitriol over WP7 and Metro as of late.  And a lot of doom and gloom predictions to go along with that hate.  To plagiarize Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw a bit, the masses are totally totally right…almost.  The reason I agree, however, is a reason that I don’t see brought up often if at all — that shoe-horning an interface for one type of device onto another type of device is never guaranteed to work.

If you’re thinking, “duh!” right now, here’s a little kick in that pants:  Microsoft has had varying success with that philosophy, but for reasons they never seem to grasp.

Windows Server

Windows-as-a-server started with Windows NT (as opposed to just Windows) 3.1.  While one could argue the audacity of requiring a full-blown GUI to run a server back in 1993, the simple fact of the matter was that it was plausible and didn’t hinder anything.  Especially since, within the Microsoft ecosystem, the CLI is a Bad Thing and most everything is GUI even if using a CLI would be easier, faster, and more efficient.

This and the successful move of WinNT4 to the Win95 interface gave Microsoft the mistaken impression that a uniform interface for anything Windows is an advantage.

Windows CE (the base for Windows Phone)

If there was ever an argument against a uniform interface, the initial batch of WinCE-based “palm-tops” was it.  Imagine trying to work the Win95 interface, except your screen can only show 3 desktop icons vertically and 6 desktop icons horizontally.

It took 4 years before Microsoft was forced to make an interface change with WinCE3.  I say, “forced,” because mobile devices were getting smaller (“pocket PCs” and then later smart phones) and the standard pre-WinCE3 interface just would not work.  The WinCE3 interface is probably the most well-known as it is still with us today in commercial mobile devices.

It was here that Microsoft seemed to a learn a lesson, which it seems to have conveniently forgotten.

Xbox 360

The original dashboard interface for the Xbox 360 proves what you can do when you consider the device’s functionality over whatever preconceived notions you may have about how an interface should work.  The blade interface was something different and all functionality was front-and-center. The user started with the blade that allowed one to interact with Xbox Live or play the game in the disc tray.  Finding your Arcade games was D-pad press away.  Finding where to go to play your media files or changing system settings easily to discover.

Then came the New Xbox Experience.  While technically OK and workable, some key functionality took a back seat. The “Spotlight” took center stage, which was nothing more than marketing.  All the stuff you wanted to actually use the console for (eg all the stuff from the previous dashboard’s blades save Xbox Live interaction) for was lumped into “My Xbox.”  The previous dashboard’s Marketplace blade was expanded into two categories, and your Xbox Live interaction was its own category.  The best part?  The new tile arrangement made it impossible to read anything more than 5 tiles deep.  While exploration might be encouraged for marketplace stuff, burying System Settings 7 tiles deep into My Xbox wasn’t so hot.

Then came the makeover to coincide with Windows Phone 7.  While the layout remained the same, you could only see 3 tiles at a time now, exacerbating the aforementioned problem.  And while most people (including Microsoft) labeled it as an update for Kinect, there was very little Kinect integration at all.  It was all a ploy to to bring the interface closer to Windows Phone 7.  The problem here is that, while most people had no problem with the WP7 interface on mobile devices, there were already two previous interfaces for the Xbox 360 that were better.

But now we have the Metro-style dashboard.  While it’s better than the WP7-based one, it still has shortcomings.  My main one being that ad space dominates the initial screen.  And while the current disc-based game is also shown on the initial screen, all of my Arcade, Games on Demand, and Apps get lumped into Quickplay and the default sort is some sort of weird algorithm based on some combination of recently downloaded and recently played.

The Meaning For Windows 8

The problem with Metro and Windows 8 is exactly inverse of the problem with Windows CE and the mobile of devices of the day.  Microsoft has gone from trying to shoe-horn a desktop interface onto mobile devices to trying to shoe-horn a mobile interface onto a desktop.

Unfortunately, I see their logic.  It worked for Windows Server.  It worked for Xbox 360.  Therefore it’ll work for Windows 8.  So what if Windows CE failed on mobile devices?  That was desktop interfaces on mobile devices.  This is mobile interfaces on the desktop.

If you want to use pictures of Microsoft brass as punching or shooting targets, I’m not surprised.