On one hand, you have to give Windows chief Steven Sinofsky some credit, he’s being very open, proactive, and engaged leading up to Microsoft’s unveiling of Windows 8. And that’s great. But on the other hand, you have to wonder if he’s in the process of burying himself in a very big hole.
Over the past couple of days, the Internet has let out a collective “gasp” at the sight of the new Windows Explorer. So today, Sinofsky has responded with his own thoughts about the design of Windows 8. The theme he wants his post to have is very clear: “no compromise” — he says it four separate times. Unfortunately, the theme that actually comes across is the exact opposite.
We started planning Windows 8 during the summer of 2009 (before Windows 7 shipped). From the start, our approach has been to reimagine Windows, and to be open to revisiting even the most basic elements of the user model, the platform and APIs, and the architectures we support. Our goal was a no compromise design.
Why not just start over from scratch? Why not just remove all of the desktop features and only ship the Metro experience? Why not “convert” everything to Metro? The arguments for a “clean slate” are well known, both for and against. We chose to take the approach of building a design without compromise.
Windows 8 brings together all the power and flexibility you have in your PC today with the ability to immerse yourself in a Metro style experience. You don’t have to compromise!
Our design goal was clear: no compromises. If you want to, you can seamlessly switch between Metro style apps and the improved Windows desktop.
I’m really not sure that Sinofsky understands the definition of “compromise”. Several of his own commenters wonder the same thing. As a refresher:
Compromise, noun: a middle state between conflicting opinions or actions reached by mutual concession or modification
Um, that’s precisely what Windows 8 sounds like.
As Sinofsky describes it, Windows 8 offers both the traditional Windows experience as well as the new Metro-based one because they saw the arguments for doing it both ways. So they… wait for it… compromised!
This is important because rarely do such compromises work. Yes, everyone wants to keep their cake and eat it too. But sometimes when you force this indecisiveness in the faces of users, you run the risk of them making a third choice: neither.
As Frederic Lardinois notes:
The question, of course, is if Microsoft’s somewhat odd approach to the Windows 8 user interface will really offer the best of both worlds or if it will just offer two completely disconnected experiences. Microsoft argues that “Windows 8 brings together all the power and flexibility you have in your PC today with the ability to immerse yourself in a Metro style experience.” Both Microsoft and Apple, though, have tried this same approach with their media-focused Media Center and Front Row experiences in the past and both didn’t succeed in convincing users to switch between these two interfaces.
Apple, of course, also has a two-pronged approach with OS X Lion and iOS. But they’re totally separate operating systems that don’t co-exist on any one device. Sure, OS X Lion is moving more in the direction of iOS, but that’s a transition towards what Apple clearly sees as the future of computing. They’re not sticking iOS on their machines as a sub-operating layer. And the most iOS-like element of OS X Lion, Launchpad, is the one element that seems to draw the most complaints.
As I’ve written before, I actually quite like Microsoft’s Metro approach. But I like it in the context of smartphones (and possibly tablets). I’m not sure how much I like it as a alternative to Windows itself. But it’s impossible to know that right now without using it, I’ll have to wait and see.
I simply think going with a single approach to the future of Windows makes more sense. Microsoft, understandably, is terrified of this. To me, Sinofsky’s entire post reads as an apology of sorts. Microsoft knows that they need to re-think and revamp Windows, but they can’t fully commit to it because they run the risk of alienating hundreds of millions of existing users.
But eventually, Microsoft will have to choose. They can’t be indecisive forever. They’ll have to “compromise”, to use what Sinofsky clearly thinks is the definition of the word