Microsoft is currently working on getting multiple parts of the Windows ecosystem working together in harmony without breaking the user experience too much. They tried to do this with the launch of Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, tying in both platforms closely together to make things easier for developers moving across platforms, but that was at the expense of devices not optimised by a touch-driven experience. I’ve said before that Modern UI (or Metro) wasn’t the best idea the design teams could have come up with, but the work they’ve put into it has made it a rather efficient way of dealing with the differences in mobile, tablet, laptop and desktop/server platforms.
Although the final product isn’t perfect, I’d go so far as to say that I’m pretty comfortable with how things are working and set up on my machines and the way things work is pushing me to adopt Windows Phone. So, the latest batch of reports about Windows 9 is utterly confusing to me. The underlying idea with Metro when it was introduced was that if you’re familiar with one platform, you’re going to be more than at home in the others. So it’s with great confusion that I’m reporting on two rumors that seem to contradict this philosophy completely. Some reports on the internet are saying that Windows 9 will not only disable Modern UI on desktops and laptops by default, it’ll also remove the desktop mode for tablets.
Neowin reported first that Windows 9, codenamed “Threshold” inside of the Microsoft campus, will disable Modern UI on desktops and laptops. According to sources close to Project Threshold, this was a decision that was influenced by the previous decision by Microsoft for anyone running Windows 8.1 Update to boot straight to the desktop, skipping the Start screen completely. It’s still available by tapping the Windows key or swiping in from the right and hitting the Windows button on the Charms bar.
On the whole, this shouldn’t affect too many people because Threshold also brings back a Windows 7-style Start menu if you enable it in the taskbar’s options menu. It still fulfills the functionality of the old Start screen with Live Tile functionality, but it just doesn’t take up your entire screen. Apps that previously were run full-screen will also be able to run in windowed mode, floating on your desktop just like all the others. This is a relatively easy thing for Microsoft to do because one of the design requirements for a Modern UI app is that developers use bitmap images, allowing for UI and PPI scaling without breaking the overall design.
The second report by Neowin suggests that the company has also done something equally weird by disabling desktop mode on Windows 8 tablets. However, there is some method to the madness. Desktop mode for tablets of the 7-inch to 10-inch variety wasn’t meant to be a permanent arrangement because touch input has never been a good method of interaction with the Windows desktop. Microsoft tried it ten years ago with Windows XP, it tried with Vista and 7 and it had one last go on Windows 8 before giving up.
This does remove one of the best features of these Windows tablets though – hook it up to a HDMI monitor, sync up a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard and do work that you’d normally do on a desktop from anywhere. Intel’s Bay Trail processors are incredibly capable chips and it’s quite possible for some people to buy something like the ASUS Transformer Book to do the same work you once did on your netbook and plug it into a USB 3.0 hub to turn it into a very small desktop computer.
Removing the desktop on these mobile devices opens up the possibility of instead having Microsoft promote mobile-centric versions of Office as well as their OneDrive service. You can still multi-task between apps thanks to the snap functionality inside modern UI, so you’re not locked to doing one thing only. This might push the Windows team to work more on touch-friendly versions of Microsoft Office and it’d be a much more capable note-taking device if you have a full-screen version of OneNote along with a full-screen file manager.
Windows 9 is set for a 2015 release and there might be a early consumer or developer preview available later this year to give people a better idea of what Microsoft is planning for the future.