In an interesting bit of history rewriting, a Microsoftie has now retroactively explained that Microsoft simply had to make Windows 8 and its touch-based "Metro" environment ... so that it could then make the desktop better than ever. It's a nice story, and should make power users feel a bit better about the future. But it's also contrary to the available evidence, not to mention everything I've heard from high-placed insiders at the company.
The irony? Thanks to the terrible reaction to Metro, Microsoft is now going down a path to fulfill that fantasy. But this wasn't the original plan, sorry.
Anyway, here's the new version of why Microsoft supposedly slapped Metro and the Windows desktop together in such an unholy and unnatural way.
Once upon a time ... Sorry, sorry.
This week on Reddit, a Microsoft user experience designer named Jacob Miller explained that, contrary to popular belief, the Metro environment in Windows 8 is not a reaction to the touch-centric mobile computing devices that are now eating Windows's lunch. Instead, Microsoft created Metro because the desktop environment wasn't dynamic enough to meet the needs of casual users (content consumers) and power users (content creators).
"Before Windows 8 and Metro came along, power users and casual users had to share the same space," he wrote. "It was like a rented tuxedo coat - something that somewhat fit a wide variety of people. It wasn't tailored, because any aggressive tailoring would make it fit one person great, but would have others pulling at the buttons. Whatever feature we wanted to add into Windows, it had to be something that was simple enough for casual users to not get confused with, but also not dumbed down enough to be useless to power users. Many, MANY features got cut because of this."
He cites multiple desktops as an example. I would cite the fact that the other major platform makers simply created a separate user experience for this reason, such as Apple, which makes Macs (power users) and iPads (casual users). But Microsoft instead created "separate playgrounds" for these two user groups in one OS. "All the casual users would have their own new and shiny place to look at pictures of cats – Metro," he explained. "The power users would then have free reign over their native domain - the desktop."
So he doesn't actually explain why this had to be done in one OS. But let's examine two more areas, which get progressively more hilarious. First, why make Metro the default? And second, does the arrival of Metro actually mean that the desktop can now get better for power users too?
"The short answer [to why Metro is the default] is because casual users don't go exploring," he explains. "If we made desktop the default as it has always been, and included a nice little start menu that felt like home, the casual users would never have migrated to their land of milk and honey. They would still occupy the desktop just as they always had, and we would have been stuck in square one. So we forced it upon them. We drove them to it with goads in their sides. In 8.1, we softened the points on the goads by giving users an option to boot directly to desktop."
Reality check. Microsoft's most important customer group is business users, and businesses require as few UX changes as possible to save retraining costs. Microsoft pushing Metro on everyone was categorically stupid.
"Now that the casual users are aware of their new pasture, we can start tailoring," he says, and this where the history rewriting really gets fun. "It will be a while before the power users start seeing the benefits of this (that's why I said they'd benefit in the long run). Right now we still have a lot of work to do on making Metro seem tasty for those casual users, and that's going to divert our attention for a while. But once it's purring along smoothly, we'll start making the desktop more advanced. We'll add things that we couldn't before. Things will be faster, more advanced, and craftier than they have in the past - and that's why Metro is good for power users."
Now that one is sure to get desktop PC users fist-pumping and cheering. And I get that. There's just one problem. That was never actually the plan. It may be—should be—the plan now, given how customers have universally trashed Windows 8. But it was not the plan. Microsoft was pushing the desktop out with the trash. If it is no longer doing so, well cheers. But that is something new, not part of some long-term plan.
And you don't have to get too far into the Reddit thing to see people calling Miller out on the nonsensical nature of Microsoft forcing a Fisher Price UI on power users and then claiming retroactively that it was all in their best interests. "Metro exists so the desktop can thrive as a professional environment," he claims: Don't worry guys, we were thinking about you all along.
Sure you were.
It also doesn't explain why the frick Windows Server was changed to accommodate this silly new UI that this guy insists was made entirely for casual users.
There is only one explanation for the inconsistencies here. This story is bunk.
But here is the good news. It doesn't matter. After watching its customer base collectively throw a hissy-fit over Windows 8, Microsoft is fixing it. And if we get a better desktop environment out of this—in Windows 9 or whatever—then you know what? Great. Just great.