Skip navigation

A Tale of Two UIs: Complex and Full-Featured vs. Simple and Easy

In the wake of Microsoft's recent discussion about the newly ribbonized Windows Explorer UI in Windows 8, I've received a lot of email from readers who aren't too thrilled with this direction. (And a few, to be fair, who are.) I'd like to make two points about this.

First, the Windows Explorer UI in Windows 8 is a secondary, legacy UI, based on the deemphasized Windows desktop, and will largely be used only by Luddites (those who can't stand progress and won't even look at the Metro-like Start Screen) and those who need to use occasional legacy applications. That Microsoft is evening refurbishing this part of Windows is pretty interesting, when you think about it. But as Microsoft noted just today, Windows 8 will have twin UIs, one a reimagining of Windows (Start Screen), one a "no compromise" UI with backwards compatibility (Windows desktop).

This isn't ideal, in my opinion, but it does give Microsoft a way to handle two very disparate user groups: So-called powers users, who demand every single widget and control possible, and the more common average users, who just want a streamlined, simple environment.

The changes Microsoft is making to Explorer are largely for the power users, the types of people who will continue to live in the old desktop regardless of whatever wonderfulness appears in the Start Screen. And for those users who are unfamiliar with Explorer, admit it: This UI, ugly as it is, will help them find what they need. Eventually.

This all suggests that complaints about the ribbon UI (as in this post) are somewhat shortsighted. Yes, including my own.

Second, people who do complain about this new UI are still on to something. And that's because, regardless of what you think about the mass of buttons seen in the Explorer ribbon, it's not touch friendly in the slightest. And yet here we are, rocketing to a future of touch-first interfaces, as Microsoft calls them, and instead of creating something that would work for everyone--which is, by the way, what I think is so genius about the Start Screen--Microsoft is still creating UIs that only work for people that aren't using touch.

Look at this thing: How the heck could anyone actually tap the Cut, Copy Path, or any of the other smaller commands shown here? Answer: They can't. Those onscreen elements are too small. (And as you can see, this shot was taken with display scaling set to Larger.)


The other day, I compared the Windows 8 Explorer to the Finder in Mac OS X Lion. But just today, we see the release of another app, this time for Google, that follows the type of simplicity trends one would expect of this post-PC/PC-plus era: Offline Gmail for Google Chrome. And no surprise here, but it's based on the web version of Gmail for the iPad, with a super-simple UI and touch-friendly onscreen controls.


This is exactly the type of UI Microsoft should be building for Windows 8. And heck, maybe they are. But if so, they certainly haven't shown it yet. I haven't lost faith that they'll get this right. But as with the developer stuff (will they or won't they continue to support Silverlight?), I have to admit I'm wondering.

Update: Looks like Amazon is getting into the simplification game too. Check out their web site redesign:

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.