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CharlotteTheHarlot

User Interface Devolution thanks to Windows 8 and Metro

7 posts in this topic

( this will be a picture heavy thread so I enclosed most in SPOILER tags to hopefully not kill the page load performance! )

Windows 8 and Metro has only succeeded in one identifiable area - the dumbing down of user interfaces to newer, lower levels. Thing is, they're not being creative at all ( sorry Jensen Harris ). Their level of aesthetic creativity and utilitarianism lies somewhere between the computer BIOS interfaces of the past and the newer UEFI versions. OEMs have always had the better ideas though, and although they only recently updated visuals in the BIOS to nicer menus, they managed to do this WITHOUT destroying functionality. One thing has always been true, and that is that computer BIOS options have been truly utilitarian ( save for the highly restricted versions on some motherboards for bottom end computers, ~cough~ Intel ).

El9PjwK.jpgoCiVDAk.jpg

Actually, almost any BIOS screen is far more interesting than Windows 8 and Metro. ( originals: 1, 2 )

Microsoft has not only disregarded aesthetics in the name of "hiding the chrome" and "getting out of the way of content", they intentionally limited themselves to the tiny toolbox of HTML and CSS. I wish I was present at those design decision meetings where some genius said "Hey, I think we should use webpages for everything!", and presumably other geniuses agreed. It seems to have been in their plans for a long time too, going at least as far back as Windows 98 with those unimpressive "channels" and the poorly implemented active desktop ( 'sorry, you can't use this JPG as your wallpaper without first turning on ...' ). HTML and its later CSS additions were clearly designed for the low bandwidth era, environments such as fetching webpages and images from a remote server through a tiny pipe at a few KB per second maximum. It was not meant to be the programmer toolkit for broadband environments, let alone completely local environments with hundreds of MBs to GBs per second throughput. So, on a local computer with its huge amount of available horsepower Microsoft gives us a 10 to 15 year old level of creativity ...

JH0SgnA.jpg

Just what I wanted, a webpage that configures my 4 GHz Core i7 uber-GPU and SSD powered computer! ( original )

On the other hand, the consumer electronics industry, never known for being intentionally user-friendly or aesthetically pleasing, moved forward thanks to intense competition and leap-frogged Microsoft with advancements in both style and substance ...

Kj0q3Rk.jpg

Note the blatant ripoff by Metro of menu elements seen in the above photo. ( original )

Modern TV's, cameras, DVR's and other devices all have more pleasing and usable interfaces. What Microsoft is really doing is poorly copying the user interfaces found on countless consumer electronics, and really failing at that. Many more examples of common firmware menu navigation are easily found in Google Images ...

rRCImG8.jpg

Bx8FE2H.jpg

pe8yKCd.jpg

iYFYUYz.jpgMILKpd6.jpg

( originals: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 )

So truth be told, there is no groundbreaking creativity at Microsoft. Windows 8 and Metro are poor knock-offs of what is already found in the firmware of common consumer electronics, but further dumbed down because of the ridiculous need to make everything a webpage. A quick glance at Google Images for fancy webpages will turn up countless examples that meet or exceed Windows 8 and Metro on all fronts. Even blogs and forums have better skin selection.

I've long said that with respect to creativity and aesthetics Microsoft has just breezed through the past couple of decades without even noticing what others have long been doing with OpenGL and Direct-X. Just from 1996 to 1999 we saw Quake 1 to Quake 3 Arena and Unreal I to UT and their exploiting transparent drop-down consoles, superimposed menus, status screens and HUDs. Meanwhile Windows moved at a snail's pace from Windows 95 to 98se. It was at this time I began thinking they should be working toward a compartmentalized GUI using a "game engine" type strategy in which visual output could evolve independently of the other core operating system functions like input, file systems, networking and kernel logic. Here are some quickly found images during the Windows 9x era, and these standard visuals were routinely surpassed by independent work done by modders ...

DLeQi7q.jpg

OVRpDgC.jpgh5fP92V.jpg

Wf7GOK8.jpg

( originals: 1, 2, 3, 4 )

Clearly the transparent Windows 6.x taskbar and "chrome" concept was already long used as part of the HUD in these games, and their drop-down "~" console still is more visually appealing than the neutered CMD console today. More importantly, transparent menus, status screens and other GUI elements were implemented not for style, but instead to avoid hiding on-screen action. This lesson was learned and then quickly forgotten by Microsoft when they killed Aero Glass and it highlights yet another reason it is plain stupid to remove an unobtrusive and collapsible Start Menu. It sure would have been great if Epic or John Carmack had side-projects programming an operating system interface!

But besides FPS games, there were even more clues around for Microsoft. Utilizing 3D in a GUI as an integral part of visualizing data objects was well underway and already visible to programmers, endusers and even Hollywood. How could they have missed this obvious clue in 1993 ...

JjneGax.jpgmCm5Go2.jpg

( originals: 1, 2 )

Not only was that actually real, but it was available to any users of that SGI system. That was exactly 20 years ago, while WinTel microcomputer users still suffered with PROGMAN under win3.x, and would continue suffering for at least two more years ( I'll leave LCARS from Star Trek TNG in 1987 out of it for the moment since it was only a prop, albeit an interesting and futuristic one that foretold the modern LCD appearance 15 years ahead of its time ). The eventual jump to Win95 gave us the possibility of a customizeable GUI, and to some degree it occurred with 3rd party themes and a few rare replacement shells, but the underlying graphics engine design was going nowhere. I guess I had higher hopes than most people of this era.

Anyway, by rights we should by now have any and all object types and styles with an infinite array of transitional effects available to the enduser as selectable and configureable visuals. We should be able to navigate smoothly through a 3D interface designed to visualize the enormous amount of data objects we have accumulated. Instead, after more three decades Microsoft only last year first used the concept of pinch and zoom for the most minor of navigational enhancements, the shrinking or growing of desktop tiles on their putrid Metro interface. I could show some examples of 3rd party tools, mostly file managers that utilized some 3D elements or desktop decorations that used animated wallpaper and similar advancements, all of which far exceeded the bland Explorer concept, but I have surpassed the picture limit for this one post! We'll come back to this later.

So let's dig up some other screenshots of interesting and useful GUIs and post them here and maybe Microsoft will learn something ( but I'm not holding my breath ).

EDIT: updated image URLs, and again

Edited by CharlotteTheHarlot
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These on and off buttons are absolutely horrible. The first time I saw them, I didn't know how to operate them frankly. They are way too flat so you don't get the switch feeling from them at all. Not to mention the scrollbar which auto hides. You never know where you are unless you actually scroll. So so so annoying.

Why isn't Steve Ballmer fired? The entire design team should be fired! Surely there are far more creative ways to make switches, gUIs and such?

There is something really wrong here, it's as if they WANT this to be unusable and ugly. As if they WANT it to fail.

I mean, they can't be THIS stupid... can they? Common sense seems to be not that common after all.

Edited by NonHic
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These on and off buttons are absolutely horrible. The first time I saw them, I didn't know how to operate them frankly. They are way too flat so you don't get the switch feeling from them at all. Not to mention the scrollbar which auto hides. You never know where you are unless you actually scroll. So so so annoying.

It is ironic that the Metro side of Windows 8 is such an obvious ripoff of consumer electronics firmware, as were its predecessors in Xbox and MCE. If they felt like it, they could simply bottle it up like Windows CE and sell it on EPROM chips. Well, if they could get smaller than the 15 or more GB it apparently uses on Surface RT.

The point is that this thing should have been a separate product SKU, not a hybrid. And for desktops all they needed to do was offer Metro as a downloaded update, carefully engineered to run in a sandbox and everyone would have been happy. The fact that they did not do it tells you all you need to know. They are becoming MicroApple and you are targeted to become iSheep mSheep..

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...The point is that this thing should have been a separate product SKU, not a hybrid. And for desktops all they needed to do was offer Metro as a downloaded update, carefully engineered to run in a sandbox and everyone would have been happy. The fact that they did not do it tells you all you need to know. They are becoming MicroApple and you are targeted to become iSheep mSheep..

Indeed sir, indeed! I'm sure in 10 years from now, we will look back at this messing around with the Windows brand and forcing this metro crap as the reason which broke the camel's back.

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It is ironic that the Metro side of Windows 8 is such an obvious ripoff of consumer electronics firmware, as were its predecessors in Xbox and MCE.

That's probably the whole idea of what MSFT is doing with Metro/Win8: They're trying to turn our PCs into TVs.

Fantastic analysis in the OP, BTW. I suspect it hasn't generated more responses because it covers everything so well already.

--JorgeA

Edited by JorgeA
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