Microsoft has been evolving its vision for a modern operating system UI since Windows 8 was originally announced in 2011. Today we can see more clearly the flaws in the original design. Microsoft has added function to touch first UI as well as incorporating the keyboard and mouse into the modern environment. This, however, has not been enough. Some UI elements and usage cases are still not optimized for their users.
With Windows 9, Microsoft is continuing their evolution of user experience. Some officially released and leaked changes involve a different start experience, windowed modern apps, a removal of the charms bar, and a merge of Windows Phone and Windows RT. Microsoft seems to be backing away from the idea of two separate UI elements for touch and keyboard/mouse. UI elements which do not work for both input methods will have to be changed, or removed all together.
Some of these changes are obviously an appeal to users of traditional desktop keyboard and mouse computers. The scaled, non-full screen start experience in Windows 9 should help users without a start menu work the new operating system with little retraining. Windowed modern apps serves a dual purpose. First these apps will work more naturally next to other x86/64 programs opening up a larger market for app developers. Also users migrating from Windows XP, Vista, or 7 are used to programs on a desktop behaving a certain way, and by not changing that, users should feel more comfortable.
So what is happening to touch? With all this talk of keyboard and mouse improvements, users of touch first devices running Windows may be getting worried; has Microsoft forgotten about them? Not at all, in fact it would seem Microsoft is making Windows 9 to work best in any usage case, even new ones. Windows 8 ushered in the era of hybrid devices. Traditional laptops with touch screens offer a new usage case where users are using touch, mouse, and keyboard all together to navigate their operating system. This provides a unique challenge to Microsoft which needs to be addressed in Windows 9.
How are they going to do this? No one knows for sure how Microsoft plans to span the range of device types within the Windows ecosystem, but Microsoft has been dropping some hints, and following some trends. The first of these hints is universal apps. Apps which can run on phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops. This means Microsoft can focus their engineering resources on a single application and target their entire user base. The best example of this is Office Gemini. Microsoft will be able to develop this version and push features as well as functionality to all devices running a Microsoft operating system. It may also be feasible that Microsoft is planning on unifying their tools on Windows. No need to have two sound recorders, and two calculators, and two control panels, and two file explorers. Having a single app on all platforms encourages companies to buy into the Windows ecosystem to save on training, and to simplify their device portfolio.
Another way Microsoft is planning to unify their user experience is to make all UI elements touch, keyboard, and mouse friendly. This trend has been observed slightly in Windows 8.1 Update 1. In this update, Microsoft added elements to make using Metro with a mouse not so bad. Not all elements were fixed, such as using the Charms and full screen Start. With all of the news of changed UI in Windows 9, a common theme is the mention of users being able to choose how their system reacts and behaves. Windows 8.1 saw some of this customizability with the boot to desktop option. Microsoft may be going much further though. Allowing users to choose how the start experience is handled, and allowing modern apps to be windowed.
Now knowing what we know about how Windows has changed and how the Windows team is working very closely with the Windows Phone team, how might the UI in Windows 9 look? Here is a possible concept we worked up:
What do you think about Windows 9? What will the UI be like? Do you like the direction Microsoft seems to to be taking? Let us know in the comments below!Further reading: Microsoft, Threshold, Windows 9