Windows 8.1, the final product draws ever nearer. Originally introduced to the world as Windows Blue in March the preview is now available for download while the final release should happen in Q4.
With the new Blue version of Window’s comes the return of the start button and the ability to boot to the desktop. Has the behemoth responded to the public outcry caused by their attempt to diminish the desktop?
This isn’t the only recent case of Microsoft buckling to public pressure, their back-down on the Xbox One’s always on requirement and removing the ban on second hand software were no small victories for the public. Initially Microsoft fell into old habits, with executive Don Mattrick publicly stating if you don’t have the internet, required for the always connected One, then buy an Xbox 360. Still they did come round eventually.
It may have been the preoccupation with tiles or it may have been a strategic decision to transition away from the desktop that caused Microsoft to miss so many opportunities. Opportunities to create the next generation desktop during the shift from Windows 7 to 8. Instead, as many have noticed, the desktop took a slight step backwards.
Possibly the greatest of all missed opportunities has to be bringing the desktop to life, applying the new live philosophy of the tiles to the desktop. Windows 8’s Metro interface took static icons and turned them into active tiles, the major shift here being active or live not the tile layout.
This same live shift can equally be applied to the desktop, and it would be spectacular. The icon’s themselves would become far more widget like, showing simple stats related to that app. The icon could also take on tile like properties if they were allowed to be re-sized.
You’re Facebook or Twitter widget icons could show varying amounts of information depending on the size of the icon. Small icons might only show a count of new posts while an extremely large icon could show the latest 5 posts and who’s online.
An enhanced Show Desktop function is also well overdue and would complement the new widget icons. By hovering the mouse over Show Desktop (or holding down on touch screens) fades out all open apps and moves forward all of the live desktop widget icons, making the desktop active but with all the open apps as the background. Move off the Show Desktop area and the desktop fades out and apps return.
Window 7 saw the introduction of very handy window snap functions, this was extended to the tiles in Window’s 8 . This type of Window layout control would also make working in a windowed environment far more convenient. Snap memory would have been nice so that if certain combinations of apps are open they are automatically snapped together in a per-defined layout.
Running Metro apps in a window on the desktop may seem counter-intuitive if your aim is to let the desktop fade away, but it is an option that has to happen.
There may be many reasons that Microsoft lost faith in the desktop; the overwhelming growth of alternative computing devices, the legal beating they took at the hands of various governments, both valid possibilities. But they were mistaken, the desktop will never fade away. It may not be as natural as a touch screen tablet to use but it is far more efficient, especially for complex tasks such as software development.
Thankfully Microsoft does seem to slowly be realizing that the desktop is still relevant. Many people still consider it the ultimate interface for desktop computers and laptops, especially for complex tasks that require many apps and windows open simultaneously. Hopefully Windows 8.1 will just be the beginning of a revitalized desktop.
Like watching an elephant learn to dance, we watch Microsoft search for relevance in a new touch sensitive world. Can Microsoft perfect their giant sized soft shoe shuffle or will they trip over their large elephant feet?
Reference: Microsoft Windows 8.1 Preview