Monday, April 29, 2013

Microsoft's "Modern UI" Failure

What if they created a new User Interface paradigm and nobody cared? What if "they" were Microsoft?

As I've talked about in previous posts, the new Modern UI (formerly called Metro) that Microsoft has made part of their latest operating system has widely been panned by the Tech industry. It's also getting ignored by most consumers and businesses. The general consensus is that the new interface is fixing problems nobody is having. Why has Microsoft insisted on making the new Modern UI such a priority? Because they see it as a bridge to get people to try the interface and if they become comfortable enough, they might also like to try other devices using the same UI. In other words Windows Phone 8 and the new Surface line of tablets.

I've said it before, but analysts seem to agree, the new OS is not selling well. Several of Microsoft's long time partners have poo-pooed the new OS because they believe it has lead to a sharp decline in Personal Computer sales.

There are a lot of reasons that people dislike the new OS, including the fact that they completely eliminated the "Start Menu" and made it nearly impossible for users to avoid using the new UI if they prefer the traditional desktop. I wrote about the problem and rumor's of Microsoft's half-hearted fix to the problem last week.

But there are a lot of other reasons that Microsoft has had a hard time selling the new UI. Chief among them is the new Modern UI applications that Microsoft released when they released Windows 8. If you were one of the few to upgrade to Windows 8 last year, you probably were left wondering if the new applications were bad by design or if they were merely unfinished.

For example, the Mail application didn't allow you to select multiple messages to delete or move. In fact, there were no Folders in the Mail application at all, making it impossible to properly organize your Inbox. For people who had used free email clients from Microsoft in the past (meaning Outlook Express) the new Mail app delivered with Windows 8 felt extremely limited. That was just one example.

Microsoft has since released a set of updates to many of the Modern UI applications through their new Windows Store, but in some cases the "updates" removed functionality. For instance, the Calendar application lost the ability to sync with Google Calendar, leaving thousands of new Windows 8 users with no alternative except to try third party solutions.

And lets face it, the third party applications available from the Windows Store are very hit and miss. Mostly miss. A survey of most of the reviews in the Windows Store leads one to believe that developers aren't convinced that the new Modern UI is going to be viable long term.

Microsoft is the company that has always prided itself for having the best developers and the best catalog of third party and in-house applications for their Operating systems, so the situation with Windows 8 is doubly confounding. It seems amazing that a company with the internal resources and a list of the best ISV's on earth has found itself in such a situation.

Microsoft has placed a big bet on their flagship OS by stating to developers and customers alike that the new UI is the future of the OS. That they have done such a shoddy job of implementing the applications most people will use first after an OS upgrade speaks volumes about the lack of direction the company has had in recent years.

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