We thought it would be good to take a moment to talk about where we are heading in terms of the user interface of Windows 8.

By now you've seen two different elements of the Windows 8 design—first, a Metro style user interface we showed previously and in a video seen by millions of folks. And recently, we have described in this blog some of the enhancements we’re making to familiar Windows desktop tools such as Explorer and the copy file dialog. We’ve seen a lot of dialog about these changes.

Some of you are probably wondering how these parts work together to create a harmonious experience. Are there two user interfaces? Why not move on to a Metro style experience everywhere? On the other hand, others have been suggesting that Metro is only for tablets and touch, and we should avoid “dumbing down” Windows 8 with that design.

This is a balancing act, and one we’ll be talking quite a lot about in this blog in the coming months. Having both of user interfaces together harmoniously is an important part of Windows 8. As a starting point for the discussion, here is how we approached the design of Windows 8 from the very beginning. 

We started planning Windows 8 during the summer of 2009 (before Windows 7 shipped). From the start, our approach has been to reimagine Windows, and to be open to revisiting even the most basic elements of the user model, the platform and APIs, and the architectures we support.  Our goal was a no compromise design.

This is an ambitious undertaking—it involves tools, APIs, languages, UI conventions, and even some of the most basic assumptions about a PC. For example, how do you isolate applications from each other, or prevent applications from stealing all your battery power? How can installing (and removing) apps be as quick and painless as changing the channel on the TV? How do you attract the broadest set of developers possible to a new platform? How do you build a touch-first interface with a unique point of view?

When we showed the first demos of Windows 8, we introduced our new Metro experience—fast and fluid, immersive, beautiful, and app-centric. We are certain that as we show you more in the coming months you will see just how deeply we have reimagined Windows.  Metro style is much more than the visual design as we shall see.

Image showing the Metro UI with the word "Start", and several tiles representing different apps in Windows 8.

At the same time, we recognized that Windows 7 has been a huge success. Not just as measured by sales figures or by the number of people using it, but also by the depth of usage. Hundreds of millions of people rely on the Windows 7 UI and existing Windows apps and devices every day, and would value (and expect) us to bring forward aspects of that experience to their next PCs. 

In this light, the role of the Windows desktop is clear. It powers the hundreds of thousands of existing apps that people rely on today, a vast array of business software, and provides a level of precision and control that is essential for certain tasks. The things that people do today on PCs don’t suddenly go away just because there are new Metro style apps. The mechanisms that people rely on today (mice, physical keyboards, trackpads) don’t suddenly become less useful or “bad” just because touch is also provided as a first-class option. These tools are quite often the most ergonomic, fast, and powerful ways of getting many things done.

We knew as we designed the Windows 8 UI that you can’t just flip a bit overnight and turn all of that history into something new. In fact, that is exactly what some people are afraid of us doing. Some have said that is the only path to take. Yet, even those who have fully embraced tablets also own a laptop for those times when they need more precise control or need to use one of the apps that are mission critical (and are still being developed). In people’s desire not to carry around two different devices, “remote desktop” programs for tablets and phones have become popular but extremely awkward attempts to harness the usefulness of the Windows 7 desktop within a new form factor.

Why not just start over from scratch? Why not just remove all of the desktop features and only ship the Metro experience? Why not "convert" everything to Metro?  The arguments for a “clean slate” are well known, both for and against. We chose to take the approach of building a design without compromise. A design that truly affords you the best of the two worlds we see today. Our perspective rests on the foundation of the open PC architecture that has proven flexible and adaptable over many significant changes in hardware capabilities and software paradigms.  This is the flexibility that has served as a cornerstone through transitions in user interface, connectivity, programming models, and hardware capabilities (to name a few).

We believe there is room for a more elegant, perhaps a more nuanced, approach. You get a beautiful, fast and fluid, Metro style interface and a huge variety of new apps to use. These applications have new attributes (a platform) that go well beyond the graphical styling (much to come on this at Build).  As we showed, you get an amazing touch experience, and also one that works with mouse, trackpad, and keyboard. And if you want to stay permanently immersed in that Metro world, you will never see the desktop—we won’t even load it (literally the code will not be loaded) unless you explicitly choose to go there!  This is Windows reimagined.

But if you do see value in the desktop experience—in precise control, in powerful windowing and file management, in compatibility with hundreds of thousands of existing programs and devices, in support of your business software, those capabilities are right at your fingertips as well. You don’t need to change to a different device if you want to edit photos or movies professionally, create documents for your job or school, manage a large corpus of media or data, or get done the infinite number of things people do with a PC today. And if you don’t want to do any of those “PC” things, then you don’t have to and you’re not paying for them in memory, battery life, or hardware requirements.  If you do want or need this functionality, then you can switch to it with ease and fluidity because Windows is right there. Essentially, you can think of the Windows desktop as just another app. 

Windows 8 brings together all the power and flexibility you have in your PC today with the ability to immerse yourself in a Metro style experience. You don’t have to compromise! You carry one device that does everything you want and need.  You can connect that device to peripherals you want to use. You can use devices designed to dock to large screen displays and other peripherals.  You can use convertible devices that can be both immersive tablets and flexible laptops.

Which brings us back to the improvements we’re making to the desktop experience: we believe in the Windows desktop. It powers the experiences today that make a Windows 7 PC the most popular device in the world. So, even if we believe that over time many scenarios will be well-served by Metro style apps, for the foreseeable future, the desktop is going to continue to play a key role in many people’s lives. So we are going to improve it. We’re having a good dialog about what folks might think about our design choices but also wanted to put these choices in a broader context of the unmatched utility of the desktop.

Our design goal was clear: no compromises. If you want to, you can seamlessly switch between Metro style apps and the improved Windows desktop. Existing apps, devices, and tools all remain and are improved in Windows 8. On the other hand, if you prefer to immerse yourself in only Metro style apps (and platform) and the new user experience, you can do that as well!  Developers can target the APIs that make sense for the software they wish to deliver.  People can debate how much they need or don't need different aspects of the product, but that has always been the case.  All of this is made possible by the flexibility of Windows. 

This is just the beginning of the discussion. There’s so much more to talk about as we dive into details about the Windows 8 UI. We’re delivering a whole new experience, reimagined from the chips all the way to the user experience, to enable new scenarios, new apps, and new ways of using a PC. 

--Steven