Windows 8's new UI: A return to Flatland

In an amazing reversal, Microsoft intends to remove all vestiges of Vista's 'dated and cheesy' Aero interface in favor of a flat look

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UI design elements come and go, but I can't ever recall seeing this kind of sweeping change between the release candidate and final version in any major product. I don't buy the "Metro aesthetic" argument. I believe Harris hit the nail on the head earlier in his discourse, at about the 4,000- and 6,500-word marks, where he lists seven goals for the Windows 8 user experience, including "Long battery life" and "Make your PC work like a device, not a computer." Both goals would argue against the "dated and cheesy" Aero -- those are his words, not mine -- and in favor of a boxy retro Metro interface.

After all, Aero Glass has long been derided for excessive battery drain, though the exact amount of battery drain seems to vary depending on who's doing the testing. Computerworld's Gregg Keizer reported five years ago that Microsoft acknowledged the battery-draining propensities of the Aero Glass interface, quoting Vista program manager Nick White as saying, "The Aero theme drives the GPU [graphics processing unit] harder and therefore uses more power, but in the big picture, it's really not that much more ... in our testing we've seen that turning on Aero consumes only about 1 to 4 percent more of battery life. ... In terms of making your battery last longer, turning off Aero will not go very far." There was a lot of finger-pointing at the time and, best I can tell, no definitive resolution to the question.

But it makes me wonder if Microsoft tested Aero with Windows RT, the ARM devices' version of Windows 8's Metro portion, realized that the battery drain was too great, then decided to get rid of Aero Glass on Windows 8 itself. That way, Windows RT customers wouldn't feel that they'd been cheated out of an important feature -- you know, like those "Vista Capable" customers who sued.

Nothing else makes sense. Both Vista and Windows 7 laptops shipped with power schemes that shifted from Aero Glass to a basic theme when the machine was unplugged. (The primary Vista and Windows 7 basic theme is remarkably similar to this new, unnamed retro Metro scheme.) Not all laptop manufacturers caught on to the trick, but the big ones set the power schemes correctly. The Aerofoil app performs the same function for both Vista and Windows 7. Why couldn't Microsoft just make power switching part of the "Designed for Windows 8" spec or buy Aerofoil? That way, desktop users could keep Aero, laptop users could have it when they're plugged in, and tablet/Windows RT customers would never know the difference.

During last quarter's Apple earnings call, CEO Tim Cook cracked wise, "You can converge a toaster and a fridge, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user." I'm reminded of Chevy Chase's pitch, "New Shimmer is a floor wax and a dessert topping!"

We're down to the wire, and it's time for Microsoft to make up its mind: Are we looking at a floor wax or a dessert topping?

This story, "Windows 8's new UI: A return to Flatland," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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