Develop Metro apps? Say no to this con

Microsoft says Windows 8 will be a bonanza for developers. Who does it think it's kidding?

Microsoft says Windows 8 will offer exciting new opportunities for software developers. Don't believe it.

Windows 8's main attraction is Metro, the new touch-centric UI that replaces the Start menu. Rather than the Start menu's static launch icons, Metro offers fully interactive apps that work much like smartphone apps. Independent developers will be able to build Metro apps using a combination of HTML5 and .Net technologies, then sell them via the Windows Store.

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The inspiration for Metro is obvious. The app craze that began with the iPhone has helped make Apple the most valuable company in the world, and Microsoft wants a piece of that action. Metro is Microsoft's attempt to wed the iOS business model with Windows' dominance of the PC desktop.

Unfortunately, it won't work. It was a cynical idea from the start, and it's now clear that for all the effort that Microsoft has invested, Metro is a disaster. It's not worth developers' time.

Users don't like Metro
Developers got their first taste of Metro with the Windows 8 Developer Preview last year. Now the Consumer Preview has made it available to everyone, and its reception has been cool, to say the least.

Microsoft says Metro is "fast and fluid." As often as I see those words repeated -- in press releases, brochures, and documentation -- I still don't know what they mean.

Reviewers tend to parrot them, too, but with much less enthusiasm. In fact, early reactions to Windows 8 seem mostly negative. Die-hard Windows users are among its harshest critics. InfoWorld's own J. Peter Bruzzese calls it "Windows Frankenstein." Metro, he says, is "maddening."

I share his aggravation. Windows 8 is neither fish nor fowl. Microsoft wants Metro to be a unified UI for PCs, smartphones, and tablets, but these are all very different things. The result is a twisted chimera of an OS that can't decide whether it wants to frustrate, annoy, or interfere.

Lightweight apps are great for smartphones because smartphones are mobile devices. PCs have an entirely different usage model. You don't expect to use a PC in a bus shelter, in a restaurant, or on an escalator. You don't need to control a PC with one hand while holding an umbrella in the other.

It follows that smartphone app UIs are tailored to the devices they run on. A smartphone's primary input device is a tiny touchscreen. Big icons and easy controls cater to that. But on a PC equipped with a 22-inch monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard, you don't need to simplify the UI to such a degree. Metro forces the PC usage model to cater to the UI, rather than the other way around.

Touchscreens aren't likely to catch on for PCs, either. They're not helpful for the office desktop. They're more like repetitive strain injuries waiting to happen. Why force us to use a touch-centric UI on devices that don't need one?

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