After upgrading to Windows 8 on my main computer and utilising Windows 8 on review-sample laptop computers, I had a good chance to use the classic Desktop user interface along with the newer Modern user interface for a lot of computing needs.
What I had found was that each of the “views” appealed to different tasks and working conditions. For example, I could use the Desktop View for applications that required detailed work and were more mouse / keyboard focused. This is although I had used the touchscreen with this interface for coarse navigation tasks like selecting functions on a toolbar or hyperlinks on a Webpage.
The Modern view, previously known as the Metro view, came in handy when I wanted a simpler user experience for the task like viewing a PDF or photograph. Even using Skype or Facebook with the Modern View gave that “dashboard” look which has everything at a glance, This worked well with the mouse on my main computer and with touchscreen setups on suitably-equipped laptops but was a bit of a pain when using just the trackpad on laptops that didn’t come with a touchscreen.
Windows 8.1 Update 1 has integrated Modern UI apps and Desktop apps into the Desktop user interface by allowing users to pin the Modern UI apps to the Desktop UI’s taskbar. This is augmented with the Modern UI apps also having a control strip that can be brought up to minimise or close these apps.
The current problem
The current problem with the way applications are written for Windows 8 is that two different programs need to be delivered by different channels if you want to perform the same function on both interfaces. Firstly, I would have to install one application through the traditional paths for a regular computer i.e. install it from a CD or other removeable medium or download it from the developer’s site and install that download file. Then, if I want to have the “full” Modern user experience, I would have to visit the Windows Store to download a separate app that exploits that interface.
How could we improve on this?
One direction that Microsoft could offer for this is to allow developers to deliver a Desktop and Modern UI package as part of a single Windows 8.1 application install package. Here, the user just installs this one package as one action and finds both a Desktop-view application and Modern-view application for the same task on their machine.
This could come in the form of separate apps for each of the user experiences or a monolith app that presents in one way for the simplified Modern user interface and another way for the detailed Desktop user interface. This could also cater for a “live tile” option to show always-updating data. The user then has the choice of seeing a simplified user interface that works well with the touchscreen or mouse-based operation or a detailed user interface.
There also has to be the ability to be assured of data continuity between both the Desktop view and the Modern view, which is important for a lot of tasks. Some tasks like VoIP or working on a document can play a difficult hand if you switch between views whereas other “read-only” tasks which relate to a common data source can play properly with a user-interface switch.
The only problem about this ideal is having the ability for a user to determine the view they want to run because it is possible for a Desktop-view app launched from the (Modern-view) Start Screen. Similarly, from Windows 8.1 Update 1, it is possible to put a Modern-view Windows Store app on the Taskbar and launch it from there.
If Microsoft could provide a single-install single-update experience for those of us who run Windows 8 and newer operating systems, this could encourage software developers to work the Modern UI as a clean “dashboard” user experience while the regular Desktop view serves as a “detailed” user experience for those of us who want more control.
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