Will Windows 8 be the Windows Desktop's last hurrah?

I've put the Windows 8 Developer Preview through its paces, and thee most exciting thing about it, by far, is the new tile-based Metro interface. Even on a PC, the Windows Desktop seems at best an afterthought. Could Windows 8 be the Desktop's last hurrah?

As I write in my initial Computerworld review First Look: The two faces of Windows 8 Developer Preview, when you boot into Windows 8 on a PC, you're presented with what Microsoft calls the Metro interface, a Windows 7-like tiled interface in which big tiles do double-duty as app launchers, and for delivering changing information, such as news, weather, stock information, and social networking updates.

Where, you'll find yourself wondering, is the traditional Windows Desktop? It's hiding in plain sight, available as just another app. Most tiles are solid-colored with large icons on them and draw attention to themselves. The Desktop tile is light blue colored, with no icon, and just the words Desktop on it. It practically begs you to ignore it.

Click it, and you get sent to what looks very much like the Windows 7 Desktop, complete with Taskbar, notification area, and so on. There are some changes, such as essentially killing the Start button, which now is used primarily to jump you back to the main Metro screen. When you want to change settings on the Desktop, rather than seeing the traditional Control Panel, panes slide into view from the right, and these panels look more like Metro than they do like the traditioanl Desktop design.

Microsoft has done very little work on the Desktop so far in Windows 8. All of its attention and creativity has been lavished on the Metro interface. There's good reason for that. The Metro interface screams out to be touched, for you to swipe it to see more tiles, to tap apps to launch them. It's very much designed for mobile devices, and mobile devices are the future.

Spurred on by Windows 8 and Metro, I wouldn't be surprised to see future desktop and laptop PCs come standard with touch screens, finally ushering in the era of touch-based desktop computing. At that point, expect the Windows Desktop to become a relic. It may remain hidden away somewhere, but little used.

For now, you'll still use the Windows Desktop in PCs when you use Windows 8. But by the time Windows 9 comes around, the Windows Desktop may nearly vanish from view.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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