Windows 8, from an iPad user's view

Too many gestures spoil the soup

The Windows 8 demo from the All Things Digital conference left me kind of confused. More accurately, it left me thinking Microsoft is kind of confused. Perhaps most important, it left me thinking that most end users who pick a Windows 8 device are likely to be confused.

Don't get me wrong -- despite the fact that I primarily write about and work with Apple technology, I think Microsoft has a lot of good ideas going on in Windows 8. (It's worth noting that I said the same thing last fall about Windows Phone 7 as a potential iPhone rival.)

Let's recap the really good ideas that we've seen:

  • A new lock screen that displays basic information for the user, à la WP7.
  • A new live tile-based start screen (which in December I suggested should be part of Microsoft's tablet strategy).
  • Simple tools for application development -- Microsoft took an excellent page from webOS here in allowing HTML5 to be a development solution.
  • Unique gestures that haven't been implemented on any mobile platform thus far, particularly the snap gestures.
  • Easy access to the file system and network resources from the new touch-centric interface; I give Microsoft huge props here over Apple's file management, or lack thereof, in iOS.
  • New apps optimized for touch.

All of those are bold new initiatives for Microsoft in much the same way that Windows Phone 7 was. They're a complete rethinking and redesign of the way you interact with Windows. They make Windows 8 ideal as a tablet/mobile OS and could allow for crossover with Windows Phone 7 apps as well as the interface.

The fact that Windows 8's touch user interface borrows from Windows Phone 7 is very similar to the way Apple built the iPad's UI around the iPhones. It's also not unlike what Apple is doing with Mac OS X Lion in terms of bringing design elements and user experience lessons from a mobile OS to the desktop.

If I were to quibble about anything in the new touch-centric UI itself, I'd say there are two areas where Microsoft may be overreaching.

Too much gesturing?

First, the interface is gesture-intensive. By definition, all touch-based operating systems are -- to some extent. The problem is that Microsoft seems to be introducing too much gesture-only control. In addition to the usual tap, scroll, swipe and pinch that we've all become used to -- and which even toddlers can learn and master in minutes -- Microsoft is adding special gestures for system tasks.

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