Windows 8: Moving beyond Aero

Microsoft has spent a lot of time over the last few months showing off the new Metro user interface for Windows 8. This is a full screen UI designed for apps that are “chromeless,” meaning there are no title bars, borders, or other items surrounding them. They take up the full screen and look great on tablets, all-in-one PCs, and other touchscreen devices.

But now Microsoft has announced that the standard desktop user interface will also be overhauled for Windows 8. Microsoft is basically killing the Aero interface launched with Windows Vista and offering a simpler look and feel which takes up less screen real estate and uses fewer system resources.

Windows 8 desktop UI

The upcoming Windows 8 Release Preview won’t necessarily have all of the changes… but by the time Windows 8 launches to the public later this year Aero will be gone.

Microsoft is eliminating the glass effects, shadows, and reflections from toolbars and borders. Buttons don’t glow anymore. And the taskbar and windows now have squared edges rather than round.

On the one hand, the new look is more in keeping with the Metro style user interface. But at the same time, this feels a bit like a step back in time. The last version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system that used square edges by default was Windows 2000.

  • Somedude

    Excellent, I’m never a fan of eye candy on desktops. I’d rather use as much of the resources on the software I’m running. The less resources the OS uses, the better.

    • Ralph

      Even if the non-eyecandy UI takes more resources, I’d still use it over the useless 3D, glass, transparent, etc. effects. This goes with all OS’s I use.

      • Eh

        We must be in the minority. Just look at all the people wanting ultrabooks. That’s pretty much the definition of sacrificing functionality with eye candy.

      • CyberGusa

        No, that’s inaccurate…  Thinner and lighter is the general goal of laptops.  No one wants to carry a brick.  While portability isn’t only solvable by making increasingly smaller laptops as that too is a compromise on usability.

        They’re just limited by what the technology allows right now.  While Ultrabooks are a attempt to push those limits and expand the present usage range of laptops.

        So it’s mainly just a question of whether Ultrabooks are developed enough so that the compromise is good enough at this point but that varies per person and their needs.

        Meaning don’t assume people are choosing them on just their looks.

        However, the technology will eventually catch up with the idea, which will probably start happening next year with the Haswell update and Intel starts actually reaching their original design goals for Ultrabooks.

        While visual appeal is more a factor with software UI than hardware.  So it remains to be seen how most people will respond to the design changes MS is implementing but at least they’re responding to some of the initial complaints and that will hopefully lead to a much better end product.

      • SomeGuy

        Ya, most people are choosing ultrabooks on looks mostly.

      • Lazarus

         Exactly. I hope Microsoft doesn’t pull a GNOME 2 to Unity or GNOME 2 to GNOME 3 or Windows XP to Vista and each iteration of OS X.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sam-Curcio/100001739982933 Sam Curcio

    A more functional interface. But will users become bored of the featureless view?

  • http://twitter.com/zdanee Daniel Zrinyifalvi

    Eliminating or optional? I mean Win7 also has an “old look” with the blue desktop and gray win95-ish style, this would be a nice replacement. On the other hand Aero is aided by the GPU, so it should not take near as much resources with glasses, transparency, shadows and everything, as much the “old look” takes when calculated entirely by the CPU.

    • Me

      What are the resource usage differences between Aero and non-Aero? Something like: Aero: GPU + CPU + memory + other stuff and non-Aero: CPU + memory + other stuff. Also, how do these usage number translate to power consumption especially on battery operated devices.

      • animatio

        that is quickly done … and tested. kill aero, replace it with the old xp style and stop all animation gimmicks. last not least replace the clumsy explorer startmenu by something sleek like classic startmenu.

  • optimismprime

    All i have to say about Windows 8 is:
    Praise be the person at microsoft that decided Windows 7 end of support is January 14, 2020.

  • Qbert

    This all sounds like functional improvements. The common UI elements in Windows, toobars, titlebars, buttons, file operation dialogs and Windows Explorer are very important to get right. Microsoft have been awful at that historically. Each new Windows iteration have improved some things but messed other things up in that regard. The key mistake: lack of easy ways to customize everything about that in straightforward way. For example, I hate how there’s no obvious and simple way to replace and reorder the suggested paths in the left hand pane in Windows 7 Explorer.  I also want the full path displayed like it used to in the explorer path bar, not segmented. I know that there are various custom hacks and add-on to fix some things like that. But Microsoft’s big mistake is making it hard to come up with such fixes.

    • animatio

      thats ’cause of the arrogance of redmonders “to know” whats best for the dumb everybody’s on the street user.
      the whole blog about win 8 again is full of this attitude. they do not want to learn the lesson. one example for this: one one hand they praise the advantages of metro for touch … on the other hand they overimpose now everywhere the silly ribbon menus everywhere, which is one of the most touch unfriendly (and – pardon, in my opinion – most stupid) features intruced ever.

      • CyberGusa

        I wouldn’t say that Ribbon menus aren’t touch friendly, since they are intended to provide easier access to common functions with large icons that are less likely to result in the wrong click or touch.

        It’s just that ribbon menus are usually best for dealing with overly complex menus and not so good for simpler menus. 

        However, they are customizable and depends how they are used.  Pretty much like any interface depends on how well it is implemented.  So it remains to be seen if they will be really bad for Windows 8.

        Mind MS bases most of their design considerations on collected usage data but this doesn’t account for how preferences varies and a given solution won’t ever please everyone.

        While it remains to be seen whether they will refine the UI better by the time of final release.  Mind many of the UI refinements MS promised weren’t yet implemented in the previous two previews.  Along with the possibility they may still include UI customization options for those who prefer the more traditional desktop UI.

      • animatio

        every element that led to the non touch friendly argument and criticism is still present … and then some.
        and a lot of silly marketing talk, talk why the same stuff in win up to 7 was rubbish, and now with a few design glitches here and there at once shall be the good sent optimal solution. there will be no completely new rabbit out of the cylider at the end.

      • CyberGusa

        No, you can be pessimistic if you want but don’t confuse that with facts. You don’t know anymore than anyone else outside of MS what the finalized Windows 8 will provide. Since it’s officially not finished yet!

        While Ribbon Menus are something that many people either like or hate and the problem is there doesn’t appear to be a consistent census going either way, because any interface style can be good or bad depending on how it is implemented and people often base their opinions on their preferences instead of what may actually work better in a given usage model.

        Ribbon menus are just generally considered better for dealing with overly complex menus.

        While large icons and simplified menus are generally considered better for touch UI and it’s not like Windows 8 will be in short supply of space with making higher resolution more standard.

        So the touch arguments are mainly just opinions and not actual usage facts.

        Mind, everything is marketing, including opinion based complaints, until the final product is released. While there is never ever pleasing everyone!

        Many aspects of a OS may or may not make any sense until coupled with other planned aspects of the OS that may not be shown until close to finalized version.

        They’ve already changed the desktop mode to make it less jarring a change when switching between the Metro and desktop mode. So other changes are entirely possible.

        The only facts are that the previews weren’t well received by those who don’t want a tablet UI and prefer the traditional desktop. While inversely those who like tablets are mostly liking Metro, but we also haven’t seen the final product yet to say that’s all there will be to it.

        The Release Preview will be the first actual Beta release, instead of just a rudimentary Alpha, and thus only then would we be sure about how the final product will likely work.

      • animatio

        your argument is squizing a cat through a treadmill. we shall see what’s coming out in the end. btw it is not a question of pixels per square, it is a question of surface needed for touching fingers if stuff is run on a tablet device. thus on a tablet this is valid for any application, metro or legacy. and just this was the focus of criticism in regard of any windows os so far.
        to point this out again, this has not been changed so far in regard of the legacy side of the system.

      • CyberGusa

        My argument is pointing out it’s too early to be so pessimistically critical. While on the legacy side of the system you won’t necessarily be hit with all the Metro changes on the desktop mode.

        What hasn’t been address yet is whether that goes far enough to satisfy traditional desktop usage but that all depends on how much customization MS allows with the final version.

        But like I pointed out with my reply to Guest008, MS won’t even have everything finalized for the Release Preview, it’ll just be mostly finished at that point.

        So we really can’t be assuming too much from the first two previews. The first was just Windows 7 with Metro thrown on top to give developers a head start and the second more or less just was for promoting Windows 8 on tablets but it was still mostly Windows 7 with Metro on top.

        I’m not saying there isn’t anything to be worried about or that we shouldn’t be critical of where it seems to be going but we’re far from being able to go to doom and gloom phase yet and most of the criticism is based on assumptions at this point.

  • Guest008

    2012, guys.
    MS should be able to provideus with  better looking DESKTOP-like windows/interface (even as an option we can switch off like we can with Aero) AND a more functional UI.

    I think that beside ressources (cpu/memory/gpu charge), it must be a pain to implement and conflict with the new Metro UI.
    I sincerely hope that this last one will be optional (or at least customizable).
    I want my desktop still.

    And from the look of the screenshot above, it doesn’t seem that simplified nor space efficient to me.
    It’s like being on MS Word… in an explorer window. All you can do with a simple right click is placed on a big chunk of the screen…

    • CyberGusa

       Originally, when Windows 8 was first pitched, it was suggested that it would configure itself according to the device it was installed on and even with the last preview release it was still possible to registry hack to restore the original Windows Start Menu.

      So a lot depends on whether MS comes through and provides the final release with enough customization options to choose between Metro and Traditional Desktop setups.

      Right now they are just working on making the transition between Metro and the Desktop less jarring but it may only be the default and not the only configuration.

      While the choice seems mainly for benefiting tablets, providing better
      thermals and power consumption with less work for the GPU. 

      I’ve also learned that Microsoft also stated that only a few of the
      visual changes in Windows 8
      will be present in the Release Preview scheduled for release next month.
      So to see them all we will have to wait for the final release of
      Windows
      8.

      So even with the Release Preview we may have to wait till final release to see all the options they will provide and they’re really cutting this to the last minute.

      While even if they don’t do enough, Windows is usually more flexible than other Operating Systems for allowing things like themes.  So it wouldn’t be long before custom UI’s would become available for Windows 8… at least the regular versions that won’t be restricted like Windows RT.

      For example, you can make XP look and act a lot like Windows 7… including the Aero effects.

      Though if feeling pessimistic, like optimismprime pointed out, MS will still support Windows 7 till January 14, 2020…  and we could be up to Windows 10 by then.  So we can wait till they do get it right…

  • http://profiles.google.com/dalekstrauss Dale Strauss

    It may be a way of saving system resources, but my bet is that this is to take away some of the jarring effect of switching from metro to desktop. If you use your desktop apps full screen it will be almost like switching metro apps. This is also like a metaphoric driving of the square peg into a round hole – no doubt on my Samsung Series 7 Slate the Metro UI is a good improvement over Win7, but it adds little, if nothing, to the user experience on the desktop.

  • sola

    This look hideous no matter what their reason was.

    After Win8, even Linux desktops will look better than the Windows desktop.

  • Stephen Morrish

    I’m really not sure what MS are up to, but someone needs to change their meds. Metro is horrendous for desktop users, my only hope for Win8 was the ability to disable Metro and run a “regular” Windows GUI arriving some time down the line. I like my desktop to be a nice place to work and some eye candy helps that along. This feels like another GUI backwards step. I can see how mobile/touch devices are going to be increasingly important, but I feel MS are “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. They risk alienating their core customers with Win8. I think we all know how industry/government customers will respond, Mom & Pop buying a new Dell or HP will be utterly confused, power users will shun it, who’s left? Who will want to run default win8? How long before Dell and the others implement their own GUI shell over Win8 to keep Mom & Pop happy. Remember back 15/20 years when they all had their own shell GUI over Win3.1. What a mess.

  • http://ruel24.wordpress.com/ ruel24

    Seriously, Microsoft needs to mimic KDE 4.8 in its look. Wow! What a desktop!!!