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Windows 9: How Microsoft might overhaul the interface in its next OS

Jared Newman | Feb. 8, 2013
Every graying movie franchise needs a great sequel to give it a boost. Think Star Trek and James Bond. Operating systems are no different--especially Microsoft's. After receiving a critical beatdown for Windows 8, what does the company have up its sleeve for Windows 9?

So Budiu posits an alternative approach, which amounts to what PC veterans have been requesting all along: Untangle the two interfaces. Don't send users into the Modern-style interface when they're working on the desktop. Bring back a pop-up Start menu designed strictly to handle desktop functions and shortcuts. Prevent Modern-style elements such as the recent apps list and the charms bar from popping up along the sides of the screen, where they hinder window management.

"I think that if we really wanted to offer user the flexibility of both PC and tablet in a single device, a stronger separation of the two modes would help," Budiu wrote.

So what's the better method? Should Windows 9 do more to separate the desktop and Modern interfaces, or should it further deemphasize the desktop until that interface is no longer needed?

How about doing one and then the other? Untangling the two interfaces could be a minor tweak, so if Microsoft plans to launch a Windows Blue OS this year, improving the Modern-desktop dichotomy might be a great short-term fix. Later, when Microsoft has all of the necessary software and hardware in place to support touchscreen-based computing, it can make a clean break.

Update Modern UI charms

Even if Microsoft does go all-in with the Modern-style interface in Windows 9, the company still has work to do. As Nielsen Norman Group pointed out in a recent usability study, Windows 8 relies heavily on hidden commands, such as the menu bar that you call up by right-clicking or by swiping up from the bottom bezel. Since users don't know what's in those menus until they bring them up--assuming that they know to look for them at all--the design wastes time and breeds confusion.

Budiu suggests that Windows 9 could provide visual cues to show what options are hidden in a particular menu bar. Modern-style apps already have plenty of white space at the bottom of the screen, so there's room to hint (at least) at the contents of the menu bar, using text or partial icons, perhaps.

Another approach would be for Windows 9 to expose the relevant menu controls when a user opens the app, and then slide them out of view after a few seconds--a behavior that iOS apps have widely adopted. "That signals to users that there is something hidden, and it also gives them an idea of what that may be," Budiu says.

Microsoft might also rethink the charms bar. Currently, app settings are too difficult to access. You must open the charms bar, click settings, and then look for the appropriate settings menu selection in the sidebar--and you don't know what you'll find there until you look. Moving app-specific settings down to the menu bar would help point users in the right direction, especially if this change were combined with the visual cues that Budiu suggests.


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