Why Microsoft Should Not Be Pushing Their New Metro UI Onto Their Other Products [Opinion]

Christian Cawley 19-01-2012

Why Microsoft Should Not Be Pushing Their New Metro UI Onto Their Other Products [Opinion] muo metrow8 rightWith the introduction of the Windows Phone platform in 2010, Microsoft unveiled the Metro user interface, designed to make accessing information quick and easy. Rather than litter their new mobile platform with endless rows of icons, Microsoft’s tile-based interface proved that there was another way to make mobile phones functional.


Such has been the critical acclaim for this user interface that Microsoft has since opted to roll out Metro across its other consumer products. First was its introduction on the Xbox 360 and later this year it will play a big part in Microsoft’s story as a key element of the Windows 8 operating system. But is this the best use for the UI? Surely a mobile phone user interface should stay on such a device? After all, don’t computer users want to be able use their mouse and keyboard and quickly launch their chosen apps rather than scroll through tiles?

What Is Metro? Microsoft’s Signature UI Explained

From a personal point of view, I’m a big fan of Metro on the Windows Phone. It is fast, slick, functional and logical and it has been instrumental in turning Microsoft’s mobile fortunes around. Additionally it has provided the mobile industry as a whole, a much-needed kick in the rear to pull it out of the mire of iOS cloning into which it was readily sinking.

A design language established initially for use with Windows Phone, Metro features the uniform use of the Segoe WP typeface, tiles and a general grouping of similar functions and features under a single tile. For instance, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are grouped with contacts under the People Hub on Windows Phone devices. The tile-based Start screen interface on a Windows Phone can be adjusted to suit your preferences, with users typically placing their most-used apps and hubs at the top.

Almost all Windows Phone apps use the Metro look

Additionally the fresh approach to presenting information, available by scrolling left and right, enables app designers plenty of space with which to present menus and options and discards the need for a dedicated menu button. All in all, Metro works well on Windows Phone and you can see why Microsoft is so enthralled by it. But is it suitable as a “signature user interface”?


Success On One Platform Does Not Guarantee Success On Another

The beta release of Windows 8 demonstrated how the Metro UI had been redeveloped for use on larger devices, specifically tablets. While Microsoft’s focus in this area is admirable – after all, they started the tablet computer market, yet thanks to Apple’s iPad find themselves several years behind – it can be argued that most Windows 8 users don’t want or need a finger-friendly user interface.

The new Start screen in Windows 8, powered by the Metro UI

After all, Metro is intended for use by fingers rather than a mouse and keyboard. While it might be an ideal UI for the rumoured ARM-based Windows 8 tablets, the presence of Metro as a key element of Windows 8 for desktops and high-end tablets is puzzling.

While it is possible to navigate around the tile-based Start menu in Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard, it is a little unwieldy, much like playing a piano while wearing gloves. There is also the matter of just how important using a touch-focused user interface is to the standard user.


As things stand, Windows 7 is a perfectly good operating system that is enjoying strong user take-up and has a good reputation, particularly among corporate users. Conversely Windows 8 is being designed specifically for business users and yet there seems to be a gap between what users want from a UI and what Microsoft is planning to offer in 2012.

The Metro UI has recently spread to Xbox

Although there is the ability to switch to a version of the traditional desktop view in Windows 8 – ideal for legacy and office applications – office-based users are likely to discard Metro entirely, reducing it to little more than an overlay UI. Overlays were great for Microsoft 3-4 years ago when they needed to extend the life of Windows Mobile, but we really should have moved away from that era.

Too Much Metro Too Soon?

Why does Microsoft want to replace Windows 7 so soon? More importantly, why is it pushing Metro as a user interface so heavily?


Some might argue that Microsoft’s reputation has improved in recent years and that Metro is an embodiment of this change. While their great rival Apple has grown into a monolithic retirement fund for lawyers, Microsoft has been embracing user communities, for instance helping them to set up ways of legally unlocking its new phones.

This positive pull is mirrored in the clear typography and ease of use found in Metro, but to spread the UI across all of Microsoft’s consumer platforms is potentially dangerous. Windows 8 could founder based on its very presence; so soon after the Vista debacle this is something that Microsoft could well do without.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Related topics: Microsoft, Opinion & Polls, Windows 8.

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  1. GodSponge
    June 25, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Metro may be useful on a touchscreen but it's still super ugly and worthless in my opinion. Putting it on a PC without a touchscreen is also crazy. I mean the whole lockscreen slide to unlock thing might be ok on a touchscreen but it and the rest of the metro UI is really clunky and annoying when using a mouse.

  2. zeeshan khan
    May 22, 2012 at 10:20 am

    From the start I have been a fan of apple mac, even though I have never used one. This style of Windows 8 was good only in phones but why did they have to do this to an os? I think Microsoft is getting off track. At this point, I think that windows 8 is not even needed!

  3. ipad screen cover
    April 22, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Wow, awesome weblog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The full look of your web site is great, let alone the content material!

  4. Hunter Watts
    January 20, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Don't be scared of change. Too many people are (looking at FB here).
    W8 still has the classic desktop anyway.

  5. Christian Cawley
    January 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Some great comments here. I once postulated on another site that Microsoft only succeeds with every other desktop OS released, so given the success of W7 it would be like that the Metro-bound W8 would fail...

  6. Kumaarrahul
    January 20, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I have tried Windows 8 preview & i`m seriously disappointed. Being a tech support myself all i can say is that innovation is out of Microsoft now. After Win. XP they have not been able to give a good product though Win. 7 is performing well now after initial glitches.
    The Metro UI is clumsy & long time windows users will find it hard to adapt. All i can say is that now its time we learnt & move on to Linux, Mac or for god sake Hackintoshes !!

  7. Trevor Lenten
    January 20, 2012 at 1:26 am

    After I tested a Windows 8 dev build the one thing I came away with is that metro is absolutely FUGLY

    • Christian Cawley
      January 21, 2012 at 7:11 pm

      Got to disagree, Trevor - the tiles are perhaps unsuitable, but the actual touch interaction and the new media player UI are sumptuous.

      • Trevor Lenten
        January 22, 2012 at 12:53 pm

        This was only my first impression of how it looks when first booted as I have no way to actually test the touch interaction. 

        Another thing I dislike is that, to me the UI felt tacked on top of Win 7. I know the devs probably did this for users to fall back to something familiar but to me it comes off as a lazy transition between UIs that will just eat more system resources then necessary. 

  8. Anonymous
    January 19, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    I had been using the developer's edition and have almost completely chosen to stick with Win7, even for the most casual use on a secondary laptop. I wouldn't consider it on my biz desktop or laptop. While you can chose Win7 interface, it still, in some functions, reverts back to the metro UI. 

    I really like what MS did with Win7. I think Job's last sally at MS was deploying Lion and having them blink. It didn't help that tech journal after tech journal kept yammering about unified interfaces for all devices either. But hey ... life goes on and we'll all learn how to use dumbed-down interfaces. Cue linux users uncontrollable laughter.  

  9. Scutterman
    January 19, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Even though Microsoft seems to have a habit of releasing a flop or a disaster every other time, I'm not going to make a snap judgement about W8 before I give it a fair chance. Yes, it's a big change, and it doesn't seem intuitive to use with a mouse, but I'm sure I can get used to it.

    I can see a time in the future when I'm using a rhino-glass plate rather than a mouse and keyboard (except for gaming), and Metro would make sense for that.

    Oh, and I noticed in another comment thread that someone said about the previous / next icons covering the article. Here's an example of that on my laptop. The screen is about 1150px wide

  10. Mark Gordon
    January 19, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I am dreading the release of this and having to support it. The end users are going to struggle as it is not a change that will be easily dealt with.
    I guess we may see apple having a bigger market share in laptops/desktops for the home from this.

    • Christian Cawley
      January 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      As an ex tech support engineer myself i'm particularly interested in how IT departments are going to deal with Metro. From what I understand the MEtro UI can be disabled, but the alternative traditional desktop isn't as fully featured as what we're used to

  11. tom
    January 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    who wants a bunch of finger smears all over there monitor? And do you really want to be confined to sit within finger reach of your monitor? Does anyone even have a touch screen monitor? Have you ever even seen a touch screen monitor for sale at walmart?

    • Chris Hoffman
      January 20, 2012 at 3:13 am

      Ah, right, that's another thing -- no one has a touch-screen monitor.

      That's a good thing, for hardware manufacturers. They can sell new monitors and new computers to people.

      • Christian Cawley
        January 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm

        I suspect the answer to this would be an additional peripheral interface, as it is with the latest Mac OS X?

    • thenonhacker
      January 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      Get the ones with Oleophobic Coating -- makes your screen fingerprint-proof.

      iPod Touch 4th Gen has Oleophobic Coating and I find it brilliant and long overdue!

      WORKAROUND: Monitors should have a Matte Screen Protector. The matte texture prevents smudges and fingerprints.

    • zeeshan khan
      May 22, 2012 at 10:26 am

      Your right but they have made the os compatible with non-touch screen computers! But I still think that this style is a bad idea. I mean it looks good and all, but it just means that we would have to learn how to operate this. This is the worst part for my dad. He already has difficulty learning how to use windows 7 and now this? There was no reason to make another windows os right now. I think that they should have tried to make an upgrade to windows 7 instead of starting another windows os.

      I don't like the idea of the new style. It's like you just enlarged windows phone. This is just giving apple a chance of getting ahead (I support apple). Microsoft getting off-track with Windows 8.

  12. Chris Hoffman
    January 19, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Microsoft shoehorned the Windows desktop into Windows Mobile and now they're shoehorning Windows Phone into the Windows desktop.
    It's rather bizarre. Unless they've changed it, you can't even boot directly to the desktop. Every time you log in, you have to go through metro and find the desktop shortcut.

    Honestly, the idea of Metro on the desktop is just so out there that I don't even know what to say. It's certainly gutsy, though.

    • thenonhacker
      January 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm

      Metro is not enabled by default on regular desktop PCs.

      For Tablets, it's enabled.

      I can't imagine using the Metro UI with a mouse, but I'd love the Metro UI for Touch!

      • Chris Hoffman
        January 21, 2012 at 3:33 am

        I believe Metro is the default UI on the desktop.

        They said it was at their initial announcement -- they could have changed it since, I suppose.

  13. Anomaly
    January 19, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Microsoft are a bunch or Morons and have been for years. I predict that windows 8 will flop like Vista.

    Why in the world would they put a mobile interface on a OS made for regular computers. It would be of some use to those with touch screen desktops but those are in the minority right now. 

    if Microstupid insists on using the Metro UI in Windows 8 it should not be enabled by default. A regular desktop UI should be default and Metro should be an option to turn on if you like.

    • thenonhacker
      January 20, 2012 at 5:26 pm

      Just use Apple Producs, will ya? :)