The Windows 8 UI: Microsoft Makes a Tough Marketing Problem Worse

by Steve Wildstrom   |   August 9th, 2012

Over at ZDNet, Mary Jo Foley, master of all things Microsoft, reports sources tell her that having lost the name Metro in an apparent trademark dispute, Microsoft will call the new tile-based user interface for Windows 8 the Windows 8 UI. Beyond a stunning lack of creativity, this is going to cause some real trouble for the already difficult task of educating consumers about what Windows 8 is.

Windows 8 screen shotWindows 8 will existing in two versions on two different types of devices, which would be no problem if the general device type corresponded to the OS version–but it doesn’t. The Windows 8 we can think of as the successor to Windows 7 will run both on traditional PCs and on tablets based on Intel (or more properly, x86/x64) processors. The second version, known officially (so far, at least) as Windows RT, will run on tablets using ARM processors.

Now the version I am going to call traditional Windows, because Microsoft hasn’t really given it a name, offers two distinct user interfaces. There is a desktop interface that resembles Windows 7, but differs from it in some critical elements. And there is what used to be called the Metro UI, which is radically different, using no menus or icons in its full-screen apps.

Traditional Windows runs both types of apps, including applications written for older versions of Windows (though all of these will need considerable work–the sort Office applications have gotten–to look and feel right on Windows 8 and to provide better support for touch.) Windows RT supports only new (Metro) style apps. Microsoft made an important exception for itself: The traditional-styled Office 2013 applications, as well as the Windows Explorer file manager, will be on RT, but third-party software vendors are not allowed to do this.

If you are not thoroughly confused by now, you probably haven’t been paying close enough attention. This was going to be a huge customer education problem for Microsoft under the best of circumstances. But Microsoft now appears to have denied itself even an easy linguistic way to differentiate between these two user interfaces and the capabilities of traditional Windows and Windows RT systems.

I can’t quite fathom how Microsoft stumbled into this mess. But it’s going to be a tough hole to get out of.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Rich

    Microsoft got into this mess because they won’t let go of the Windows name, and because they’re all tangled up about today’s market, unfortunately for them. I think it’s a classic case of a once-dominant company getting stuck in their own mud.

  • vmgunz

    They should find other name than “Windows 8 UI”.. It’s too confusing.. Metro is good name to use, and since there is dispute, they should find other creative name..

  • theNewDanger

    Since the UI is really designed for touch, albeit in mostly counterintuitive OS, why not call it the “Surface” UI?

    • steve_wildstrom

      Probably because it would tie the name too closely to the Microsoft-branded Surface tablet, which is already a bone of contention between Microsoft and its OEMs. Apparently, Microsoft has been referring to the UI formerly known as Metro internally as the “Modern UI,” which I don’t think improves things a bit.

      • theNewDanger

        I already considered that, but this being a major change in things for Windows should come with a better moniker than Windows 8. Surface may be a brand name for the tablets, but had already been used for many other Microsoft projects including the table they’re now referring to as PixelSense, which is just another piss poor marketing job. I’m giving on up on scatterbrained Microsoft. They just suck at branding.

  • FalKirk

    Now we’re being told that it was never “Metro”, it was always “Modern”…

    …and in further breaking news, we’ve never been at war with Eurasia, we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

    Source: “Microsoft: It was never ‘Metro,’ it was always ‘Modern UI’, Register, Jun 10, 2012

  • JohnDoey

    This is not really true. The successor to Windows 7 is a Windows 8 app called “Desktop” which has reduced functionality on ARM-based systems. Windows 8 is the successor to Windows Phone 7. In this version, the PC OS gets the phone interface. In the next version, the phone OS gets the PC kernel. Windows 8.1 or 9 will be one NT-based system with phone interface on all devices.

    A key thing to understand is that Intel Mac took all of Microsoft’s high-end customers. The “Microsoft Mac” is over. Windows sell next to iPads for $400. If you use Windows as a generic Mac, you need to get a Mac now. No more fake Macs from Microsoft. They don’t have enough customers to support it. To prevent the $500 PC market from going 100% iPad, Microsoft needs a simpler Windiws that anyone can run without training. The high cost of Windows training and poor results are no longer acceptable in a world wher people do real work with an iPad in the first hour.

    So choose: iOS, Mac OS X, Windows 8 (aka Metro,) or something your hardware vendor whipped up from open source over the course of a few months. Those are the client systems of the next 10 years.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Microsoft has gone from one extreme to the other here. I have criticized them for years for the way that anything ever added to Windows became a legacy forever, giving you two, three, or more ways to do anything. Windows 8 throws out nearly all of the conventions in favor of brand new ones. Maybe this is a good thing in the long run, but it creates tremendous disruption and a large training burden in the near term, and is a major reason why I expect enterprises to shun Windows 8 en masse. I think I am a pretty adaptable person, but I really dislike the universal search approach on a PC (I think it is much more valuable on phones, where real estate is so scarce.) I’ve said it many times before and still believe that Apple made the right choice keeping distinct UIs for OS X and iOS and that Microsoft has made a mistake going with a single UI across device types.