Windows 9 is going to be coming in 2015, and it should be the “Windows 7” to Windows 8’s “Vista” moment. This most recent version of Windows 8 has been slow to acceptance by many mainstream computer users, likely due to the very new and very different interface that you cannot avoid. To help the process along, I will make a series of posts focusing on one specific area of Windows that I believe can and should be improved in the next version of Windows. Hopefully, Microsoft will take some of these ideas to heart and implement them in the next version of Windows.
During Setup, Windows takes an inventory of which hardware you’re using, so it knows which drivers to install. This is the time for Windows to present an option to the user: Desktop or Metro interface.
If it detects an actual keyboard, mouse, and no touchscreen, select ‘desktop’ by default. If it detects a touch screen, select ‘Metro’ by default. But in either case, note on the screen that you can change this in settings later, perhaps under “Default Windows Experience” somewhere in Control Panel (and yes, rename ‘Settings’ back to ‘Control Panel.’ I like continuity.).
Later, when you’re using Windows, you can press Start, Control Panel, Interface, and select “use Metro interface as default” or “use Desktop interface as default.” Either way, if you choose one, you do not see the other at all. Say you choose desktop. If you press Start, the Start Menu appears as it always has. No change. With that, you make this computer immediately usable to the millions of computer users, several hundred of which I provide technical support to, who are incredibly technically illiterate.
The proposed update for Windows 8.1 Update 1’s start screen:
This is the proposed screen. I have a different proposal:
Pardon the crudeness of my diagram, as Doc Brown would say. You don’t need a new power charm. Just use the account picture, which currently gives you 3 options: change account picture, lock, and sign out. I would add the Power Options there: Sleep, Shut Down, Restart. This answers the very common complaint of the Power options being hidden and people not knowing how to shut down their new Windows 8 computer via the start screen. If you want, add the normal icons for this in Metro style too (download this, it’s in the Other folder).
To improve the user’s control over Metro, I would allow the user to tap/hold sleep, shut down, and restart and pin those to Start also so you then only need one tap (with a confirm screen to guard against accidental presses).
As for my additions to the Metro start screen, I add battery, wifi signal strength, the time, and date. This way you don’t need to constantly swipe in from the right to get that information. It would be available at-a-glance. The iPad already does this. Tap the battery icon to see the current Power Plan on your tablet/laptop and change if you wish, or open the Control Panel to change settings. Tap the Wi-Fi icon to change the network you’re on, or turn off wifi.
Those are functional, useful additions for users, which are very easy to add. The final functional improvement here would be to make the top edge of the screen the swipe-down for the notification center (like swipe up gives the All Apps screen). That’s the only start screen edge that’s unused where this could easily be added. Such a notification center would not need to hold quick settings in Windows 8, since the right-side already has the settings charm.
This notification center would include actionable notifications so you can see if you missed anything, or dismiss en masse, and be snappable so you can keep working while notifications come in.
Edit: Regarding tiles from the Start Screen, currently you can have 2 small, then a medium tile. But try putting a small tile, then a medium tile directly under it. You can’t. Windows leaves a blank small-tile-sized space between a small tile and medium tile. On Windows Phone 8, you can put a small, then medium tile directly underneath it, no space. I think it would be nice to have the same consistency in Windows 9. Also, try placing two medium tiles directly underneath one another. You can’t. The system tries to put two medium tiles next to each other before it will let you put one underneath the first tile. I believe Windows 9 should allow you to put a medium underneath a medium tile. Lastly, if you pin favorites to the Start Screen, often times, they have no icon other than the Internet Explorer in a colored tile. I then open the website, and the icon is present in the IE tab. That looks a bit inconsistent.
Regarding Snap, currently, if you have a snapped app on one side, and you close the main app, it displays a blank screen on half the screen. If you tap that half, the entire thing reverts to the start screen. I would suggest that the start screen appear here instead of the blank so you can choose a new app or make the snapped app full screen. The current behavior you can replicate on any machine, and it looks just plain odd.
For the background, I would add two things: DreamScene’s motion backgrounds in addition to more motion backgrounds like we have now, and parallaxing.
First, the motion backgrounds. I would add backgrounds like Vista had, with the waterfall, a star back ground, Earth from space, and so on. Imagine having a starscape slowly evolving on the background, and when you swipe right, or down to the all-apps section, that it moves up, or moves left/right in parallax with your movement. THAT would be amazing. The Zune HD had parallax, and the new iOS7 has parallax, meaning, that if you were to shift the device left or right, up or down, the icons/text appear to float above the background, giving it a three-dimensional appearance. Not functional, sure, but it would be great eye-candy. We already have simple motion backgrounds like the ‘fire dragon’ background, which rotates from top-right to bottom left as you scroll right. Imagine a real Dreamscene that scrolls right, or something like the parallax multi-level backgrounds we saw in Super Nintendo games like Super Mario World or Donkey Kong Country. Something like Android has now.
And if we added a swipe-down notification center, wouldn’t it be great to see a three-level background that shifts when you go up or down, and swipe left/right? Imagine a meadow with flowing grass, a cloud scene above with actual rolling clouds, and swipe down to see an underground scene.
Remember the fish tank screensaver that looked realistic? Imagine that, where the fish react to the tiles moving. Or a pond background, where the tiles appear to make the water ripple, and when you slide the tiles back and forth, or move the mouse pointer around the screen, the water sloshes about. Or even a city-scape where the skyscrapers move as you scroll left to right. Not useful, but nice eye candy.
A final now on parallax and moving backgrounds. I use Image Composite Editor from Microsoft to make large panoramas. I mean images that are 10445×2247 pixels. Serious panoramas. What I would really enjoy seeing: a background that scrolls along with your start screen. Android has had this since the G1 in 2008. Add this in Windows 8.
From the Lock Screen, I would propose something similar to iOS’s innovation in this, adding pivots to the lock screen. Swipe from the left, get a calendar and task screen. Swipe from the right, get notifications which are actionable. And, in keeping with the Start Screen advanced background, when you swipe, the background moves with parallax (imagine that, but with the stars moving as you scroll left, right, up, or down).
My concept for Windows 9 would have the existing Windows 8 desktop, but two important changes and a few small ones: restore the Windows 7 Start Menu, Show Desktop button, and Aero glass interface to start.
If you choose “Desktop” as your interface, or it detects you have a keyboard and mouse, it will ask if you want to switch to the desktop (which you can dismiss this time or permanently). On the desktop, press the Start button. You get the Start Menu. That’s it. You NEVER see the start screen again unless you activate it again. If you have any Metro apps installed, they will also appear in your Start Menu, you can pin them to the taskbar, they can be windowed, and have jumplists. Their Live Tile functionality is disabled, necessarily by the desktop, but they’re usable.
I would also return widgets to the desktop, but have the widgets provided by your Live Tiles. Have the Weather Live Tile on the desktop, acting as a widget, with the controls to the right as you see now in Windows 7. So yes, Live Tiles are disabled, but still operate as Widgets.
On the taskbar, have multiple desktops available with a simple button with live preview before switching. Separate desktops would have separate icons and backgrounds, as expected. The Share Charm would be added in the right-click menu so you can share anything in the OS like you can now with the Metro interface, but from the desktop. If I right-click, then Share, I should have an option to share a file via e-mail; if I right-click/share from IE’s address bar, it would have the option to share a URL to Facebook or Twitter. This is a useful integration of the Social Networks into the desktop.
When on the desktop, there is no real active application. I propose adding the ‘pinch’ gesture to maneuver amongst active desktop applications, giving us a similar Alt-Tab interface. If you choose the Metro interface, this will also work for you as well.
Metro and the Desktop
There is evidence that the Metro apps will work in the desktop and can be pinned to the desktop, which is a good start. I would propose, like this image below, to have windowed Metro Apps with maximize/exit buttons and the dotted right corner for resizing, like any other regular Windows application, if you choose to use the Desktop as the default environment.
The only other addition to this mockup I would make would be possibly a “Live Tile” button to revert the Metro App to a live tile widget on the desktop so that it stays open and notifying you, but out of the way.
This is the first in a series on Windows 9 and what it can do to improve on Windows 7 and 8.1 to make it a truly useful and desired upgrade from Windows 8. There are plenty of new and great ideas to make the computer a great experience and still not leave any user behind. Just don’t force an interface on someone when they don’t want the interface. Leave a comment below if you see any features you would like to add to the desktop, start screen, or lock screen.