Microsoft: Windows 8 GUI Will Be Just Another App

Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky has published an update to the Building Windows 8 blog in which he sheds light on how Windows 8 treats the GUI differently than any previous version of the operating system. One of the concerns surrounding Windows 8 has been whether or not the operating system's new 'Metro' UI would supplant the more conventional GUI and whether or not users would be able to switch between the two. Microsoft has already demonstrated an updated version of Explorer's UI structure, as partial proof that the company is devoted to preserving both the old and new presentation methods.

According to Sinofsky, Windows 8 will treat the desktop as an optional environment. He notes that the company's decision to update the fundamentals of Windows' GUI was "an ambitious undertaking—it involves tools, APIs, languages, UI conventions, and even some of the most basic assumptions about a PC. For example, how do you isolate applications from each other, or prevent applications from stealing all your battery power? How can installing (and removing) apps be as quick and painless as changing the channel on the TV? How do you attract the broadest set of developers possible to a new platform? How do you build a touch-first interface with a unique point of view?"

The classic Windows GUI structure, however, remains critically important.
The things that people do today on PCs don’t suddenly go away just because there are new Metro style apps. The mechanisms that people rely on today (mice, physical keyboards, trackpads) don’t suddenly become less useful or “bad” just because touch is also provided as a first-class option. These tools are quite often the most ergonomic, fast, and powerful ways of getting many things done."

We believe there is room for a more elegant, perhaps a more nuanced, approach. You get a beautiful, fast and fluid, Metro style interface and a huge variety of new apps to use...And if you want to stay permanently immersed in that Metro world, you will never see the desktop—we won’t even load it (literally the code will not be loaded) unless you explicitly choose to go there!

But if you do see value in the desktop experience—in precise control, in powerful windowing and file management, in compatibility with hundreds of thousands of existing programs and devices, in support of your business software, those capabilities are right at your fingertips as well. You don’t need to change to a different device if you want to edit photos or movies professionally, create documents for your job or school, manage a large corpus of media or data, or get done the infinite number of things people do with a PC today. And if you don’t want to do any of those “PC” things, then you don’t have to and you’re not paying for them in memory, battery life, or hardware requirements.  If you do want or need this functionality, then you can switch to it with ease and fluidity because Windows is right there. Essentially, you can think of the Windows desktop as just another app.
Sinofsky's statements raise intriguing questions regarding the future of windows 8 development and application compatibility. As we expected, a full desktop environment and conventional, albeit updated, UI will be available out of the box. What's less clear is whether or not 'classic' Windows apps will be able to interface with Windows 8 Metro without loading the conventional desktop application.

Given that Windows 8 is meant to run on tablet-class hardware, the task of loading the desktop could noticeably slow system performance. This could also be viewed as an incentive to transition to Metro, however, and the company's decision to de-couple the desktop and OS applications is a novel approach--at least for Microsoft. It implies that the company is serious about scaling Windows 8 on a variety of hardware and was willing to make sweeping changes in order to optimize the operating system's performance.