When Microsoft unveiled Windows 8 yesterday they said what most people were expecting them to, that a new tablet-friendly interface would be the default way to interact with the new version of the OS. This new Metro UI would load when you start Windows and that Microsoft expected most people to interact with Windows 8 by using it.
If you couple this with the recent launch of Apple's OS X Lion desktop operating system, which includes an iPad-style application launcher and full screen apps, much in the way both the iPad and Windows 8 have it's reasonable to now ask the question, is the desktop operating system dying out?
Clearly there is a push by the two main operating system companies towards mobile computing in a big way. The focus is on tablets and other touch devices. In itself this isn't such a bad thing as keyboards and mice had their death predicted many years ago, but the fact remains they are still the most effective way to get things done on a computer. So what does Microsoft's move mean for the desktop and is the traditional computer now a dying breed?
Well let's look at the bigger picture for a minute. It can safely be said that worldwide sales of desktop PCs have been sluggish in recent years as low-power devices such as smartphones and tablets have gained more power and flexibility. However PCs and Macs are also used everywhere in business. In fact you will find very few tablets in use in the workplace unless they are employed for very specific industrial roles. There's also the simple fact that on Windows 8's dumbed down Metro interface there's no scope for controls along the lines of those found in Adobe Photoshop or Sony Vegas Pro.
Clearly then there's still going to be a need for a desktop operating environment for many years to come. That is unless Microsoft, Apple and Google find new ways to build more intuitive and functional interfaces, containing more commands, into tablet-focused apps.
In itself this wouldn't be a bad thing, as innovation in the world of software interfaces has been needed for nearly twenty years now. For too long we've been stuck with a way of doing things that Xerox created in a lab in the 1970's, it's way past time things changed.
So is Windows 8's Metro interface the way forward. Probably not as it stands right now in fairness, but it will help to act as an catalyst, and so will Apple's iOS operating system and Google's stripped-down Chrome OS. All three are pushing the boundaries of modern interface design and now its up to the software houses to come up with new interface designs that take advantage of these new UIs. For now it's just been Apple and Microsoft doing the innovating, with the major software houses including Adobe, content to carry on with the way they've been doing things for years.
The ribbon that Microsoft introduced with Office 2007, and that can now be found throughout Windows 8 when you drop down to the traditional desktop, is a good stab at creating an interface that's both mouse and finger-friendly. Whether this was by design or purely by chance we may never know, but it's clear to see how the ribbon would translate to a Metro interface if scaled up a bit. It would still be recognisable as the ribbon, woulds still work in the same way, and would offer a way forward for software developers to move to a new UI paradigm.
How all of this will sit with the world's accountants, engineers, publishers, videographers and administrators remains to be seen, they probably won't like it. The simple fact remains though that we've had the WIMP (Windows, Mice and Pull-down Menus) UIs for thirty years now and the time has come to move on, whether we might like to do so or not.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.