As Microsoft works away on the upcoming release of thier next major version of Windows, the feature that seems to be getting the most mixed reviews is the new Start screen. The Windows 8 start screen is modeled after Windows Phone's "Metro UI" which is a mosaic of "tiles" that represent applications and shortcuts to places throughout the operating system. This new "Start Screen" replaces the Start button and Start menu all together, allowing the user to "touch first", which is the motto of the new OS.
There are many other reviews talking about what Metro means (my favorite), outlining the pros/cons of this shift away from the conventional Start button, but I am curious what it means for the CAD tools out in the market. Before I talk about specifics, there are a few things you need to understand about apps that run in Metro:
- Metro and Metro style apps are Microsoft's attempt to unify their operating system across all devices. (Desktop, tablet, mobile)
- Metro style apps must be delivered via the new Windows Store, a built in app market inside of Windows 8, vetted by Microsoft, similar to that of Apple's App Store.
- Metro style apps are full screen and represent a single app per system, not taking advantage of multiple monitors.
- Navigation within a Metro style app is different than a conventional desktop application (i.e. Right click will yield options for the app, whereas on a desktop application it reveals the context menu).
There are many other changes to the look and feel of these Metro style applications, some of which I wonder how they can be used in a 3D CAD environment. Let's take eDrawings for example. Visually, eDrawings in Metro seems to be a natural choice as a viewer with markup capabilities. It has big buttons and simple commands that lend themselves to smoother integration into a Metro style app. Things start to fall apart though when we discuss tools that are buried in the context menu like right click to hide, make transparent and other functions.
It's not to say that these challenges cannot be overcome with ingenuity and good design but almost every 3D CAD app would need this re-invention, especially on the user interaction front. Obviously this re-invention is parallel to touch devices, which we have watched some companies overcome the traditional interactions and embrace touch as another option. With Metro being modeled as "Touch first", many of the same steps will need to be taken in order for CAD vendors to utilize Metro. There is, of course, the possibility of a revenue stream for delivering viewing tools and ancillary products via the Windows Store.
The Windows 8 Metro interface will make many Windows developers re-think how their applications are built, what technologies are integrated into them, and how users will interact depending on which devices they are using. Despite the mixed reviews of Microsoft's Metro angle, Windows is a standard and has the potential to disrupt the application market significantly.
I believe Microsoft's move to Metro is overdue since the Start button has been around since 1995, however it will force one of three reactions.
- Ignore it (in hopes it will just go away)
- Embrace it (re-think their apps and build to take advantabe of Metro)
- Push to the web (re-think their app and go the OS ignostic approach and use the platform that works everywhere - The Web!)
Personally I hope for the latter since the web the only platform that ignores the operating system and puts the focus on the application. In the end, applications are what we are after, operating systems are supposed to fall away and be transparent to the user. ~Lou