Microsoft have published a blog post revealing some of the changes to the desktop user interface (UI) in Windows 8 – due to be launched in Q4 this year. The most significant UI change is that the Aero visual style (including Aero Glass) has been dropped from Windows 8.
Windows Aero was the visual experience introduced in Vista and continued in Windows 7. It featured a translucent ‘glass’ design with subtle window animations and new window colors.
One of Aero’s most visually obvious features was ‘glass’ window borders, designed to draw the eye away from the title bar and window frames. The idea was that it drew your attention more towards what is valuable and what a program is about.
Microsoft Rationale For Dropping Aero – Microsoft’s article is illogical in its attempt to explain away the removal of Aero in Windows 8. They say that the Aero “style of simulating faux-realistic materials (such as glass or aluminum) on the screen looks dated and cheesy now, but at the time, it was very much en vogue”.
However, good design is timeless – if Aero was a worthwhile feature and if it did help users focus on what is important then it should obviously have been kept.
I also doubt that users of Vista and Windows 7 (installed on more than half of all Windows computers) will appreciate Microsoft calling their current UI ‘dated and cheesy’ – it is likely to raise a smile amongst those who stuck with XP though…
What are Microsoft saying? They don’t appear to think that Aero didn’t work, simply that they no longer like the look of it. Style over substance? Looks over functionality? The fact is that the reason they give simply doesn’t make sense – because it’s the wrong reason, as we’ll see in the next section.
Windows 8 UI – Back To The Future?
The example of the new Windows 8 theme below may look familiar to users of XP with Classic Style – apart from the lighter title bar and the ribbon menu it is remarkably similar to Windows of old. Microsoft are being disingenuous as to why Aero is being dropped in Windows 8 – I don’t believe it has anything to do with it looking dated or cheesy.
The real reason for Aero Glass being removed surely owes everything to the fact that it uses far more processing power than the older XP Classic style – especially GPU (graphics) power. Whilst this does not really matter on powerful modern desktops and laptops running Windows 7, it would be a major issue on low power and low battery capacity tablets/ARM devices – platforms that Windows 8 is primarily targeting.
Unlike all previous versions, Windows 8 is really not aimed at desktops and laptops – the new Metro interface is Microsoft’s last chance to take on the might of Apple and (to a lesser extent) Android in the hugely important tablet market. Forrester recently forecast that by 2016, a total of 375m tablets will be sold globally (and 760 million tablets in use) – a huge increase on the 56m sold last year. PCs will still lead the way in terms of installed base (around 2bn) but in a largely static market with laptop sales also cannibalized by tablets.
Although Windows 8 may enjoy some success on tablets, I see few compelling reasons for Windows 7 users to upgrade (downgrade?) to Windows 8 unless buying a new computer with it pre-installed; the removal of Aero might keep more from doing so.
Is the removal of Aero a step backwards or a welcome removal of unwanted eye candy?
Would it make any difference to your decision to upgrade in future? Let us know in the comments.