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May 31, 2012

Metro or not Metro

Since the time we started working on Phone 7 and Windows 8, anything Metro catches our eye. So I ended up reading this article Windows 8: Does Metro actually work? I think while some points have merit, overall I don't agree. Here's why?

Here is a statement from the article - "it's an initiative that's telling us that we as developers don't understand how to present information and its attendant tools". To me this basic premise itself is flawed. Developers really don't know how to present information in the best manner and that's why designers exist. For many years we have tried to push designers to the back, but that was mostly because what they designed could not be easily converted to working programs due to inherent technological limitations. If developers had their way, things would all be rectangular grid, rectangular buttons, rectangular drop downs, misaligned controls, no aesthetic sense of colors or font.

Metro is a big jump and there is no denying it. And maybe it is that, that is causing some distress. But then back in mainframe era, we worked with green screen or black and white displays on Dos prompt and were happy about it. Then came in Windows and many people questioned, why someone had to introduce this funny looking device called mouse, but do we think it funny today? In fact as per the author of the blog, he cannot think of not working with mouse and keyboard. Another few years and the world would have moved to natural user interface (NUI) and we will wonder why did we ever had to use keyboard and mouse when we could interact with touch, gesture and speech kind of interfaces.

His example on IE also doesn't seem totally relevant. I would rather compare it with say the regular desktop where we see all the applications that are currently open (why worry only about IE Tabs?). I can easily ALT+TAB to another window or click on its title bar or its icon in taskbar or any such action and the applications are always running. However with smart phones and tablets, this programming paradigm got broken anyway. Now you typically have only one foreground application which occupies the entire screen, and the ones in the background get suspended. So if there is only one application visible at a time, it not having any chrome, to me, makes perfect sense. Why waste that much real estate on things that are no longer relevant? As far IE tabs go, I think it is one of those features that developers also had trouble initially as it caused issues with shared sessions across tabs.

Just like software applications have tons of features but a typical user only uses few of them, most applications tend to present far more data than that is required by and user to perform his or her task. I think Metro forces us to rethink that tendency to flood the user interface with information and believe that we have high information density. I think what we typically have is high data density and low information density. We do talk about navigation also and with high data density we can reduce that, but except for an air pilot, or a doctor or maybe a BPO call agent, others usual users are not so hard pressed of time that a few clicks will cause any trouble.

There is only so much information that our eyes can view and brain can digest in a given moment and I don't see a reason why that information cannot be beautifully and more cleanly and clearly laid out rather than try to clutter every inch of the screen and scare the user to think that he/she may have missed something important. Is Metro the answer to all current user interface and user experience issues? I don't know, but it certainly isn't something that we should write off as well. It is a different way to present information and forces us to come out of our comfort zone and work differently.

What are your thoughts on this?

May 9, 2012

Visual Studio 11 is a bit more colorful

In my previous blog I had talked about Metro Applications and Metro UI. Visual Studio 11 would qualify as an application with Metro like UI as we have already seen in the current beta release. It also no surprise that products from MS will imbibe the Metro style guide. We see similar trends with upcoming Office 15 (you can search online for images).

VS 11 however got some pretty strong comments from developer community and MS is making changes to its UI. The Metro look is here to stay, so it is still very much there, but the application has also been made a bit more colorful. Check out the details here.

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