The Current, Unfun, Trends of Desktop OS’s

Recently unveiled was Microsoft’s next desktop operating system, Windows 8. One would think that it builds on strengths of Windows 7, those fancy window resizing corners, XP mode. All seamlessly mixed with the familiar Windows GUI elements. However the truth is almost the opposite, the Start menu in Windows 8 takes you to a Windows Phone Metro menu (Metro: the design language of the Windows Phones which evolved from the UI of the Zune HD). Now don’t get me wrong I really like Metro, jus that it’s on a desktop OS a place it wasn’t really designed for in the first place.

Microsoft is not the only one pushing UI and UX elements that are seen on mobile devices. Apple’s OSX 10.7 “Lion” does the same thing, only it takes UI elements from its mobile OS: iOS. A new feature “Launchpad” looks a lot like the home screen layout of an iPad, the scroll bars have no arrows, and most notable scrolling with two fingers are inverted! To scroll down, you drag up, and vice-versa, it’s one of the most unusual design decisions I have ever seen. (10.7 does a lot of other ridiculous stuff like auto-quit apps you’re not actively using, and by default hide what’s already running on the Dock but the rant for what 10.7 does wrong is for another post).

I can only hope that these little mobile features are small trends, only to phase out in the next of each of the releases. Here’s what it comes down to: the input device. One is a blunt tip that presses in a general area, the finger; the other is a finite point on the screen that clicks on 1 pixel at time, the mouse. Metro is so good for mobile devices because it gives those large click zones for the user to press, and they’re just the right size so that there’s almost no way the user could tap on the wrong thing. Now interact with this UI with a mouse and it becomes burdensome, imagine all your desktop icons with giant click-boxes around them, lets just say there’d be a lot more dragging the mouse around. The same goes for 10.7’s Launchpad, it’s one thing finding an app and pressing it on the iPad, it’s entirely different to actually click on it. The scrolling element in 10.7 is the same way, when you’re on an iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, when you scroll you are essentially “touching” the content and “dragging” it, when you split up the components of that UI to a non-touch screen screen and separate trackpad, you no longer have that feeling of “touching” content, thus the gesture feels unnatural.

It only seems like these mobile elements are another abstraction of the system used to make the user forget they’re using a computer, to make the user experience feel natural. The little changes to these two giant operating systems do something else entirely different for me, I don’t feel like I’m using a computer, I feel like I’m using a phone. There’s a difference I do most of my work on a desktop or laptop computer, because it’s faster than doing it on a mobile OS, now that they’re moving some of these mobile elements to the desktop, my work and I are being slowed down.

It’s impossible to say if it was marketing geniuses or designers who decided to let mobile user experiences into the desktop user experience. A fictional quote “Hey people really like MobileOS they’ll I bet they’ll also like it on DesktopOS!” echos in my mind when I get baffeled about these new “advanced” features. If this is what Steve Jobs meant by the post-PC era, I am not looking forward to OSX 10.8 or Windows 9.

4 replies on “The Current, Unfun, Trends of Desktop OS’s”

I really enjoyed reading this. You make excellent points throughout and it makes for engaging reading. I wonder how much of this misguided trend is fueled by the fact that most people spend more time on their mobile OS than their keyboard/mouse interfaces. I was talking to someone the other day about teaching touch-typing to 6th graders. He shared that it is not uncommon to see kids typing with their two thumbs on a full-sized keyboard. Wow.

I agree with you completely, however, there are more decisions than just mac and windows for desktops, now I don’t want to sound like a man in a suit coming to you interrupting your dinner to tell you about god, but you should seriously consider Linux. There are many great distros that fix the problems of mac OS’s and PC OS’s. Now Linux based operating systems aren’t perfect, they have many downsides, such as inability to play most games, but most distros are completely free. Thanks for a great post -Nick

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