The Current, Unfortunate, 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.

Google+’s Rough Journey Ahead

For a little more that a week now I’ve been using Google’s recently unveiled social network Google+.

It’s been a service long time coming, as it is not the first social network Google has put out. In the heydays of MySpace there was Orkut, which never ever really caught on, to this day I have never heard it spoken out loud in the States. Then there was Google Buzz which quickly had some lawsuits thrown at it that Google lost. Not long after that there was Google Wave which seemed to be more of a social collaboration suite than anything, I don’t think it ever even totally got out to the public.

However successful those products were (which they weren’t really), we now have Google+ which has been taking the web by storm! Tech pundits, bloggers, and economists alike have been raving about what it means for the company, Facebook and the web as a whole. So far I really like it over Facebook, the design is clean and consistent with the new theme Google is rolling out across their sites (see the new gmail look and CosmicPanda YouTube channel layout).

There are furthermore some stupendously ingenious UI features, being able to go through photo albums with the scroll wheel is a joy! You can also view more detailed metadata of the photos, like model of camera that was used and the f-stop etc. Haven’t tried Hangouts yet (because there aren’t too many people on which I’ll talk about later) but they look cool.

The idea of circles is a huge benefit for me, if you’ve ever tried to friend me on Facebook and I have not met you in real life or we’ve never really gotten to know each other, I will not accept the invite. On Google+ I just drag you into one of my circles that’s applicable and you’ll get a confirmation that you’re in one of my circles. You won’t know which circle, which is odd in itself, I’ve heard from one of my friends that he even got rid of the standard circles and made up the nine circles of hell from Dante’s Inferno. Humourous as it may be I can only wonder which circle I’m in.

However there’s still just one thing missing from the whole experience: people, you know the part of the network that makes it social. It’s like playing on a Minecraft server with four other people who don’t log on and build or talk to you much. This is where the title of this post comes in. Google+ has a long way to go, fancy UI features and design alone won’t bring people on board. The basic challenge is how do you draw people away from Facebook? I think what it will come down to is a few “key people” in a group of friends. I’ve written out two scenarios based based on this idea and and drawn from the fictional friend network below.

 

What “Lost”? no not at all, I know where I’m going with this. Here we have a network of friends on Facebook, granted it’s a very scaled down model, but let’s say this is ALL of Facebook.

Scenario 1: Jacob (he’s a little unpopular with only one friend) get’s Google+ loves it and uses it. Having no friends on there where’s the motivation or incentive for others to adopt? Richard might, half his friends just left him on Facebook. So Richard joins Jacob on Google+, Ben who now only has one friend (note: a popular one though) also follows the two on to Google+. Now there is still a large majority on Facebook, none of them even really care that these three people left Facebook however, Locke the most popular person here just lost one friend to the service. Through this model, the viral chain of adoption stops there and Jacob, Richard, and Ben all have Google+ to themselves.

Scenario 2: Locke leaves Facebook and carries all his photos over to Google+ because he just likes it a whole lot more and that it’s his destiny! Holy cow! Locke has pictures of everyone and everything they’ve done together, suddenly five friends just lost a bunch of photo data, this super cool popular guy just swtiched to Google+ maybe they should too? There’s now an incentive and motivation for others to switch. Within a couple of days, the whole network is on Google+, then Jack starts saying that they have to go back but no one really listens because they’re all already there.

Scenario 1 is essentially what’s happening on Google+ right now, a few tech savvy people who don’t really like Facebook to begin with have switched over but don’t really have enough voice among their group of friends to get everyone else over. To make matters more complicated you have to still be invited to the service from someone who already uses it. Scenario 2 is the challenge Google must rise to, getting those “popular” people off of Facebook and on to Google+. Of course everyone is not and early adopter and switcher like Locke, a lot of the people I’ve seen just try out Google+ to see what it’s like, I know no one who has converted entirely. Some things are just popular because they got to it and put themselves out there first, Internet Explorer, HuskyStarcraft, and Facebook. IE shows that it’s hard to draw people away even though there are better things out there; others, like Firefox and Chrome, have show that its possible though. Not the best example because those are just browsers, no interactivity between friends, if you switch browsers, there’s no social repercussion, when you leave Facebook, especially if you’re “popular”, you will leave waves where you once were; and your friends will balk at you in real life like you don’t have a cell phone or something (hopefully a minor exaggeration).

These challenges are hopefully known, and anticipated. In the end Google+ will take some time to get better and more people to adopt it, but it’s certainly possible and if any company can do it, it’s Google. Godspeed Google!