Happy Birthday Windows XP

Dear Windows XP,

Happy birthday, it’s been a good decade and you still look as good as when I first used you having used Windows 98 in the prior years. Admirably, you stuck strong all the way through the Vista years, but it seems your successor’s successor has finally overtaken you in popularity. It’s hard to say how much longer I’ll use you, however the incentives to upgrading aren’t too great… sure I guess now you won’t run Battlefield 3 but before then it was just Internet Explorer 9 and Halo 2! So here’s to looking at you!

[It’s a little hard to believe that I’m still actively using an OS that’s ten years old. As far as computing goes, that pretty ancient, but XP just works. You can install it on almost any range of machine and with a fresh install, it will run pretty smoothly. ¬†Yeah, I really like using Windows 7 when I get the chance, it has some really nice UI features that I wish even OSX had. Yet for now everything I use still supports XP so I see no urgency to upgrade.]


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.