September 27th, 2011
It is no longer easy to do anything revolutionary on this highly saturated IT market. Content-wise apps have altered the perspective of the end-user on software. It is no longer necessary to ask how something is done, as long as it gets done. A short term perspective nonetheless, making it even harder for developers to convey the most important message about building software: don't yet expect it to keep up with the ever increasing change and complexity.
We now have created this end-user with a highly eclectic nature. This user combines features (apps) to fulfill certain needs. This might be great for a smartphone, but when you come to think about an operating system or enterprise solutions, the apps stop but the eclectic user is still there. The user gets confronted with encyclopedic software suites that are highly "configurable" (read: standardized) with an interface that sometimes resembles a space shuttle command center.
Here you can see a SAP UI example.
App-ify both inside and outside
Those same companies are now trying to get the software to become a set of loosely coupled features, using a service bus approach which they call a "platform" or a "base". But this is only about the content, nobody is thinking about the exterior except for the end-users who ditched their own encyclopedia a long time ago. It might be a bit unfair towards designers and analysts, but for the end-user, the guy who is sitting at his desk trying to figure out the software, only the exterior counts.
So why is Microsoft able to be revolutionary?
If you see that the content side of software is highly saturated, one should start thinking about how things look and try to unify what has been blown to pieces, I mean apps. As I mentioned before, an operating system is not like a phone, it needs a stronger sense of unity. And even though the content might come from different places, the end result should look like an interface that controls apps, and not the other way around.
The Windows start screen
How things work under the hood is by no means relevant to the end user. It is all about how the user perceives the behavior of the system. It is therefore not even necessary to start shredding a software suite to pieces in order to get this light "app" feel, because it is only a different way of looking at the interface. We all know this problem from the past when developers were not able to explain to the client that a prototype is not a working program, but just a model of the exterior. And we all know the result of building on a prototype...
Windows 8 will not be doing a lot of new things, but they changed the way it looks completely. You are not browsing the system anymore, the system is constantly adapting itself to become as relevant as possible to the individual user. Think back to those programs that had an "easy" and "expert" mode. Windows 8 only has a "relevant" mode. It does not have too many buttons like the ERP system from SAP in the example above, nor is it too easy/limited. The interface becomes the entire application. People are no longer browsing different levels and screens but are part of a dynamic and very personal "ecosystem".
I'm very happy with the UI behind Windows 8 (and WP7) and am hoping to see similar approaches from other big software companies. Thumbs up for Microsoft!