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Windows 8 designer: Why Microsoft forced Metro on us all

A purported UX designer for Microsoft reveals why the "love it or hate it" Metro environment is the default in Windows 8.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Microsoft designed its Metro, aka Modern, interface for "your computer-illiterate little sister, for grandpas who don't know how to use that computer 'dofangle' thingy, and for mom who just wants to look up apple pie recipes."

At least that's the take from someone who claims to have worked on the design of Windows 8.

Chiming in on a Reddit conversation on Friday, Jacob Miller, a self-described UX designer for Microsoft, said that Metro was created for casual users first and foremost, but claimed that the interface ultimately will be a boon to power users as well. From Miller's viewpoint, Metro is geared for content consumers -- people who want to check Facebook, view a few photos, and post a selfie. In other words, the user can do "one thing (and only one) thing relatively easily."

On the flip side, Metro is not geared for content creators -- people who want to multitask, run virtual machines, and do more complex things, Miller said. But if that's the case, why ram Metro down the throats of all Windows users?

Essentially, Microsoft felt it was up against a wall, according to Miller's description. Try to add a powerful new feature to Windows, and casual users balk. One example Miller cited is multiple desktops, a feature in OS X and Linux, but still not built into Windows. Each time Microsoft conducted user tests on multiple desktops, casual users got confused, prompting the company to cut it.

Comparing Windows 8 to a "rented tuxedo coat," Miller said it was designed to fit a variety of people but not tailored to any one specific customer. Features added to Windows had to be simple enough for casual users but not so dumb that it would turn off power users. As a result, many features were cut on the first go-round, and that led to Windows 8's split personality, according to Miller:

Our hands were bound, and our users were annoyed with their rented jackets. So what did we do? We separated the users into two groups. Casual and Power. We made two separate playgrounds for them. All the casual users would have their own new and shiny place to look at pictures of cats -- Metro. The power users would then have free reign over their native domain -- the desktop.

So why was Metro initially made the default with no option to boot to the desktop in Windows 8? Miller explained the thinking here:

The short answer is because casual users don't go exploring. If we made desktop the default as it has always been, and included a nice little start menu that felt like home, the casual users would never have migrated to their land of milk and honey. They would still occupy the desktop just as they always had, and we would have been stuck in square one. So we forced it upon them. We drove them to it with goads in their sides. In 8.1, we softened the points on the goads by giving users an option to boot directly to desktop.

Now that we've gone through the Sturm und Drang of Windows 8, what lies ahead? Miller painted a future in which Microsoft smooths out the rough edges of both Metro and the desktop:

Now that the casual users are aware of their new pasture, we can start tailoring. It will be a while before the power users start seeing the benefits of this (that's why I said they'd benefit in the long run). Right now we still have a lot of work to do on making Metro seem tasty for those casual users, and that's going to divert our attention for a while. But once it's purring along smoothly, we'll start making the desktop more advanced. We'll add things that we couldn't before. Things will be faster, more advanced, and craftier than they have in the past -- and that's why Metro is good for power users.

In one respect, Miller is saying that Windows 8 was the price we had to pay to get to a smoother and friendlier Windows 9. If so, is that really the best way to treat your customers? Does Microsoft need to force-feed us a not-so-good version of Windows before we can get something better? Or was Windows 8 an unnecessary slip-up on the road to the future?

CNET contacted Microsoft to verify the identify of the self-dubbed Windows UX designer. A Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed that Miller does work for the company but declined to reveal any details about his specific role.

CNET also contacted Miller directly through email and Twitter and will update the story if he responds.

(Via NeoWin)

Updated, 10:11 a.m. PT: to reflect that CNET has contacted Microsoft. Updated, 12:41 p.m. PT: Added details on attempts to confirm Miller's role at Microsoft.