Developers: will you do Metro?

It is fascinating to watch the Metro-fication of all things Microsoft, from the Xbox 360 user interface to Windows Phone to Windows 8 to forthcoming versions of Office and other applications.

Future versions of Dynamics products were previewed at the Convergence 2012 event (which included a session called CRM goes Metro) and there are a bunch of screenshots here.

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Microsoft calls Metro a design language and you can see its guiding principles here. Calling it a language does not seem quite right; the word “style” is more accurate, but it does have building block elements (and yes it is blocky) which I guess make it more than just a style.

A safe prediction at this point is that all Microsoft’s products will be touched by Metro influence, even though not all will become full Metro apps running on the Windows Runtime (WinRT).

In the past the style adopted by Microsoft for its own applications have strongly influenced third-party applications as well. Once Windows, Office, Dynamics and other apps have a Metro look, other apps that do not may begin to look dated or out of place.

Metro is controversial though, perhaps even more so than the Office Ribbon which replaced menus in Office 2007 and 2012. There is some connection: members of the Office team who worked with Steven Sinofsky on the design of Office 2007, including Julie Larson-Green and Jensen Harris, are now working with him on Windows 8. Harris has written extensively about the work on Office 2007 on his Office User Interface Blog, though the last substantial post was in 2008.

What’s not to like about Metro? Here’s a few arguments against:

  • Beauty is in the eye of etc; but the blockiness of the Metro style does give it a utilitarian appearance. In Windows Phone 7 it is nice to use, but not so great to look at.
  • The Live Tile concept, where shortcut blocks can be populated with current information, adds a random element to Metro start screens which does not always look good.
  • The emphasis on simplicity and immersion makes Metro vulnerable to the accusation that it wastes too much precious screen space.
  • Metro tends to be a horizontally scrolling style, though I am not sure if this is baked into the guidelines. This takes some adjustment since most of us are more used to vertical scrolling to see more content.
  • Metro seems to be optimized for a touch UI, and while its advocates insist that it is just as good with keyboard and mouse, that is a stretch. Metro seems to be a big bet on touch as the future of human-computer interaction.

On the other hand, the usability of Windows Phone 7 is a point in its favour, and some are convinced. Paul Greenberg, in a positive take on Microsoft’s strategy based on his trip to Convergence 2012, says:

They have nailed UX (a.k.a user experience). Nailed it. Their combination of the extremely well done Metro interface and their work on natural user interfaces involving voice and touch is the new gold standard – and I’m someone who loves Apple products. (please, Mac fanboys, spare my life.)

I would be interested to hear from developers whether you expect to embrace the Metro style in your apps, wither in WinRT or elsewhere.

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