What does the “desktop” mean to Microsoft?

September 3rd, 2011

Even though Microsoft has spent significant effort to branch into mobile, web and console markets, the company’s main revenue stream remains in the desktop space. Gearing up towards the next major Windows release, Steven Sinofsky (president of Windows division) has started extensive blogging about Windows 8. In yesterday’s entry he addresses a lot of criticism of the transition of Windows Explorer to use the ribbon component, the future of Aero and Metro, as well as the high-level approach that the Windows team takes towards the consistency of Windows desktop experience. The entire entry is well worth the read, but the following quotes are particularly interesting:

The unique element of Windows has always been the “open market” approach to interface. We embraced how people used and adapted the Windows APIs to bring unique experiences to market. Within any context there really isn’t a single “desktop” experience. Certainly some have been critical in the past that “Aero” did not achieve a uniformity or consistency, even within Windows.

We’ve long embraced apps that have palettes or toolbars, full screen / windowed / MDI, built-in controls or custom controls. The mechanisms to implement this variety are part of the desktop heritage. Some wish for more uniformity or policing. As a member of the team that built our early Windows tools, I know we tried. Even in the most homogeneous platform, developers will strive to differentiate and build their user experiences for specific purposes and experiences will diverge from commonality. Commonality was an answer to complexity in another era–today we are surrounded by digital experiences of all different types and we readily adapt (just as people adapted to a wide variety of print formats or video formats as these technologies improved from their first generations). The answer today is whether the design works in the context for which it was intended.

While this is not particularly surprising, it further confirms the focus on providing support for diverse experiences that allow differentiation, with particular focus on adapting to the context.