Business Insider’s coverage of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is sponsored by Intel.
Microsoft today announced a plan to make Windows 8 users a little bit happier.
To put it mildly, the Windows 8 design has been controversial.
Instead of a traditional PC desktop user interface, Windows 8 uses Microsoft’s mobile design, which has tiles for applications.
Windows Phone, which first used the tile look, is a relative failure. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Windows 8 for desktop computers, which uses the same design, has not been a hit.
Since Microsoft introduced Windows 8 on the desktop, sales of consumer PCs have been dropping by double digit percentages.
Despite the drop in sales, and the numerous critiques of Windows 8, Microsoft today recommitted to the tile look.
In Barcelona, ahead of big mobile industry event MWC, Microsoft executive Joe Belfiore told a group of journalists that users who have touch-screen laptops prefer Windows 8 and its tiles to Windows 7, which had a traditional desktop look.
However, he admitted that users of Windows 8 on non-touch screen devices think Windows 7 is better than Windows 8.
Belfiore is in charge of the user experience on Windows across phones, tablets, and traditional laptop/desktop computers.
Rather than just give up on the tile look of Windows 8, Microsoft plans to tweak Windows 8 so that it’s better for users that don’t have touch screens, and instead rely on a mouse and keyboard.
The new UI will add a search control, power button, and settings in more visible locations for users. “You’ll find them where you expect them,” said Belfiore. Microsoft also changed the behaviour for “right-clicking” on a mouse. You’ll get contextual information on a tile. Further, when an app takes over a screen, users will see a familiar red X icon to get out of the big screen.
Belfiore insisted that Microsoft wasn’t giving up on its touch interface. “I want to set the record straight: We love touch. None of this has the intention of degrading the touch experience.”
However, during a Q&A, we asked if he would commit 100% to keeping the tiles even if consumer PC sales fell. He didn’t say yes.
“I meaningful, firmly believe that it is a good UI metaphor,” said Belfiore. “It is a unique differentiator. I love tiles, I am exited about them. We had some drop in user happiness, but tiles aren’t the reason.”
He said that Microsoft would continue to evolve Windows based on user feedback, which sounded like he was saying if people really, truly hate the look of Windows, then they would drop tiles.
However, for now, he doesn’t think people hate tiles all that much. He thinks the problem is that Microsoft is designing for laptops with touch, but 60% of laptops don’t have touch.
We’d be surprised if Microsoft abandons the Windows 8 tile look in the next 12 months.
Belfiore started off his presentation talking about Microsoft’s unified operating system. The core of Windows powers Microsoft’s phones, tablets, desktops, laptops, and the Xbox. All of those devices have similar user interfaces.
It would be weird to have the desktop look deviate from the rest of the line up.
But, if consumer PC sales keep dropping, and the newest tweaks to Windows 8 don’t make users happier, then who knows, Microsoft might revert to its old look.