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Problems with modal approaches to "fixing Windows 8"

win8 win8.1

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#1 contextfree

contextfree

    Neowinian

  • Joined: 25-January 11

Posted 28 January 2014 - 14:13

A bunch of people have suggested the current unified tablet/PC design we see in Windows 8 should be split into two strictly separated modes (of course, having two totally separate SKUs or OSs can be thought of as an even more extreme version of this). Recently some very nicely executed design mockups by Jay Machalani got a lot of attention an praise. Kudos to him for a great demonstration of the concept, but I have a couple of big problems with it:

 

1. It breaks useful cross-mode windowing scenarios.

 

Having a strict modal separation between the two windowing models breaks a bunch of IMO not terribly uncommon scenarios where mixing them in some way is useful.

 

* Can't have a different mode on each monitor - if one is touch/a tablet and the other isn't, for example.

 

* Can't snap an app beside the desktop and have the system automatically manage the use of the remaining space. There are actually some desktop apps that have hacked a custom implementation of this - OneNote for example - so I don't think it's a contrived scenario.

 

* Sometimes I like to use the availability of desktop and immersive windows to express a "work versus play" (or, more precisely, "continuing part of ongoing persistent task versus transient digression") distinction. That way I can use the "transient/play" apps without worrying about them cluttering the taskbar, slowing down the PC, interfering with what I'm doing, etc. Modal separation breaks that.

 

* Some apps just work better with one or the other windowing model - e.g., part of what I really like about Tweetium is how clicking on a link will automatically shrink the Tweetium window down to a narrow strip and open a browser window in the remaining space. That of course depends on the immersive windowing APIs. Other apps such as calculators or "sticky notes" work better in desktop windows. So it would be nice to have apps like this automatically open in the right kind of window, or at least allow the user to set this per-app, rather than requiring an obnoxious global mode switch that potentially messes with everything else.

 

2. Desktop apps inherently clash with the immersive app model and UX.

 

While running immersive apps in desktop windows seems like it could probably work well, I'm really leery of the reverse. There are a few potential problems with running desktop apps in immersive windows that I see:

 

* Desktop apps can open multiple windows and draw outside of their window. Some apps (ab)use this quite a bit for dialogs, palette windows, etc. This could get pretty awkward to map to immersive windowing - do we put each in its own "strip"? Do we make each "strip" a little virtual desktop where the app can put additional windows? Do we try some mix of the two approaches, and if so, how does the OS decide which is which?

 

* A goal of the immersive app model was that the user wouldn't have to worry about closing apps or which apps were/weren't running - indeed that the concept of "running apps" wouldn't exist for most users. The system UI was designed around that - no "X" to close, no taskbar to show what's open. But desktop apps can do anything in the background, so closing them and knowing what's running is important. And when you switch modes back into the desktop, which apps should even be kept open? Since "metro" mode blurs the lines between running and suspended apps, it's not clear.

 

And if you can't run desktop apps in immersive windows, and in general have a 1:1 mapping of running system/app state between modes, you can't really have a pure modal separation - either the mode switch is made destructive and essentially becomes a reboot, or you're left with a bunch of hidden stuff "running in the other mode" which doesn't make any sense. Once you really start thinking through the ramifications of alternative models the current desktop-as-an-app model starts to seem pretty elegant in some ways IMO.




#2 PGHammer

PGHammer

    Neowinian Senior

  • Tech Issues Solved: 1
  • Joined: 31-August 03
  • Location: Accokeek, MD
  • OS: Windows 8 Pro with Media Center x64

Posted 02 February 2014 - 18:24

A bunch of people have suggested the current unified tablet/PC design we see in Windows 8 should be split into two strictly separated modes (of course, having two totally separate SKUs or OSs can be thought of as an even more extreme version of this). Recently some very nicely executed design mockups by Jay Machalani got a lot of attention an praise. Kudos to him for a great demonstration of the concept, but I have a couple of big problems with it:

 

1. It breaks useful cross-mode windowing scenarios.

 

Having a strict modal separation between the two windowing models breaks a bunch of IMO not terribly uncommon scenarios where mixing them in some way is useful.

 

* Can't have a different mode on each monitor - if one is touch/a tablet and the other isn't, for example.

 

* Can't snap an app beside the desktop and have the system automatically manage the use of the remaining space. There are actually some desktop apps that have hacked a custom implementation of this - OneNote for example - so I don't think it's a contrived scenario.

 

* Sometimes I like to use the availability of desktop and immersive windows to express a "work versus play" (or, more precisely, "continuing part of ongoing persistent task versus transient digression") distinction. That way I can use the "transient/play" apps without worrying about them cluttering the taskbar, slowing down the PC, interfering with what I'm doing, etc. Modal separation breaks that.

 

* Some apps just work better with one or the other windowing model - e.g., part of what I really like about Tweetium is how clicking on a link will automatically shrink the Tweetium window down to a narrow strip and open a browser window in the remaining space. That of course depends on the immersive windowing APIs. Other apps such as calculators or "sticky notes" work better in desktop windows. So it would be nice to have apps like this automatically open in the right kind of window, or at least allow the user to set this per-app, rather than requiring an obnoxious global mode switch that potentially messes with everything else.

 

2. Desktop apps inherently clash with the immersive app model and UX.

 

While running immersive apps in desktop windows seems like it could probably work well, I'm really leery of the reverse. There are a few potential problems with running desktop apps in immersive windows that I see:

 

* Desktop apps can open multiple windows and draw outside of their window. Some apps (ab)use this quite a bit for dialogs, palette windows, etc. This could get pretty awkward to map to immersive windowing - do we put each in its own "strip"? Do we make each "strip" a little virtual desktop where the app can put additional windows? Do we try some mix of the two approaches, and if so, how does the OS decide which is which?

 

* A goal of the immersive app model was that the user wouldn't have to worry about closing apps or which apps were/weren't running - indeed that the concept of "running apps" wouldn't exist for most users. The system UI was designed around that - no "X" to close, no taskbar to show what's open. But desktop apps can do anything in the background, so closing them and knowing what's running is important. And when you switch modes back into the desktop, which apps should even be kept open? Since "metro" mode blurs the lines between running and suspended apps, it's not clear.

 

And if you can't run desktop apps in immersive windows, and in general have a 1:1 mapping of running system/app state between modes, you can't really have a pure modal separation - either the mode switch is made destructive and essentially becomes a reboot, or you're left with a bunch of hidden stuff "running in the other mode" which doesn't make any sense. Once you really start thinking through the ramifications of alternative models the current desktop-as-an-app model starts to seem pretty elegant in some ways IMO.

Part of the issue is that users are USED to thinking modal - multimodal requires a different thinking process, which they are decidedly unused to.  (Notice the criticism of multimodal hardware running Windows 8.1 - such as touch-screen AIOs, or AIOs that have screens that detach - touch or otherwise.)

 

Multimodal hardware adapts to the user, as opposed to the user having to adapt to it.  Just because hardware supports touch, does it mean that the user HAS to use it?  Absolutely not - in the case of Windows 8.1 or Server 2012R2, touch-screen is an option, even if the hardware supports it!  (That is in and of itself different from Android or iOS - both of which are modal.)  There are multimodal hardware designs available for Android, and there are external third-party accessories to do the same with iPads - however, how many users OF those very accessories use them in a multimodal fashion?  The biggest reason FOR those accessories is due to user insistence on modal thinking, even when the OS in question does not fit such thinking - this is especially true of keyboards for tablets that normally lack them.  (I've used tablets with keyboards - however, it has NOT stopped me from using touch where (and when) it makes sense.  The same applies to Windows - where touch support is available.  It is STILL my choice - not one foisted on me.  However, Windows is the biggest bastion of modal OS-dom left - intransigence, especially when it comes to changing how the UX is, is expected.)

 

Notice that I did NOT say that Windows is the LAST bastion of modal OS-dom; however, it is easily the largest.  There are more users of merely XP and Vista than all the multimodal OSes combined.  However, technology improvements wait for nothing, and nobody - not even Windows users.  (I have one family friend that prefers XP to all other OSes - she has both a desktop and a laptop that have not moved from XP - she has a SECOND laptop running 7 for more modern software.  Yes - I support her - and them.  No - she is NOT a certain user that I will not name - she is far more honest; for her, the issue is simply preference, and she doesn't mince words about it.  I refuse to fault her for honesty; where I fault most of the criticism of the multimodal aspects of Windows is confusion of objective criticism of multimodality with subjective - as in personal - peeves with it.)

 

Those technology improvements I have likened - more than once - to the sea that Canute and his acolytes tried to sweep back with brooms; quite a few of those acolytes drowned.  I have no wish to drown; however, if I choose to stay on the Royal Barge, I'm in for a swamping - and all the life jackets are under lock and key.