Remember the girls in school who were not overly ugly or attractive yet still wanted to be the center of attention? They usually did crazy stuff like dyed their hair wild colors and pierced everything. They often had many good qualities, but they didn’t think so. These girls felt they have nothing better to offer so they went with outlandish styles to attract attention.
This is exactly why I think Microsoft and Ubuntu are pushing their recent UI changes, in spite of feedback from users. The urge to look different and attract attention trumps the need to keep their audience happy.
Whether it’s our attention spans getting shorter or operating systems losing relevance, change for the sake of change seems to be the name of the game now. Both Canonical and Microsoft are now shaking things up and making it different. Not better, but different.
Metro and Unity: You’ll get over it
The Unity interface was introduced with Ubuntu Linux 11.04 and Metro is being released with Windows 8, and both seem to be getting the same reaction. Both of them are drastic UI changes that come for a good reason: the world is moving away from the desktop computer. There’s no disputing the world is going mobile.
But many of us crazy enough to still prefer a desktop or laptop (those doing actual work) hate these interfaces. If you’re using a tablet, watching videos or playing Angry Birds it’s fine. If you’re an architect, graphic designer, software developer, 3D animator, or something along those lines you probably hate these new interfaces.
The response from both camps is the same: the future is here so get used to the changes. You are free to change your Ubuntu desktop to one of the many alternatives, and Windows 8 has a desktop mode but it’s drastically different. Whether you like it or not the standard is set and complaints about it fall on deaf ears.
Why all the changes?
If you ask anyone from Microsoft or Canonical why they’ve moved the cheese and they’ll probably give you some marketing talk about emerging trends and looking forward and other nonsense. I think the real reason they’ve made these changes and are locking them is very simple: because it’s new. It’s change simply for the sake of change because the basic desktop hasn’t changed in a very long time.
The start button has been around since Windows 95 was released, Gnome and KDE were released in 1997. Since that time we’ve made a lot of incremental changes and improvements of course, but from 50 feet away they all look the same. Similar windows, menus and dialogs, since the mid 90s. See the Problem?
They just need to make it look different. The functionality of an Operating System doesn’t change drastically over time, so if you want to keep up with today’s fast technology cycles, you have to shake things up. You have to be new, not necessarily better but new. Hey look, we don’t have a start button anymore!
What’s Under the Hood?
So you may be asking, are they just trying to put lipstick on a pig? Are they just slapping a new desktop on an otherwise inferior operating system? The answer for both platforms is no. In fact both systems are better than they’ve ever been.
Ubuntu Linux is a first class operating system that’s getting faster, more stable and supporting more hardware than ever. The software stack is great, package management and security all get really high marks.
Windows 8 has also been retooled into what could be their best operating system yet. Tech advances like UEFI are introduced, a Pre-OS system and remote diagnostics, and a “live USB” feature, faster boot times and USB 3.0 support to name a few. There have been kernel enhancements and other changes that make it run faster on the same hardware than it would with Windows 7. It’s no slouch from a technical standpoint.
Both of these operating systems at the top of their game so why do they have to build these shiny desktops to attract attention? Why can’t they sell these operating systems on their own merits?
Because nobody cares about that stuff anymore.
The Target Audience
As a regular user of Ubuntu I like to give Jono Bacon and gang a little bit of flack here and there especially when it comes to Unity. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when I want a truly stable Ubuntu system I use 10.04 and build a 3.6 kernel for it. It just works, and the interface is easy to use for those who need it. For my uses Ubuntu peaked at 10.04 and I and many others have let them know.
The replies I always get back: “you’re not our target audience anyway”. I understand this and I know they’re right. Canonical isn’t targeting hackers anymore, and Microsoft never did. They both want that “mass market” appeal.
When the beta versions of both Unity and Metro were released the hackers were the first to cry out in agony, but they were ignored. But the biggest problem I see now is nearly everyone using it seems to hate it.
You’re targeting the everyman but here’s a problem: The everyman is even less adaptable when it comes to confusing interfaces. A geek will try their best to learn something new but if the average person is confused by an interface they’ll simply avoid it altogether.
The Customer is Always Right, But We Don’t Care
Unity has been out there a while, and there are certainly people who have become accustomed to it, and those that even prefer it. However most of the people I’ve talked to and 90% of the commentary I’ve seen on the internet suggests that Unity is a flop. Windows 8 hasn’t been in testing long enough but I’ve seen it going in the same direction.
So are you going to stick by your bad decision even if your target audience hates it? In the case of Canonical/Ubuntu the answer is yes. It’s highly likely Microsoft will follow suit. They are both taking a similar position: we know what’s good for you and we’re going to force to you use this. If you don’t like it you’ll get used to it. Don’t be afraid of change. Stop living in the past.
This arrogant attitude is shared by both camps and it’s a huge gamble, shutting out certain segments and experimenting with known good formulas in the name of doing it different.
If you’re reading this blog chances are you aren’t the type of user Microsoft or Canonical wants. They’re putting a new flashy interface on their operating systems for a new flashy type of user. They want people who are consuming content, not producing it. The reasoning is quite obvious: there are far more consumers than producers. The fact at operating systems matter less and less is another factor. If you’re producing something the operating system is merely a tool to boot up your computer and run your software for you. You don’t need much out of it and upgrading every year seems silly and useless.
If you’re a consumer you want “upgrades” even if they don’t really mean anything. If they provide some sort of functionality for your device you’ll gladly install a new OS every 6 months. You want flashy and new, not old and stale. You want to be able to stand 50 feet away and know that your operating is different from the rest. If you want stability and proven formulas, you’d get an Apple product. This is exactly what both Microsoft and Canonical are counting on, and gambling their livelihood on.