Some have criticized Mission Control, Apple’s new centralized app and window management interface, saying that it adds complexity rather than introducing the simplicity of a mobile interface. At the other extreme, Lion allows any app to be rendered full-screen, which blocks out distractions but also forces users to switch applications more often than necessary.
“The problem [with a desktop OS] is that it’s hard to manage windows,” says Mathis. “The solution isn’t to just remove windows altogether; the solution is to fix window management so it’s easier to use, but still allows you to, say, write an essay in one window, but at the same time look at a source for your essay in a different window.”
Windows 8, meanwhile, attempts to solve this problem in a more elegant way, with a “Windows Snap,” which allows apps to be viewed side-by-side while eliminating the need to manage their dimensions by dragging them from the corner.
A problem with moving toward a touch-centric interface is that the mouse is absolutely necessary for certain professional applications. “I can’t imagine touch in Microsoft Excel,” says Shive. “That’s going to be terrible,” she says.
The most significant difference between Apple’s approach and Microsoft’s is that Windows 8 will be the same OS no matter what device it’s on, from a mobile phone to a desktop PC. To accommodate a range of devices, Microsoft has left intact the original Windows interface, which users can switch to from the full-screen start screen and full-screen apps option.
Merholz believes Microsoft’s attempt to make its interface consistent across all devices may be a mistake. “Microsoft has a history of overemphasizing the value of ‘Windows everywhere.’ There’s a fear they haven’t learned appropriateness, given the device and its context,” he says.
Shive believes the same could be said of Apple. “Apple has been seduced by their own success, and they’re jumping to translate that over to the desktop … They think there’s some kind of shortcut, where everyone is loving this interface on the mobile device, so they will love it on their desktop as well,” she says.
In a sense, both Apple and Microsoft are about to embark on a beta test of what the PC should be like in an era when consumers are increasingly accustomed to post-PC modes of interaction. But it could be a bumpy process. “I think we can get there, but we’ve been using the desktop interface for 30 years now, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” says Shive.
When designing an embedded system choosing which tools to use often comes down to building a custom solution or buying off-the-shelf tools.