Over the past few months, there's been a lot of talk about Microsoft's push towards Metro with the upcoming release of Windows 8. While there's still going to be plenty of legacy love for non-Metro applications on Windows 8, the most significant change for end users will be the introduction of a whole new UI.
Some pundits in the Windows space have been quick to point out that there is nothing to fear from the changes to Windows, in that Windows 8 will come with a classic mode that feels like past Windows releases. So this should keep people on the platform, right?
I'm not totally convinced of this. I think that this could open up people to the idea of trying new opportunities, more specifically _ believe it or not _ creating an interest in the desktop environments offered by today's Linux distributions.
Desktop and software is changing
In the past, one of the hurdles I've found with potential Linux converts was the idea of leaving behind legacy software with their Windows installations. But now with Microsoft’s embrace of the new Metro UI, and the software development that is expected to follow from there, the idea of trying a new desktop environment with unknown software on Linux doesn't seem so far-fetched.
The fact is that as time passes, the Windows OS everyone has come to know is changing. And you're either free to adapt with it or begin exploring alternatives.
As of this writing, I have already begun to see a number of people adopting the mindset that alternative desktop options may be viable. Bundle this idea with the fact that we're seeing more Windows users trying and relying on Linux every day. I don't have any hard numbers to support this, however I've seen much greater activity on forums and news sites than I have years past. Certain Linux specific podcasts seeing growth, also support this theory.
With more software finding itself in a state of cross platform compatibility, and new dependencies on Web-based applications, the problem of legacy software is slowly becoming less of an issue. Some of the areas where I'm seeing the most growth is with small businesses and home users, making the switch to Linux distributions such as Ubuntu.
With Ubuntu presenting its new Unity desktop to newcomers, I have been surprised to see how quickly many people are adapting to it. Like Windows 8's Metro desktop, Unityalso presents something new to the end user.
The difference being, of course, that Unity is a choice desktop users can rely on, as there are other desktop environments available. IN contrast, with the Metro user interface for Windows 8, there will be Metro and Windows Classic desktop options only. Some users will find this limiting. Granted, since Windows 8 isn't out yet, that much of this is my own speculation.
It's not a touch screen
The fact that Microsoft is bent on treating their next operating system release like it's going to be installed exclusively on tablets is really foolish. As I mentioned before, the classic desktop is still available. But rather than encouraging desktop application development for the classic desktop, Microsoft is pushing everything into Metro.
Are developers supposed to throw caution to the wind and develop for the Metro UI exclusively? What about users who will likely hold on to older releases of Windows, such as Windows 7? Now more than ever, cross platform software and web-based software choices are likely to pick up.
Linux users benefit from this growth in non-Metro software development as it means software developers are beginning to look beyond the Windows world. Right now, this has mostly been with Android, but I also see this growing into the desktop Linux space as well.
With governments, military, the financial industry, and others looking to gain greater control over the desktop experience, I think that the Metro software approach is going to bomb hard. The very idea of Explorer going from a shell to a Metro application isn't going to win any fans.
Microsoft's Metro UI is best suited for tablets. And Microsoft is amazingly late to the game in the tablet space, as in the non-stylus-based tablets. If you need a preview of how badly Windows 8 is going to bomb because of the blunder that is Metro, you need only look at the mess that is Windows Phone 7. It's a neat idea, but late to market and poorly executed.
Metro is too late and it's not really appropriate for devices relying on a mouse and keyboard. Most people will have little to no reason to upgrade from Windows 7.
Peripheral support rocks on Linux
One of the most comical things I've seen over the years is the idea that somehow Windows has superior peripheral support. This is completely false. Out of the box, Windows driver support is weak at best and useless at worst.
Windows fools people into thinking they offer better support by relying on driver disks from manufacturers. However, this only allows newer devices to work well on the Windows desktop.