Raluca Budiu, a senior researcher for user experience research firm Nielsen Norman Group, has an idea about how this might work. Instead of providing a full-blown desktop environment, Microsoft could offer some type of compatibility mode for desktop apps within the Modern-style interface. You would still be able to run the full version of, say, Adobe Photoshop in a self-contained area, with its own windowing system. Meanwhile, another program, such as iTunes, would be confined to its own area. You would lose the ability to run multiple programs side-by-side on a single screen, but none of the other desktop baggage would apply. You'd have no separate Control Panel, no dueling versions of Internet Explorer, no separate file browser, and no taskbar--all features of Windows 8 today.
"Just let PC apps start automatically in this desktop mode...but don't force people to have to manage their computer by interacting with the two different interfaces," Budiu wrote in an email exchange. In Budiu's description, the Modern-style interface would take over.
Budiu's suggestion makes sense for straight-up Windows 9 tablets, where the main goal is media consumption. But on a traditional PC, a full desktop environment still makes sense, especially for power users who need to juggle lots of windows. And on a hybrid device such as Surface Pro, users might want both interfaces in a single device.
So Budiu posits an alternative approach, which amounts to what PC veterans have been requesting all along: Untangle the two interfaces. Don't send users into the Modern-style interface when they're working on the desktop. Bring back a pop-up Start menu designed strictly to handle desktop functions and shortcuts. Prevent Modern-style elements such as the recent apps list and the charms bar from popping up along the sides of the screen, where they hinder window management.
"I think that if we really wanted to offer user the flexibility of both PC and tablet in a single device, a stronger separation of the two modes would help," Budiu wrote.
So what's the better method? Should Windows 9 do more to separate the desktop and Modern interfaces, or should it further deemphasize the desktop until that interface is no longer needed?
How about doing one and then the other? Untangling the two interfaces could be a minor tweak, so if Microsoft plans to launch a Windows Blue OS this year, improving the Modern-desktop dichotomy might be a great short-term fix. Later, when Microsoft has all of the necessary software and hardware in place to support touchscreen-based computing, it can make a clean break.
Update Modern UI charms