Could Windows 8's new UI be a sign of things to come?


— 1:44 PM on June 3, 2011

If what Microsoft showed earlier this week is any indication, Windows 8 looks set to abandon age-old user interface paradigms and serve up a full-screen, touch-friendly user interface. Whither Mac OS X? Jesus Diaz over at Gizmodo has written an interesting opinion piece about the future of Apple's operating systems, and he believes Lion may be the last Mac OS X as we know it.

Diaz says it's no coincidence Apple choose the lion—the biggest and mightiest of the big cats—as a code name for OS X 10.7. "Lion is the last of the cats and it may be the last OS before a new generation that will have the same guts with a new user experience," he says. Whatever operating system comes next may have an iOS-style interface and may not even run on the same kind of hardware as today's Macs, Diaz posits. Considering ARM-based processors are rapidly gaining cores and growing in performance, it's not hard to imagine another architectural shift taking place at Apple. (The company already transitioned from 68K to PowerPC, then from PowerPC to x86, so another jump would be business as usual.)

Hardware is only part of the picture, though. Diaz reflects at length on the shift away from traditional windowed interfaces, which Windows 8 will be making next year—and which he expects Apple's next-gen operating system to undergo. He doesn't seem entirely unhappy about that prospect:

Clerks, designers, engineers, economists, illustrators, architects, gamers, photographers, journalists, film makers, teachers, students, or musicians... for those people, everyone in the planet except a very few, the file structures and the windowed user interface are imposed by paradigms that have long been obsolete, crumbling conventions that have been growing in complexity through the years.

I don't know if I agree entirely with Diaz. Certainly, making user interfaces less complex is a good thing, but I can't be the only one who's grown rather attached to windowed interfaces over the years. Right now, for instance, I'm typing this in a text editor window on my first monitor while glancing at the Gizmodo piece and an IRC window on my second monitor. Would a full-screen interface offer the same level of multi-tasking efficiency, or would it be one of those "two steps forward, one step back" developments?

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