Microsoft: we’ll always support desktop applications in Windows

By Tom Warren, on 17th Sep 11 2:57 pm with 56 Comments

Steven Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green at BUILD 2011

Microsoft ushered in a new era of Windows computing this week but still pledged its allegiance to Windows desktop applications.

Microsoft unveiled its Metro style user interface inside Windows 8 this week at the company’s BUILD conference. The new interface will support a new type of Metro application and will fall back to the standard Windows desktop for legacy Windows apps. Despite the introduction of new Metro apps, the company still feels that the keyboard and mouse combination is far from being dead. Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice president of program management for Windows, compared the mouse and keyboard to a surgeons tools during a Q&A session with journalists earlier this week. Larson-Green said there is no timeline in mind for when Microsoft will stop supporting desktop applications.

“As long as you need the high precision of using a mouse, that’s a lot more precise than using a finger, there’s always going to be applications,” said Larson-Green when questioned on Microsoft’s desktop application support. “Just like a surgeon has different kinds of knifes for different kinds of cutting things, you should have different kinds of tools depending on what you’re trying to get done. I think the mouse is around,” she added. Steven Sinofsky, head of Microsoft’s Windows and Windows Live Division, claims that desktop apps will “absolutely” always be a part of Windows:

“The reason we made the bet that we did, the bold bet on saying ‘hey we should build on windows’, is because we looked around and we just don’t see these apps being replaced by something else. The technology that is there is not an accident. People had problems to solve and they developed tools to solve those problems, other tools come along and they don’t necessarily solve the same problem. In this case you can imagine just taking precision typing and precision pointing – as screens get bigger and bigger and bigger and pixels get denser and denser and denser, mouse and pointing devices only become more important not less if you take advantage of all of that. So your finger with the resolution of say 40 DPI compares today to amounts of 1200 DPI. Mice is like lasers that stuff so they’re going to get way more precise and your finger is only a few million years of evolution and it’s going to take millions of more before it becomes that precise.”

Microsoft’s persistence on keeping the Windows desktop but opening it up to a new world of Metro applications designed for touch and other new devices will be the key selling point for Windows 8. Businesses and consumers both have existing legacy applications that will need to have a Metro counterpart to work in the new Windows 8 world. There’s still a number of scenarios, like Photoshop or Excel, where precision computing and mouse and keyboard input are the best ways to achieve a solid and accurate output. Microsoft isn’t ditching these kind of applications anytime soon, it’s just preparing for a new generation.

  • Anonymous

    Tom do you know the answer to this?

    If Windows 8 will be fully compatible with Windows 7 applications. What is the Windows 7 application is written in C++ and compiled for Intel (like games, native application), Will it run on Windows 8 on an ARM chip?

    En what if the windows 7 application is a C# managed .NET application, does the .NET framework run on Windows 8 for ARM ?

    • Tom W

      That won’t run on ARM no. Microsoft has also already said that existing apps won’t run on ARM and I’d expect they won’t even offer anything outside the Metro style user interface on that platform. C# app would need to be rolled up into a Metro app to work.

    • Anonymous

      Shame… Then they did not need to say “Everything that runs on Windows 7 runs on Windows 8″ , or they are lying.

      I find it very strange because I saw a demo video of a Microsoft person showing an arm tablet and the first thing he said was “Look here is the normal desktop” (at: )

    • Tom W

      Yup the desktop is there in existing builds but I’d be surprised if it’s there when they ship. It doesn’t really make sense to ship it with that if existing apps won’t run and most ARM systems will be touch.

    • Anonymous

      I agree it does not make sense to include it.

      But it will start fragmentation of Windows. People will buy a Windows Tablet pc (not knowing it is an ARM one) and wonder why there ‘games for windows’ does not run on it! I’m afraid this will be a user experience hell. Where did the ‘no compromises’ go ?

    • Tom W

      Yes and no, as long as people create Metro apps then it’ll be fine. You gotta start somewhere :)

    • Miro

      there are rumors ARM tablets and devices with windows 8 will be marketed differently, perhaps with a new name, than x86 running windows 8

    • Guest

      Why didn’t MS just create a virtualization solution for x86 on ARM or an Azure-based service to do that? That way ARM users could still run these apps if/when they needed.

  • Daniel Paulino

    as much as i love the metro UI in win8, i really really really really really really hope that microsoft will provide a feature to disable it. many people will not need the metro ui on their mouse/kb enabled desktops (such as businesses, enterprise, and of course.. my desktop)

    EDIT: I hope that i didn’t sound like a fool there. win8 does not currently have an option to disable the metro ui, right? i know there are registry hacks, but none built in by ms.

    • Shiro

      I concur. Will this interface really work in an office setting? We are not suppose to be doing social networking like Facebook and Twitter on company time. You feel me here?

    • Candid Calum

      The Immersive experience has nothing to do with social networking. Social networking apps and services can be built to take advantage of certain capabilities it provides, but as a concept and feature of Windows, it has nothing to do with social networking.

    • Paul Hill

      +1 I wonder if we’ll see a genuine hate towards it just as we did in the Ubuntu community towards Unity. People said it was unproductive and clunky.

    • Guest

      Lol. Hey shill, how many positive reviews did you have to search through before finding that negative one?

    • Lewis McCrary

      I would honesetly be shocked if MS didn’t make that an option. I can see the Metro UI just not working very well in the corporate “lets get work done” environment. :)

    • Anonymous

      I honestly don’t see the big deal, I think people are overreacting. The biggest difference between the Start menu and this, is that the Start screen takes a full screen. There are a few more features currently on the Start menu that are absent ,but they could always add those in.

      Does the fact that it takes a full screen really harm productivity so much? How many times do you need to go to the Start menu a day, especially when you can pin apps on the Taskbar also?

      I’m not person to say knee-jerk “people are afraid of progress” whenever people oppose changes in software, I disagreed with a lot of things Microsoft has done. But seems like another one of those things that people will get used to with time. I’ve already read some forum posts which said something to that effect — “At first I thought it was clumsy, but now I’m getting used to it.”

    • Anonymous

      I agree. But one thing I keep hearing for DP is that it’s hard to navigate the start screen with a mouse because you have to click on the tiny horizontal scroll bar. I tend to agree. I think MS will resolve this issue before it’s over (e.g. support gesture).

    • Anonymous

      One Metro app I saw had arrows on the left and right side of the screen that you could click on to navigate. I was thinking some people might like that better than the scrollbar. Scrolling could also be made automatic, by simply moving the mouse towards the edge of the screen. There are a lot of things they could do.

    • Anonymous

      scroll wheel in a mouse will also scroll through the start screen

    • Anonymous

      Agreed. People are really going overboard on this full-screen hysteria. Some on here are saying that only desktop apps can be used for “real work”, as if the display method actually affects the capability of a program. Heck, if full screen was an issue, then we would never maximize any program, yet most people do just that.

    • ZipZapRap

      + eleventy. But then, people are all a bit backwards aren’t they. No one likes change – people are scared sheetless of change, even if it’s better.

    • Daniel Paulino

      I’ve changed my view on things now. Since my original post, I’ve used win 8 a lot, and i feel im more used to the interface now that I know how to go around the OS. I still think there should be an option to disable the metro UI, but i do retract my previous statement regarding the metro UI not being optimized for mouse and keyboard. It actually works very well and intuitively using a mouse.

      One last thing, i know this is developer preview so there’s still a lot more work to do regarding the Metro UI, but i hope they fix the scrolling on the start menu!! perhaps make it more like zune’s quick page, or at least allow the mouse to click and drag the screen

    • Candid Calum

      Why? It doesn’t hinder productivity in any way. If anything it contibutes to a productive environment because if a business user has to regularly check for updates in different applications, all that user will now need to do is glance at the tiles on their Start Screen to see all of those updates; there will be no need for them to regularly open and close updates just to check things (assuming the developers of those business applications update their software).

    • Guest

      Not completely convinced yet. Say I’m working in Office all day long. How does Metro help me there, including retrieving files, etc?

    • Guest

      Really depends on the class of worker. A lot of enterprise workers spend much of their day in a single line of business app or a very limited series of them. Many just check email outside of that. No reason that can’t be down better through a half dozen Metro tiles. Another large group barely use PCs at all, and just need to check things like email. Again, better accomplished through a limited set of tiles, and requires less training and less chance they’ll fuckup their desktop requiring IT intervention. Then you have knowledge workers and other professionals who use lots of apps, going in and out, with many active at one time. Not clear how Metro adds value there.

    • Candid Calum

      There is a great misconception going around at the moment that the Immersive experience doesn’t work well on a desktop with a mouse and keyboard, but it does, so what do you suggest we do about those misled users? Allow them to continue being ignorant, possibly contributing to the hampering of Windows’s evolution?

    • Guest

      It’s not as bad with a mouse and keyboard as I initially thought. But I’d hardly call it good, at least currently. There’s too much jumping back and forth between desktop and metro and it is jarring regardless of what Sinofsky says. And there’s still too little discoverability in Metro if you’re not using touch. What are we going to do, tape the list of keyboard shortcuts to our monitors? Still early, but some concern is valid in my view until MS clearly shows how it will function much better than the current W7 UI for that segment of users. And that’s the bar: much better. A little better, the same, or god forbid worse, will not be sufficient for most to want to invest the time necessary to learn a different way of operating the OS. On a tablet, I think that argument can be made fairly easily. On the desktop, at least right now, I not as convinced.

    • Anonymous

      I agree. It’s a bad day when I have to google how to shut down my computer.

    • oolong2

      It’s DEFINATELY weird…  But once you get used to it you can start to see it’s potential.

      If you get used to typing a few characters that you want it’s quite fast, much faster than the old way because the UI and search is so quick.

      They should however include some kind of browsing feature to make browsing apps, settings, etc. easier with a mouse.

  • Anonymous

    Ok so I downloaded this the windows 8 developer preview and I don’t think its that bad but I think it will be best if they keep the aero for desktop and metro apart. Maybe Metro for touch input devices or give people the chance to choose between aero or metro or combination of both during installation or setting up of their device.. 

    Metro on my wp7 device works great and I think it will on tablets too but deskop.. I dont think its such a good idea.

    • Anonymous

      and i wonder why exactly you think its not “a good idea” it has its issues obviously being a developer preview but im the ones who like the new UI, and think it would be not a good idea to include old start menu for people who just dont want to use the new thing… so why would you upgrade then? how would you take advantage of new skydrive thing and how would you take advantage of sync stuff, or new developing stuff like games. like the one showed having multiplayer with Windows Phone. or the games you can build for Windows Phone and Windows 8 just with a Little change of code….. or you want all that with the old UI?… so you want the new stuff developed for 2 different UIs?… see i dont think thats a good idea.

      but i still wonder why you dont think its a good idea the new start menu.

    • Anonymous

      I know that this is just the developer build and probably by the time it finally gets out things might change but am only expressing my reservations , who knows, maybe someone who has the ability to change things might be reading. 

      I say its not a good idea on desktops because I use a wp7 device and whiles I like the metro UI on my phone  I don’t have the same good feeling about it on the desktop.. I feel the whole swiping/scrolling with a mouse doesnt work well .. maybe if there is something like a windows version of Apple’s Magic Trackpad with gestures then it might work fine.I would want to upgrade from win7 due to the obvious improvements.. better memory and cpu management, better task manager, support for usb 3, faster boot time.. I could go on and on

      I think they can take out the whole metro layer and still leave traces of it for the desktop/aero version.. The charms and the new start menu are just fine.

      I think part of the success of windows 8 will be the choice they give to people.. if they allow people to choose between have a Metro only UI or Metro+ Aero UI  or Aero only UI it will help answer lots of questions and allay the fears of many.

    • Chris Woelfel

      In all actuality, the only thing that I see with “navigation” with touch is just task switching menu. Other than that…I don’t see any problem.

    • Candid Calum

      I would hate the old Desktop experience to continue to look Aero. If Microsoft don’t redesign it to give it a Metro look and feel (like the current Zune software), I will be very disappointed. Windows Server 8 seems to indicate they might, so I hope they do.

  • Guest

    With desktop UI co-existed, all metro UI tables will be easily jail broken, after all we are the boss of the desktop UI. Unless MS disabled administrator accounts permernently.

    • Chris Woelfel

      Jailbroken? Seriously?

  • Jason

    How can I use Autocad or many other enterprise applications with strange installs, legacy database backends etc in Metro?

    I only see Metro for phone style apps, nothing complicated.

    • Chris Woelfel

      You won’t…it will stay in the desktop area. Desktop = Work. Start Screen = Consume

    • Anonymous

      A bit narrow minded, don’t you think?

      Desktop apps are not more capable simply because they are in a window. Software capabilities aren’t affected by their display method. When you click maximize, the program is still just as capable.

    • Guest

      That’s an interesting way of thinking about it. I’ll have to give that some more thought and play around with the DP more with that in mind. But that’s not the message being sent by Sinofsky or MS.

    • Anonymous

      What is it that desktop apps can do that full screen apps cant? Display info? Take input?

  • Viki Maverick

    I don’t understand why people have to rant that they would not like the Metro interface on Non touch enabled devices. How many times does one have to reiterate that there would be an option to disable the metro interface in case you don’t need it. In fact, you can do the same on the current developer preview using a registry hack.

    Don’t use Beta’s and developer previews like dumb f$%$s and use your brains and in case you can’t, wait for the RTM version.

  • Anonymous

    im running DP and here is my 2 cents:

    Metro is great! It drives forward alot of things that needed to happen in desktop environment. Search is hugley improved BUT needs a little bit of refining (for instance desktop apps such as paint pop up with metro apps which is just annoying if you are trying to seperate the new world from the old world. The concepts around the Share and Device charms are huge… makes you think about the PC a little differently but in a good way. There are some overlays (such as the date and time) that overlap the “standard” tool bars in apps and it combines to be kind of ugly. Metro is 2D and it hurts the aesthetic when you have graphics overlaying other graphics. Control Panel (and app settings) is the easier to navigate then its ever been… but here is where the problems start to trickle in:

    All of the PC settings are not in Metro Control Panel… for probably more than half the settings (and i’m not talking about desktop exclusive settings) you are given a lame link (under “more settings”) that bounces you to the desktop control panel (jarring to say the least… and not good for power or avg users). Then there is multitasking. It is fundamentally broken right now in metro. Do you like Aero Flip 3D or Alt+Tab because you are going to be using similar things alot. The problem is that you cannot close apps. They just suspend when you navigate away. Which is fine on a tablet. to bring them back up on a tablet i have two options slide one app after another (mind you i can’t close them so they are all still there) until i get back to the one i want OR i can click start and go back to the launch screen and then reselect the app i already have open. Okay for a tablet (although that will be worse mutltasking than WP7.5 has). Not okay when you use it with a mouse and keyboard. You can Alt Tab to cycle through apps one by one with a keyboard or drags apps in from the side one by one with the mouse (you can also mouse to the left side of the screen which brings up a little icon of your next open app… then you can scroll wheel to get to the one you want) but none of this seems predictable with a mouse and keyboard. Another good example of multitasking gone wrong is IE10 Metro. You can open multiple tabs with IE10 metro but you can’t splitview (or dock or whatever its called) two tabs at the same time. I wanted to stream a podcast from one page and continue reading new articles in the next and I couldn’t do it. Not to mention audio and video functionality is totally unpredictable with the way apps get suspeneded… I am hoping alot of this is because this is just a dev preview and not a beta… but I just don’t know. I feel like this will ship with half of Control Panel being stuck in the Desktop and other such issues. There is alot of potential here but right now I’m worried. I can say as of right now that Steven Sinofsky was not telling the truth when he said that if you only want to live in Metro you never have to go to the desktop… false… if i want flash video i have to go to the desktop… if i want control panel settings i have to go there and if i want proper multitasking i have to go there… basically my head hurts

    hope this helped some people… fingers crossed this ends up working better 12 months from now. they did say they have a lot of work ahead

    • Mikgyver

      agreed!  I love my windows phone, but after using DP for a couple hours, I am worried about it’s implementation on windows 8.  accepting the fact that it will need this two OS approach, I really hope they make the transition from metro to traditional OS and back again absolutely hidden.  in other words, i don’t want to ever see windows 7 style desktop, even if I am running a program within it.  it should just be another window, doing it’s own thing.  i hate on DP that to accomplish anything, you are constantly flipping back and forth. I want everything to appear Metro, even if it isn’t.  otherwise, i might as well just run win 7 and forget Metro all together.  or get a Mac.  even though it’s not as attractive as Metro, at least it’s not schizophrenic, and it’s better than win 7.

      Also, will there be ‘windows’ within metro, or is an app always going to be full screen?  hard to call it windows if they’re all full screen.

  • Mark

    Im not familiar with Intel/ARM compatibility, but couldnt it be possible that Microsoft makes an ARM compiler for C#? since they are making new version of Visual Studio. Just a thought.

  • Chris

    From a developper perspective, what I understand is that I have to develop Metro applications with WinRT, not Win32 or .Net. Since Metro apps aren’t available under Windows 7, this means that all the new Metro apps will not run on Windows 7. If I want to sell software that runs on older systems and Windows 8, it will not be Metro. If I want both, I will need to support two different systems (or libraries). That’s almost like supporting two different operating systems :-(

    • Guest

      Progress sucks, huh?

  • Assistencia

    I really hope Microsoft will not screw things up this time, causing us all to have to wait to another version that will actually work without too many problems.

    • Chris

      Its still a preview kid. Don’t berat your self up just yet. 

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always upgraded to the latest and greatest windows, however after trying the developers build I could help myself but thinking other than having a tablet with windows 8, I really don’t have a use for it.

    Sadly this is the first iteration of windows i’ll be skipping unless it comes bundle with a tablet.

    • Guest

      You have no use for faster boot, a system wide spell checker, better security, less memory usage, more advanced wireless networking, more advanced refresh/restore, better multi-monitor support and about a hundred other things I could list off the top of my head? Look, I have some of the same concerns about Metro and its utility in the non-tablet scenario. But let’s assume MS aren’t idiots and we’re still early in the process, hence the DP versus beta, RC, or other.

    • Chris

      So….. the mention of it being a DEVELOPER PREVIEW. makes you want to skip it? 

  • Tskhoo38

    In my opinion, Microsoft should make the Metro UI as app rather than desktop as app. Just like Windows desktop and Media Center.

    Then we can build and design the app in Metro style and which can run in desktop or Metro version.

    • Chris

      and have full screen view if we chose to. Much like media center. 

  • Kulbari

    • Guest

      FO spam bot.

  • Ariebitski

    You must be a bunch of people getting paid by microsoft, it does not have a good shutdown screen , it doesnt work easy, nothing you install seem to be found, I been using it since first beta trials and still dont like the way its heading, and they get more complaints on metro style than anything else, so dont talk about buyers of the program like they are always afraid of new stuff and get a life.