Microsoft Says Farewell to 'Aero' Interface

Microsoft announced that it is doing away with the “Aero” user interface that has been a trademark of Windows Vista and Windows 7. Windows 8 will instead move to embrace the new “Metro” user interface.

Windows 8 is developed from the ground up for a touchscreen experience. The Metro UI is familiar from the Windows Phone mobile operating system, and is particularly well-suited to touchscreen devices like array of Windows 8 tablets expected to debut later this year after the Windows 8 OS hits the street.

Microsoft introduced the Aero interface with the launch of Windows Vista in 2006. An exhaustive blog post from Microsoft explains, “These stylistic elements represented the design sensibilities of the time, reflecting the capabilities of the brand-new digital tools used to create and render them.”

Aero has apparently passed its prime, though. The post goes on to say that the elements that made Aero cool in 2006 are now “dated and cheesy.”

Aero was slick, but it was also an Achilles heel for Windows Vista. It was one of the premier features of the OS when it launched, yet most of the existing hardware and graphics cards were unable to support it--leading to many disappointed and disgruntled users, and contributing to the poor reception for Windows Vista.

From a practical standpoint Aero was just silly. Once you got past the “gee whiz” factor of being able to see the desktop and other open windows blurred through the Aero glass behind the window that currently had focus, it quickly lost its appeal. What users were left with was a sort of kitschy interface that consumed precious hardware resources unnecessarily.

Aside from hogging resources, Aero also posed a potential security risk. Not that there is anything inherently insecure with Aero, but every bell and whistle on the operating system is another potential attack vector. Any service you have running in the background could contain a vulnerability, and attackers can discover and exploit it to compromise the Windows system.

The concept of removing or disabling unnecessary features and unused tools has been a mantra of security best practices for years, but many people are still unaware of it or simply ignore it. Apple responded recently to a malware attack exploiting a flaw in Java to take a more proactive approach--at least as it relates to Java--by automatically disabling it if it’s inactive for an extended period of time.

That approach wouldn’t really work with Aero in Windows, though. It is being “used” if it’s enabled, but most users wouldn’t really miss it if it were gone, and might appreciate recovering the resources sucked up by the glitzy interface. The move by Microsoft to eliminate Aero should benefit users from both a performance and security perspective.

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