The latest Windows 9 leaks, showing a Start-menu fusion of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, beg the question: Microsoft, why are you scooping ice cream over a hot dog?
(Editor's Note: It's also worth checking out the leaked Windows 9 Start page video which shows a lot more, including what appears to be the ability to kill the Start page entirely.)
On the surface, there’s really no reason for the straightforward, icon-driven approach of the Windows-7-like lefthand menu bar to coexist with the Windows-8.1-like, brightly colored tiles arrayed to the right of it. And we hardly pay attention to Live Tiles anyway: A typical Windows 8.1 user bounces to the Start page for a split second to launch an app, and that's it. There's not enough time for the user’s eyes to track the information Microsoft could be showing you via its Live Tiles before you're off in your new app.
More of the same...or not
But yes, there is a reason that Microsoft may be trying to combine the two: because the icons represented in the screenshots are true Live Tiles.
That's not always the case. So many tiles on a typical Windows 8.1 Start page simply show a static application icon, such as launch buttons for OneNote, or PowerPoint, or Adobe Reader. Many users undoubtedly still wonder what the point of all those massive icons floating in space actually are, and many wondered how to get rid of them when they appeared in Windows 8.
But in the screenshot of the leaked menu, the righthand Tiles should actually do something. If a user establishes an Outlook.com account, it’s a sure bet that the Mail tile will flip up to reveal new email. Or the News tile will deliver the headlines. Or Calendar will highlight a user’s upcoming appointments. (Yes, a user could also use them as easily navigable shortcuts to favorite apps, but that's kind of a waste of space, no?)
So it’s going to be up to both Microsoft and the user to manage those tiles effectively.
From a marketing perspective, however, we’re stuck in the same quandary as before: if Microsoft leaves the Live Tiles there, the same users who were turned off by Windows 8 may not return. And if they hide them entirely, then Microsoft tacitly acknowledges that the Windows 8 design schema was a mistake.
That’s the tough choice I’d make. I don’t advocate eliminating the Live Tiles of Windows 8 entirely, but I’d leave them as an option for power users. Then I’d either replace the Charms bar with one that exposes a row of these tiles, or else replace them with a series of small, popup notifications.
Microsoft undoubtedly has its own design goals in mind, but it’s not too late for a little feedback. How say you, users?