Metro is dead, long live FIRST

On a recent This Week inWindows broadcast, Leo and Mary Jo Foley discussed some of the issues introduced by Microsoft’s abandonment of the Metro brand.  The problem is a serious annoyance to developers and especially technical teachers, bloggers, presenters, and authors. It’s also the source of some not-always-so-good-natured ribbing from the technical community. I’m a big fan of using proper terminology, so when Microsoft declared that Metro was verboten I dutifully tried to expunge it from my vocabulary, but I find it increasingly difficult.

Metro was used to refer to the new design language, but it also referred to the new Windows 8 experience. The tile-driven, blocky, clean and modern look and feel of Metro was already present on Xbox, Zune, and a host of other applications and websites. Discussing this UI approach without using the word Metro is a challenge, so what should we be saying instead? There was a period of uncertainty created by the void of Metro.  Some replacement names were floated around, some were not even all that bad such as “Modern”, and some were more in keeping with Microsoft, such as “Windows 8 Style”.

For a time Microsoft was quiet on the question of “what do we call it now?” but finally Visual Studio 2012 RTM’ed and we had the official answer. Metro is now rebranded “Windows Store”, so the style is now the “Windows Store Style” and the applications are “Windows Store Applications”.  Having spoken on Windows 8 development numerous times in the recent past, let me tell you that this is no fun at all, and it certainly doesn’t make sense in every scenario.

I’ve long referred to the new start experience as the Start page, but it makes no sense to refer to the new face of Windows 8 as “Windows Store Applications Start Experience”.  I tried to refer to it as just Windows 8, but that isn’t fair as the desktop is also part of Windows 8.  You can try just calling it Windows 8 Style, but let’s get real: life was much easier when we had “desktop” and “Metro”.

To address this issue, I’d like to suggest a community driven rebranding: let’s start using the phrase FIRST Apps. FIRST is an acronym for Fluid, Immersive, Responsive, Service-oriented, and Touch-friendly. Let’s discuss each of these in turn.

Fluid – Modern applications should be easy on the eye and engaging. Navigation should be animated and lively, utilizing animations, transitions, and easing. Effective use of white space and visual cues provide hints to more content.

Immersive – Content is King, and we should minimize anything that detracts from the content. These detractors, known as “the Chrome”, are very familiar to Windows users: menus, toolbars, status bars, navigation links, context menus, and so on.  These items do not need to be visible all the time: every pixel they use decreases the area available to present the thing the user cares about the most, the Content.

Responsive – Applications should start, load, and react quickly.  Heavy adoption of asynchronous techniques drive at least an illusion of performance and provide a non-blocking UI experience. Applications should start and reactivate quickly.

Service-oriented – I would also accept “Sharable” or “Social”.  This indicates an active reliance on content services, typically supplied by some cloud or web service or social interaction. It should be easy to share content with other people and applications.

Touch-friendly – non-traditional devices increasingly dominate the user experience, and the vast majority of these new devices are touch based. Touch support is included as part of WinRT but we still have to consider is as a design feature.  Adequate spacing, large friendly touchable items, and adherence to common gestures should be standard features.

I believe that FIRST embodies the intent and style of the brand formerly known as Metro.  It has the added benefit of being short  easy to say.  Metro is dead, long live FIRST!

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