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What if Microsoft Opened the Interface Environment for Windows 8?

In recent years, Microsoft has steadily become friendlier toward open source and more open standards, although the company still draws criticism for not going far enough in the open direction. This fall, the company is expected to start beta testing Windows 8 – the next major release of its operating system. Could the company benefit from opening up the desktop interface for Windows? There are calls for that to happen, and it could make a lot of sense for Microsoft.

Many OStatic readers are Linux users, and are very familiar with using various desktop environments that don’t necessarily come standard with this or that Linux distribution. This is a form of freedom that many Linux users embrace, but it has never been Microsoft’s way to encourage use of desktop interfaces that differ from the standardized ones it delivers in its versions of the Windows operating system.

Ironically, in the early days of Windows, when there were countless companies making what was dubbed “utility software,” you could easily and fluidly run other environments on top of Windows. Slowly but surely, though, Microsoft incorporated the utilities that these companies made into Windows itself, and most of these companies went away.

With Windows 7, Microsoft pursued a much wider and more open beta testing cycle than it ever had before. Part of the reason for that was the disaster that Windows Vista was, and Vista was not as thoroughly and openly beta tested as Windows 7.

There are those calling for a much higher level of desktop interface openness for Windows 8. For example, PCMag’s John Dvorak writes:

“With Windows 8, apparently you will be offered two options. The system will boot to the Windows 8 new GUI or you can go back and operate under a Windows 7 shell. How about this: You can do both and/or you can boot under a third party GUI. Heck, some people may design their own. Applying a modified license that would let Microsoft use any of the third party features in a future release could easily be done, adding incredible versatility to the interface.”

Indeed, a healthy ecosystem of third-party desktop interfaces and environments for Windows might introduce a new level of flexibility that enterprises and consumers alike would embrace. Developers of interfaces and environments might work as the open source community does, introducing new desktop concepts that could benefit Microsoft as well as users.

On this front, Dvorak adds this: “Microsoft’s terrible not-invented-here policy regarding ideas like this may affect the interface and thus affect the way the OS works. Its old-fashioned attitude will kill the company in the long run. By embracing alien ideas—developed for free, mind you—actual new ideas can emerge. Users would enjoy the ability to jump from interface to interface the way you can jump from desktop to desktop.”

Don’t expect Microsoft to immediately embrace this idea. It does run counter to how the company has approached user interaction with the Windows OS. But Microsoft could look to Linux, and the flexibility with which Linux distress distros allow users to choose their interface environments, for guidance. It would be a new chapter for the folks in Redmond – a much more open one.

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