How to Build a New Version of an Operating System

by Krishna on September 5, 2011

Whatever your opinions on Microsoft and Windows are, you should check out the blog by the Windows 8 engineering team about the new features in the upcoming operating system. In particular, the posts about some of the new user interface features (such as changes to the Windows Explorer interface and managing file name collisions during copying) provide a great amount of detail about how the team uses data from usability tests to make decisions. I am less enamored by some of the marketing speak (“no compromise design” ha-ha), but it is to be expected.

I remember reading something along the same lines from the Microsoft Office team when they first came out with the ribbon interface. Frankly, my initial reaction to the ribbon was revulsion, but over time (and with larger monitors), I have grown to like it much better than the previous menu-based interface. What I found interesting about the new Ribbon in Windows explorer is that they have managed to rework the interface so that there are 24 files shown in a list in Windows 8 in place of 22 in Windows 7, despite the larger vertical space required by the ribbon.

Not everyone is impressed. Techcrunch’s MG Siegler thought that this was an Onion markup. And John Gruber thinks that Microsoft’s goals with Windows 8 are too ambitious. Only time will tell. What I do like about the whole process is the kind of evidence-based management that Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton talk about. The fact that the Windows 8 team is basing its decisions on data points is to be applauded.

Besides that, the fact that the Windows 8 team is laying everything out in the open despite the fact that the OS will only come out sometime next year is simply amazing. This is in a world where their nemesis, Apple, prevents leaks through all possible means so that they can come out with an announcement that will stun the tech world for days. Instead of a Big Bang method, Microsoft seems to have embraced a drip-drip strategy.

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