Microsoft’s in-depth preview of its new Windows 8 operating system has some developers rethinking next-generation applications. While the sleek Metro UI and flexible Windows Runtime library (WinRT) inspired “oohs” and “aahs” when unveiled at September’s BUILD 2011 conference, there is still some heavy lifting to do by Microsoft and the developers who will be building Metro-style apps.

Not since the move from DOS to Windows has Microsoft made such a dramatic change to its user interface. After years of mouse-driven desktop experiences, the Windows 8 preview delivers an immersive user experience that’s optimized for touch (although it also supports mouse, keyboard and pen input).

The new Metro UI features 2D tiles on a full-bleed canvas. The tiles can be used as shortcuts to app functionality, or they can be fully functional apps that surface live content feeds such as weather conditions, pictures, friends’ status updates, and stock prices. The Metro UI has already been incorporated into Windows Phone 7 and Xbox, while Metro design language elements or design principles have appeared in other products over time, including Zune.

“The Metro UI is an important part of Microsoft’s identity,” said Todd Anglin, chief evangelist at Telerik. “It’s a focused play that makes Windows relevant to consumers, and it provides developers with a stronger visual language.”

.NET components love Metro
Although Microsoft was late to the smartphone and tablet markets, .NET component providers say that its contributions will more than compensate for its tardiness.

_“The Metro user experience is leaps and bounds ahead of anything else out there, including iPhone and iPad,” said Jason Beres, VP of product management at Infragistics. “Apple defined smartphone and tablet user experiences; Microsoft is redefining them. Windows 8 is Windows reimagined.”

Miljan Braticevic, president and CEO of ComponentArt, agreed, calling Microsoft’s moves bold and innovative.

“It’s obvious that Microsoft is delivering a powerful development platform and UI paradigm that makes iOS and Android outdated,” he said. “The real estate use is far superior to other platforms because Metro uses all the pixels for content instead of buttons and toolbars.”