updated 11:10 pm EST, Thu January 26, 2012
Windows 8 to limit custom look to themes
A seemingly minor decision for Windows 8 in the post-developer preview versions has shown an about-face by Microsoft in its approach to design. During new demos on Thursday to TechRadar, Windows 8 communications lead Chris Flores explained that users wouldn't be allowed to change the background of the main Metro screen to their own photo. Scaling was an issue, but Microsoft had also decided that the home screen tiles would cover it up too much, defeating the point of a custom image.
In its place, Microsoft is offering a mix of basic styles with color themes, each of which has a coordinating set of hues for the trim. The login screen will still allow a custom photo, much like Windows Phone.
The reduced choice is unusual for Microsoft and shows the emphases on consistent style, visibility, and usability in the new OS. Apple has often been criticized for not allowing much customization of Mac OS X, but it like Microsoft today has argued that preserving the look and consistency of the interface is more important.
Along with the customization aspects, Microsoft has been at work improving the interface for its public beta in late February. Windows 8 now has more controls for mouse users in the Metro interface to flick through home screens or running apps. The charm bar, where the Start button and other common controls are available on touch devices, also now has a subtler effect where it won't deploy fully if the user's input suggests they'd tapped the very edge of the screen by accident.
Windows 8 is expected to ship in the second half of the year and will use the stylized Metro interface as the default Start screen for most users, whether or not their PCs support touch.