Last week's discovery of two possible SharePoint 2013 screens certainly generated a lot of interest on Twitter, and discussion at Step Two and elsewhere regarding the direction of SharePoint 2013's possible UI design.
First off by way of a brief update, there's been some healthy scepticism about whether either of the two screenshots are real. I'm not sure myself (and I questioned their authenticity in the original post).
Certainly, the yellower of the two (a MySite?) looks very feasible and a mild evolution of what we know as SharePoint 2010, while the green, 'Team Site template' looks a little too artistic and over-complicated to be 100% real. It's also not very SharePointy but, conversely, very 'Metro' - Microsoft's new interface language for Windows.
But here's the question: even if the latter, very Metro-style screenshot is real, will either of these two design possibilities make a huge difference to the usability and design of SharePoint? Will it provide the 'greatly improved UX' that's been touted for SharePoint 2013, or will it just be more akin to lipstick on a pig?
If you haven't done so and are able to run it (spare drive, virtual machine etc), I'd recommend downloading the Windows 8 Consumer Preview so you can get a big (3+GB) taste of Metro flavour. You could also try a Windows phone if/next time you ever see one.
Despite using a Mac day to day, I do still frequently have to use Windows, both at client sites and for a couple of programs I use regularly at work. It doesn't take much squinting at Windows 7 or XP to time warp back to 1991, so little has the basic Windows OS evolved over that time; often-permanent desktop app icons with little 'alias' arrows, manilla coloured folders with black outlines, the same information architecture and nomenclature, bolted together OS components, poor text, icon and image rendering, error noises coming from everywhere, outlines and frames within frames within frames. Thankfully Clippy doesn't make an appearance anymore.
Returning to Mac OS X always feels like a sanctuary in comparison, even with Apple doing it's best to ruin it with some of Lion's (and iOS's) naff design 'flourishes' and decisions (bring back 'Save As'!).
From that perspective, the one of preferring modern interface designs, Windows 8's Metro does look like a breath of fresh air in comparison to 'classic' Windows. But because 'classic' Windows is still the core of Windows 8, Metro is just a layer, and a paper thin one at that. Scratch a little bit in Windows 8 and you're back in terribly familiar territory.
For desktop users, ones with a mouse/trackpad and keyboard (and that's pretty much the only users of Windows at the moment, don't forget), Metro doesn't seem to work.
This isn't a new or unique opinion. Many a review of the Windows 8 consumer preview has stated that Metro on desktop demonstrates some fairly flawed or at least very conflicted thinking. Bolting on a completely different UX paradigm to the 'classic', hasn't-really-changed-in-years Windows desktop is indeed completely jarring.
Microsoft wants lots of Windows 8 tablets out there, but it's a late entrant to a game that's already going a wee bit too fast for the company. By the time Windows 8 comes out we'll nearly be at iPad '4', and we'll have iOS6 and Google Android 5 too (though Android on tablets has also failed to ignite). This suggests that, in the foreseeable future at least, most people using Windows - and thus SharePoint 2013 - are going to be doing so via a desktop computer.
With that in mind, even if SharePoint 2013 does look very Metro, what will it do for it? There's every likelihood you'll still want to customise it to present within a more well-conceived, custom interface scheme for the desktop, and still need to provide a version for iPad, not a Windows 8 tablet.
What do you think? And do you love Metro in practice, on a desktop? I'd be keen to hear thoughts on this aspect too.