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The Bottom-Up Phenomenon of Microsoft Metro

It's natural to assume that the Metro UI popping up on nearly all of Microsoft's screens -- from Windows Phone to Windows 8 to Xbox -- is being pushed down to the product groups from on high. More ammunition for that point of view came from the Microsoft keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show this month, when CEO Steve Ballmer and others mentioned "Metro" 27 times (you can count them in the transcript).

Nonetheless, that impression would be wrong, according to Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone Management. In an interesting interview posted today on Fast Company's Co. Design site, Belfiore told writer Austin Carr:

"We're at a point in our history where the product groups, by and large, operate independently -- they make decisions that they think are best for their customers and users," Belfiore says. "It's not a case where there's a top-down mandate: everyone go do this. ... There are few cases where senior management says, 'Everyone is going to do this.' Those [instances] are the exceptions rather than the rule."

Carr compares the situation to Apple's with Steve Jobs as the design czar and argues that Microsoft needs someone dictating the UI.

I'm less convinced that Microsoft isn't exerting pressure on all product groups to go with Metro -- or I should say, that the company won't exert that pressure when it matters. The Windows Phone team had already decided to use the Zune-inspired interface, and Xbox was another early convert. Windows chief Steven Sinofsky apparently decided to take the Windows client to Metro because it makes sense in light of the all-consuming focus on the tablet market.

All the product groups may be finding Metro on their own right now -- each for their own reasons. They're converging on a Metro idea that Ballmer and other senior leaders appear to love.

My sense is that the issue of UI control will come up in a future release, when somebody decides Metro is no longer in a particular product group's interest. At that point, I'd be surprised if the company famous for exerting a Windows "strategy tax" on other product groups will be so laissez-faire about the UI.

What's your take? Leave a comment below or e-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Scott Bekker on January 19, 2012


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