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This question has bugged me for a while, I thought I might ask it.

In software, we say something "scales" if it's able to stay coherent and consistent over a long period of time, but more importantly, when the number of users exceeds any imagination, or the number of features does.

The best examples of this are ERPs, like SAP. We could call them "Integrated Enterprise Systems".

Basically, people of huge enterprises spend their entire workday using this single "application". In fact, apart from e-mail (which is usually a separate app), there are companies where people don't need any other applications to do their jobs, from logistics to HR to manufacturing.

Other examples would be CAD systems like AutoCAD, or, to stay at the Graphics Design domain, Photoshop, but not some light version of it: the "real" Photoshop. Not to do the "simple things most people do" but to have a tool which has to serve every special needs of experts.

Common denominators of these tools include:

  • People use it all workday basically continously
  • They cover more than 1000 known use cases
  • Some of these cases aren't even remotely related
  • They can be used in unanticipated ways otherwise they're felt as usability nightmares
  • They're used both by high-end experts and people who only had a few hours (or minutes) of training

We know that the WIMP Desktop metaphor does scale to this level.

My question is: does Metro (or, to put it more bluntly: the Windows 8 GUI) scale to this level? Shall it do?

Can you imagine a visual language which is useable on a tablet device, is conform to the Metro UX guidelines, and is able to bear the complexity of SAP and/or Photoshop?

This is the business where Windows gained its momentum. Does Metro support them?

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1 Answer 1

The few "huge" enterprise systems that I've seen fall into two groups - and I believe the answer to your question is slightly different for each.

Group #1: Document based applications

Applications that provide an extensive toolset for creation and manipulation of complex documents.

This group covers applications like Microsoft Office (Word, Powerpoint, Project, Publisher, Visio) as well as Adobe Photoshop & Freehand, the old Quark Express, and so on.

These documents are characterized by having an outstanding array of tools available.

Can Metro scale to this level? Metros ability here is unproven.

I conjecture that it can, but not without a substantial amount of UX design. The older (WinForms/Delphi/MFC) technique of simply throwing more buttons and menus at the problem won't work.

The preview release of OneNote MX shows that there are ways within Metro to achieve this level of complexity, but I haven't yet seen definitive proof.

Group #2: Screen based applications

Applications composed of a (potentially) large web/mesh of interconnected and related screens. Each screen represents a single activity, and may serve as the portal to many other screens.

This group covers most HR and inventory systems, as well as many bespoke systems built for enterprise use.

Can Metro scale to this level? Absolutely.

These applications scale up in the number of available screens, but the complexity of each is lower. We've already seen applications (Win 8's Mail App, for example) where the individual screens are complex enough.

Where an older application might have just one screen that covers search/discovery/creation/modification/reporting, a Metro application would have several different screens, each with a different purpose. As noted above, additional design work will be needed, but I don't see anything fundamental in the way here.

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HR and inventory systems are used in unexpected ways sometimes, and they inherently contain deep hierarchies (much deeper than 3 layers as recommended by the Metro UX Guidelines). The most staggering is how much information people want to see at once and how unrelated these could be, and how many different actions are possible with a given entity. With a "have only a few buttons, single screen" approach, are you entirely sure that it does scale to this level, if each of the screens are less complex? –  Aadaam Oct 1 '12 at 14:24
    
A few thoughts. Firstly, keep in mind that a single screen can be very wide - it isn't limited to the physical width of the display. There are some applications (Tweetro is one) that show a lot of different information as you pan across. Secondly, Metro doesn't legislate against high information density. Thirdly, the application bar is context sensitive - while you only have a few buttons at a time, they can be completely different depending on the current selection. –  Bevan Oct 2 '12 at 21:28

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