Liam, a member of the LockerGnome community posed the question on LockerGnome.net, “Do you see the Windows XP theme as ugly?” This is a very interesting question.
Windows XP was an upgrade from either Windows 2000, ME, or 98 SE. At the time Windows XP went in to beta, I was using Windows 2000 as a primary operating system. Windows 2000 worked well for me as it was remarkably stable. When I caught eye of Windows XP Beta, the Luna UI was one of the first things I noticed. At the time, I thought it might be a joke. Luna wasn’t the prettiest theme, and its problems were more than just skin deep.
To add insult to injury, Luna appeared to actually slow down certain elements of the desktop. This slowdown, perceived or otherwise, was solved by switching to Classic Mode. Classic Mode makes the UI look more like Windows 2000. To me, speed is everything. Since Classic Mode gave me the performance I wanted and didn’t look absolutely terrible, I operated under that for the majority of the time.
I found out later that the Windows XP look and feel was actually a last-minute change and not one of the foundations of the upgrade. This could be one of the reasons why the desktop seemed poorly optimized under Luna.
Another example of Windows falling short on their UI optimization came with Windows Vista. Aero was the new user interface that provided some of the shine that made Windows Vista look the way it did. If you had a capable system, Aero provided a pleasant look and feel, especially when compared to the Luna theme featured in XP.
Unfortunately, if you had a computer that failed to provide enough power to run the full Aero experience, Basic was the fallback. The Vista Basic theme stripped away the transparency and glass appearance that defined what Windows Vista looked like. Unfortunately, this didn’t appear to solve performance issues over classic mode, either.
This isn’t to say that Microsoft can’t come up with a good user interface. Aero in both Vista and Windows 7 is pleasant to look at and provides a modern desktop experience, as long as you have the hardware to support it. Windows 7 took giant steps forward towards optimizing the interface to run on more machines with less required overhead.