So what do we think of the new Metro (oops ... we can’t use that word anymore, can we? It is now "Windows 8 style UI") stylings in SharePoint 2013? Like it? Love it? I’ll be honest, I’m not sure. I’m not sure end users are going to enjoy it.

You will have seen lots of the Met ... sorry, the Windows 8 style UI by now. Windows 8, obviously, uses it extensively. Over one million people have downloaded the consumer preview and endless articles have been written about the new style apps, the touch interface and what it all means. The UI uses typography extensively and embraces straight lines and whitespace. Windows Phone 8 is another big user of the interface and personally, I think it works really well on that class of devices.

SharePoint 2013, announced a few week back, has embraced this new look and feel along with the rest of the Office 2013 family. Fire up the new Word or Outlook and you will be greeted with the all new ribbon, much more subtle icons and capitalized menu titles (now these I don’t like AT ALL but let’s move on).

Back to SharePoint 2013. This is just a preview release, not finished code. The SharePoint 2010 UI still leaks out in various places, not least many of the "settings" pages. This is a jarring experience, but I’m sure Microsoft will address this before the final release. The front-end experience is pretty much in place. And it is this bit I’m not quite sure about. Let me explain why.

Faded Navigation Points

I’ve been using SharePoint 2010 for a long time now and had lots of experience training and educating clients on how best to use the product. In all of this time I’ve seen some users pick up how to use SharePoint in no time, whilst others have struggled. The ribbon was a big shock to many people, though as with Office 2010, once users adjust to it does generally make life easier.

Of more concern was the global navigation, quick launch bar and page title/breadcrumb/view control. Users very often missed these elements as their design tended to see them fade out of the users' view very easily. The global navigation and quick launch bar are the main methods to move around a site and often users just missed them altogether. More significantly though was the breadcrumb control. In SharePoint 2010 this became hugely functionally, offering access to numerous list "View" operations, but users just didn’t see it for what it was. A huge amount of training was required.

Still Lost on the Page

On to SharePoint 2013 and how I don’t think things have improved in these respects. The overall Windows 8 style is washed out and very subtle: an amplified version of the SharePoint 2010 look. This isn’t going to help users who missed things first time round. The quick launch bar particularly fades into the page and doesn’t really stand out as a navigation. The breadcrumb ribbon suffers from similar issues.

Obviously SharePoint can be customized and many installations feature their own unique designs. But you shouldn’t be forced to spend money customizing SharePoint just to fix perceived UI flaws. Don’t get me wrong. SharePoint 2013 is a usable product. I just think this new release was a good chance to address some of the specific UI issues with SharePoint 2010, rather than simply apply a blanket Windows 8 look and feel. In that sense, so far, it is a missed opportunity.

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in Chris Wright's other thoughts on SharePoint 2013:

-- When is an App Not an App? When It's in SharePoint 2013