What’s wrong with Windows 8by smctainsh on 19/05/2012
This post has been a long time coming – and it felt right after finally setting up my personal blog again.
Windows 8 represents quite a drastic leap forward in terms of interaction. Not only does it take cues from Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system, but it also brings them to a place where they aren’t wanted – the realm of the casual desktop user.
So, what’s wrong with Windows 8?
Well, several things.
It doesn’t honour fine-grained control
Firstly, the ‘start screen’ above just doesn’t work on a desktop with a fine-grained mouse. A user, sitting with a keyboard and mouse, is afforded precise control – why do they need such enlarged targets? This is quite simply a waste of screen real estate. Think of what else you could fit in there? For example, the now historic start menu used to contain numerous options, in a far smaller space, yet it has been pulled from our sights.
Usability heuristics aren’t considered
Secondly, this ‘start screen’ replaces the start menu. But why? This start screen violates one of Nielsen’s usability heuristics – “recognition rather than recall”. This heuristic emphasises that a user need not guess what they were doing as they move through subsequent menus and dialogs. A case in point was the old start menu. When you opened it, you could still see what was behind it. The almighty desktop acts as a visual reminder for what it was that you were doing previously. With the start screen, you can easily forget what you were doing – especially with colourful tiles in great numbers.
Another heuristic that is violated is “consistency and standards”. The entire design, which is seen as mashup between the Metro UI design guidelines and whatever Windows used to be (the traditional desktop metaphor), is a total disgrace to this heuristic. Then again, Microsoft never did well with consistency in Windows – something Apple has had under control for a long time now. What is so wrong with the new Metro interface is not the idea – which is fantastic, because we need to move on from some of the more tired metaphors we have today – but the execution. Microsoft tries to transplant a new user experience on top of an existing one, which is a terrible idea – the traditional desktop is left as a complete afterthought. It’s not so much that they only use the desktop when it’s needed (such as to run an older application, which is a good idea), but the fact that they mutilated the traditional desktop in the process, creating some abhorrent hybrid interface. Why not keep the traditional start menu, and Aero; that way, you’d keep existing users happy.
It’s facing an identity crisis
There should be two user experiences – one for tablets, and one for traditional desktop computers. Desktop computers should still see the Windows we’ve become accustomed to. It’s familiar and, although it needs a change, the way things are moving towards more portable computers is the first place to look. However, Microsoft are forcing desktop users to endure the desktop and tablet interface in their entirety. The latter just doesn’t make sense in this case. Create two different people, not another case of Dr. Jekkyl and Mr Hyde.
It takes longer to do the same thing
How do you shut down your computer with Windows 8? Well, firstly you move your mouse to the right edge of the screen (which can be really frustrating), then go to Settings, then to Power, then to Shut Down. And how was this done in Windows 7? You clicked on the Start Menu, and if you had it set up, hit the Shut Down button – at the worst, you had to hover over the arrow to the right of the power button, and click Shut Down. So, we’ve gone to 4 mouse movements (in a less than logical order) from a far simpler 2. How does this compute?
So that’s the way I see Windows 8. Personally, it’s an upgrade I won’t be making, except for if I buy an ARM tablet – in which case, it’ll be a great firstname.lastname@example.org