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  (Source: Microsoft)
But it is ultimately good for them, he argues

The Redditors were growing restless in a thread about Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) only selling 200 million Windows 8 licenses at the 15 month mark; quite a bit less than the popular Windows 7.  Flaming was afoot.

I. One Size Does Not Fit All

Jacob Miller -- a UI designer who helped designed Windows 8's "Metro UI" -- happens to be an active Redditor, posting under the handle "pwnies".  He made the risky decision of jumping into the fray and in the process gave some insight into the evolution of Windows 8 and why Microsoft made the changes it did, changes that upset many of its most hardcore users.

Miller starts by telling Windows enthusiasts that they are probably right... Metro is awful.  Or is it?  Actually, he acknowledges that Metro may seem awful for "content creators" (aka power users).  At the same time he says that if Microsoft can refine it, it will represent a "land of milk and honey" for "content consumers" (aka "your computer illiterate little sister").

Windows RT


He writes:

For this discussion, assume that Metro is shit for power users (even if you don't believe it to be)....

Metro is a content consumption space....It is designed for casual users who only want to check facebook, view some photos, and maybe post a selfie to instagram. It's designed for your computer illiterate little sister, for grandpas who don't know how to use that computer dofangle thingy, and for mom who just wants to look up apple pie recipes. It's simple, clear, and does one thing (and only one thing) relatively easily.

That is what Metro is. It is the antithesis of a power user.

rented tuxedo
The Windows 8 designer compares previous versions of the Windows UI to a "rented tuxedo" -- one size fits most.

He goes on to compare previous versions of Windows, including the highly successful Windows 7, to a "rented tuxedo".  In forcing a one size fits all approach, Microsoft was delivering a product of compromise.  As mobile began to dominate the user space and the compromises became more severe, Microsoft was forced to limit the scope of technologies like touch and widgets to keep its power users placated.  Perhaps that's why CNN Money several years back dubbed Windows a "dying" environment.

II. The Future of the Desktop

As Miller sees it, power users will mostly use the Desktop mode, while "content consumers", aka the "computer illiterate" majority, will be happy with Metro.  He explains that with Windows 8, Microsoft chose not to boot to Desktop as its internal research showed most content consumers don't explore their mobile operating system fully.  By his estimation, had they tucked Metro away as an option, most never would have seen it. 

By forcing it initially as the default, he indicates that Microsoft was aware that Windows 8 wouldn't sell well with enthusiasts/power users.  But for the majority of its customers, it introduced the new environment to them.  Then with last year's Windows 8.1, Microsoft relaxed the requirements allowing optional boot to Desktop mode, with the default being booting to Metro.  Now it was inviting power users back on the boat.
 
Windows 8.1 -- Desktop Mode

Now that these two tracks have been established -- Metro for casual consumers and Desktop mode for power users -- he feels Microsoft will be able to evolve both use cases without compromise.

In that regard, Miller argues that Metro is in fact great for power users.  It will allow features like multiple desktops which were cut from previous versions of Windows due to the casual user majority.  He comments:

A great example is multiple desktops. This has been something that power users have been asking for for over a decade now. OSX has it, Linux has it, even OS/2 Warp has it. But Windows doesn't. The reason for this is because every time we try and add it to the desktop, we run user tests; and every time we find that the casual users - a much larger part of our demographic than Apple's or Linux's - get confused by it. So the proposal gets cut and power users suffer.
...
Moving forward, we aren't going to worry about whether or not features on the desktop are too complicated for casual users.  In the future, the desktop may very well be complicated to use, but more powerful as well.
...
In the short term you'll see less resources devoted to [Desktop mode] until we get Metro figured out, but once that happens the desktop is very much a first world citizen. It will be equal with metro. The desktop is not going away, we can't develop Windows in Metro.
...
Once [Metro is] purring along smoothly, we'll start making the desktop more advanced. We'll add things that we couldn't before. Things will be faster, more advanced, and craftier than they have in the past - and
that's why Metro is good for power users.

So, he argues rather persuasively that the introduction of Metro will benefit all, both by offering better content consumption, and by decoupling two user groups with fairly different wants and needs.

Miller also suggests that most power users were savvy enough to use a keyboard for faster operations.  Rather than design a UI for power users focused on the mouse and keyboard, and a UI for casual users focused on touch, Microsoft opted to focus the power user UI solely on the keyboard.  Hence most of the improvements thus far for power users boiled down to new keyboard shortcuts.

He comments:

It isn't designed for mouse. It's designed for keyboard (power users) and touch (casual users) primarily. Many of our power users were familiar with Apple's command+space and linux's alt+f2 methods of launching (that is, search to execute). Time trials showed that these were far faster methods than mouse based navigation on the old start menu, so we optimized for that.

Some will likely disagree, but he has a point there.

By focusing neither design on the mouse, Microsoft also avoided issues withs the small but significant number of users with legacy touch devices (more on that later).

III. Why Don't Casual Users Like Metro?

But wait, haven't some casual users also complained about Metro?

Miller acknowledges this, saying that part of this reaction is human nature, part is due to hardware limiting the UI, and part is due to poor execution on a handful of elements in Metro.  In short people won't like Metro now because it's new and in unrefined form, but as time goes by they will come to love it (he hopes) as it grows more familiar and is tweaked by Microsoft to leverage the latest hardware.

On the human nature part, he comments:

Familiarity will always trump good design. Even if something is vastly better, if it is unfamiliar it will be worse. That's why people act like a unicorn was murdered every time facebook releases a new redesign. The windows 7 start menu IS better because it is familiar. We've used that design paradigm for the last 20 years. Metro is going to take some getting used to. As I mentioned, this is a long term strategy for MS. We knew full well casual users wouldn't like it initially. Hopefully in 5 years we'll look back and see we made the right decision.

On the hardware front, he explains why Microsoft didn't include optimized profiles for mouse and keyboard devices, saving touchscreen UI focus for only when users are using a tablet or hybrid in a touch mode.


Windows 8.1 -- Metro Mode
Miller suggests that such a flexible UI is impossible for now, although it's Microsoft long term plan.  He blames the delay on legacy touch devices, which register the touchscreen as a "mouse".  As Microsoft did not always have a way of determining whether users were on true touch devices or using the mouse, it opted to forgo for now customization of the UI to the detected input.

Thus Windows 8 did not include substantial UI tweaks for Metro with a mouse and keyboard vs. Metro with touch.  Microsoft designed primarily for the touch scenario, realizing that might give subpar results in the mouse and keyboard use case.

This will change, he states, as legacy hardware fades out and Microsoft is able to directly check for touchscreens.  Then you will see truly optimized touch and keyboard Metro UI implementations for the casual consumer.

Windows 8 touchTouch was the sole focus of the Metro UI in Windows 8.

Another example he gets into are the issues with brightness.  The lack of a standard makes supporting consistent brightness/backlighting on devices from a plethora of OEMs highly problematic.  The solution is to move towards a more standardized solution with a uniform firmware interface Microsoft can interface with.

Finally, some parts of Metro just weren't well done. For example, Miller comments:

Settings were designed poorly in my opinion. I have seen mockups of designs that are addressing these issues, so I can at least tell you we're working on it.

So a combination of factors may be slowing casual adoption, some of which are outside Microsoft's control.  Fortunately some of these external factors (like legacy touch) will eventually fix themselves.

IV. Why Did Microsoft...?

A few more interesting remarks/explanations Miller gave offer insight into what Microsoft views as weak points of the design and its long term plans.  He states:

On why Metro apps are fullscreen...

Metro apps are full screen to maximize the screen space and to allow for swipe gestures. A lot of the UI controls in Metro apps are swipes from various edges. These can't be triggered if there's a start bar at the bottom. Again, keep in mind that the Metro apps were designed for touch screens and casual users. The demographic that we're targeting with Metro apps don't juggle many apps simultaneously. For the ones that do, we have the desktop.

...

On why Metro is low in information density versus Zune...

 I'd imagine, and this is initial speculation as I haven't had time to think about the evolution of the design language, that early on the zune UI was only designed for the smaller screen that the Zune had. In addition, the zune player wasn't touch enabled, so information density was possible. Moving forward with it though, we needed larger margins between items to account for touch UIs. The tradeoff of this was less information density.

If you took the original zune mp3 player UI and slapped it on a modern day phone, it'd be horrible. The touch targets are far too small to hit accurately.

....

On why you don't need the Start Menu in Windows....

90% of the time, you shouldn't have to enter the start menu anyway to launch a program. Your main programs should be pinned to your task bar for faster access.

We did a lot of research on usage patterns for users. Well over 90% of the time, users use less than 10 core programs in their day to day tasks. Searching should only be used in that rare <10% time where something isn't in your core group of programs.

This is of course assuming you're using non-metro programs. If you're using Metro programs with a mouse, we threw you under a bus (and privately, we think you're a strange lot).

....

On Microsoft's "tick/tock" cycle and where Windows Vista, 7, and 8 fit in...

I disagree with your statement that Vista was a understandable upgrade. MS operates on a tick/tock/ cycle. Vista was a tick - a major change from the previous model that aggressively introduced features. Windows 2000 and 8 were the same - tick cycles. These are always less refined, stable, and usable than the tock cycles. Tock cycles are refinement cycles, they look at those major features that were introduced in the tick and they fix anything that was found wrong with them. MS's tock cycles were notably XP and 7 - and it shows, those were by far the most polished OSs we've released.

Lastly he answers the inevitable question of why Microsoft feels the need to still weakly couple the casual user play-scape (Metro) to the power user space (Desktop).  He responds:

[The reason for this approach is that] a single person often wears different masks. When I'm working, I'm a power user. After a long day though, I may want something more casual - especially after a joint or a couple beers. The ability to flip between the two spaces was something we valued.

Not everyone will agree with his statements, but they actually seem a lot of sense the more you think of them.  Microsoft seems aware of the flaws of its construct and seems to be headed in the right direction.

Perhaps with Windows 9 Microsoft will finally give the TLC to desktop mode, with new features like multi-desktop, designed to bring power users back into the fold.

Source: Windows 8





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