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  (Source: flickr)
Windows 8 has some good ideas but not for the PC form factor, the report's author argues

The baby of now-departed Microsoft Corp. (MSFTWindows President Steven SinofskyWindows 8, was supposed to be a dynamite follow-up to Windows 7.  Instead the successor to the best-selling operating system in history is perhaps becoming best known for its deeply divisive impact on users.

Users tend to be split into two camps.  On one side are folks like Steven "Woz" Wozniak, Apple, Inc. (AAPL) co-founder, who takes the perspective that Windows 8 (and its mobile brethren Windows Phone) are wildly innovative.  "The Woz" commented in a recent interview, "I've seen more of the type of innovation (from Microsoft) where you see something: 'Whoa - they really changed things drastically. Whoa - they aren't even going the same direction as everyone else' - meaning the iPhone and Android operating systems."

But others, like typically pro-Windows blogger Paul Thurrott (who compared Win8 to Windows ME) and Valve’s Gabe Newell (who called the OS a "disaster") are decidedly unhappy with the radical shift.

Such sentiments have been compiled and perhaps most eloquently analyzed by Jakob Nielsen of UseIt / AlertBox, who compiled a rich, multi-page study on what he feels are the flaws of Windows 8.

Windows 8 boxes
Windows 8 boxes on diplay at Wal-Mart [Image Source: The Verge]

Among his major gripes:
  • Double desktop (Windows 8 UI vs. the traditional desktop)
    Why? creates interface slowness and cognitive dissonance
     
  • Switch to single windowing
    Why? Hard to remember what you have open for complex tasks
     
  • "Flat" look of Windows 8 UI tiles
    Why? Hard to tell where tile boundaries are, icons are more likely to be less distinctive
     
  • Photo/graphic heavy UI themes
    Why? While nice to look at they convey information at a lower density than "uglier" themes
     
  • Live Tiles
    Why? Third party developers show less sophistication than Microsoft, toss together confusing tiles that don't enhance usability or understanding.
     
  • Charms
    Why? Harder to use on traditional devices, are hidden (and thus forgotten), and don't work universally across Windows interface, so they confuse.
     
  • Gestures
    Why? Nielsen says the gestures are error prone and overly complex, such as the multi-step gesture to reveal running apps.
     
  • Tablet UI for Desktops
    Why? The above problems are less obvious on tablets, or in some cases not problems at all; he argues "One Windows" is a bad strategy for Microsoft
Windows 8 ugly live tiles
Mr. Nielsen gives these "Live Tiles" as examples of the UI tempting developers into sloppy, confusing design. [Image Source: AlertBox]

He tries to buck the inevitable hate train that's coming down the tracks in his direction, telling Microsoft fans (which he claims to himself be one of):

Because this column is very critical of Microsoft's main product, some people will no doubt accuse me of being an Apple fanboy or a Microsoft hater. I'm neither. I switched from Macintosh to Windows many years ago and have been very pleased with Windows 7.

I am a great fan of the dramatic "ribbon" redesign of Office (we later gave several awards to other applications that adapted this UI innovation), and I proclaimed the Kinect an "exciting advance in UI technology." I have many friends who work at Microsoft and know that it has many very talented usability researchers and UI designers on staff.

I have nothing against Microsoft. I happen to think that Windows 7 is a good product and that Windows 8 is a misguided one. I derived these conclusions from first principles of human–computer interaction theory and from watching users in our new research. One doesn't have to hate or love a company in order to analyze its UI designs.

I'll stay with Win7 the next few years and hope for better times with Windows 9. One great thing about Microsoft is that they do have a history of correcting their mistakes.

Of course there are plenty of counterarguments to his points.  For example, blaming Microsoft for poorly designed live tiles or uncreative overly similar flat tiles is perhaps unfair.  Many gestures have backup keyboard shortcuts for traditional PCs.  Mobile-heavy users have already gotten used to hidden multi-tasking so hiding windows isn't the end of the world.  Graphically rich themes may pack less information, but they encourage users to dig in and grab more information.  The double desktop only becomes a hindrance if you have to keep going back to the traditional desktop as a crutch.

As the above counter-arguments illustrate, there's two sides to nearly every argument regarding Windows 8.  Perhaps that's why it's proved so utterly divisive.

Our survey shows that roughly half of readers (45 percent) have made the upgrade to Windows 8, but a significant remaining portion (36 percent) have strongly negative opinions about it and no plans to upgrade, comparing it to such loathed releases as Windows ME or Windows Vista.

Source: UseIT / Jakob Nielsen



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Need to stop clinging to the past...
By EricMartello on 11/21/2012 6:56:46 PM , Rating: -1
quote:
Double desktop (Windows 8 UI vs. the traditional desktop)
Why? creates interface slowness and cognitive dissonance


Does it slow things down or is the slowness tied to the user resisting change? I really like the tile interface on my winmo phone and I don't have a problem with it for the desktop. The idea behind windows 8 is to have UI consistency across mobile and desktop systems - this gripe is contradictory.

quote:
Switch to single windowing
Why? Hard to remember what you have open for complex tasks


Debatable. It makes more sense for the OS to "focus" on the app you are using rather than cluttering your screen with every app that you have open.

I've heard this complaint before and the point of the metro UI is to be able to display relevant information in one screen without the need to have 20 different programs running. That's what's great about live tiles.

The problem here is that traditional programs are not going to take advantage of the new UI and so become tedious to deal with. Remember when PCs migrated from primarily DOS to Windows 95 (win 3.x was an overlay for DOS)? Many of the older programs did not work well or at all in Win95...but soon enough compatible programs were created and there was no looking back. I still remember the whining about the total elimination of DOS from MS-based PCs with the introduction of XP.

The reason you can only tab through the running apps from right to left is synonymous with pressing the "back" button on your web browser. Similarly, if you press and hold the "back" button in your browser you'll see a list of all the sites you visited and can pick one to revisit without having to tab through each of them.

MS basic paradigm here is based around abstracting a web browser - which is probably the most universally familiar way of interacting with a computer for most people. Even granny can work a browser.

quote:
"Flat" look of Windows 8 UI tiles
Why? Hard to tell where tile boundaries are, icons are more likely to be less distinctive


The boundaries are the edge of the tile. There should be a bit of "fuzziness" as to the edges due to the fact that the UI is designed for a touch input.

quote:
Photo/graphic heavy UI themes
Why? While nice to look at they convey information at a lower density than "uglier" themes


Disagree. They ability for the tiles to display various media without having to launch a program to view said media means you can find what you're looking for a lot more easily. Tiles are far more "information dense" than icons can be.

quote:
Live Tiles
Why? Third party developers show less sophistication than Microsoft, toss together confusing tiles that don't enhance usability or understanding.


Bad programs exist for all platforms...citing that some developers are bad and will create sh1tty programs is not a fault of Windows 8. It's a fault of there being sh1tty programmers.

quote:
Charms
Why? Harder to use on traditional devices, are hidden (and thus forgotten), and don't work universally across Windows interface, so they confuse.


Why is it harder? It's like a refined version of the desktop widgets in windows 7, which I like and use. They're configurable and functional.

quote:
Gestures
Why? Nielsen says the gestures are error prone and overly complex, such as the multi-step gesture to reveal running apps.


I think the multi-step gestures can be replaced with dedicated buttons on specific devices. For example, on my windows phone, I can see the running apps by pressing and holding the "back" button on my phone. I can then flip thru them and choose the one I want to use. It's not complicated and it's not illogical.

quote:
Tablet UI for Desktops
Why? The above problems are less obvious on tablets, or in some cases not problems at all; he argues "One Windows" is a bad strategy for Microsoft


Disagree again. Having UI consistency across desktop and mobile devices can effectively minimize the learning curve for most people. Why are all graphical OS to date basically copies of MS Windows? Even the graphical UI on linux distributions attempts to mimic the functionality of Windows...why don't they "find a better way"? The answer is simple...consistency rules.

Then you may ask, "Why is MS changing what has been working up to now?" and the answer is that MS is reacting to changes in the devices people use. Tablets and Smartphones are nearly as ubiquitous, if not moreso, than laptop and desktop PCs. The traditional Windows interface doesn't work at all on these small-screened touch devices. The Metro UI does work effectively on both. It's a logical progression and MS really deserves some props for this innovation.

The people complaining the most about these changes are the same people who have an aversion to technological progress, and frequently make comments like "When I was a kid we didn't have windows. We used the command line and that was good enough."

Times have changed. Let's stop whining about the differences and let's stop portraying new ideas as flaws simply because they're new.




By Tony Swash on 11/21/2012 7:04:29 PM , Rating: 1
And for those who find the transition to Windows 8 a tad trying there is even a spiffy new built in help system.

Apparently if you flick with one finger to the top right corner whilst tapping the bottom left corner with two fingers and simultaneously touch the center of the screen with your nose Mr Clippy pops up to help you!

How awesome is that!


RE: Need to stop clinging to the past...
By Scrogneugneu on 11/21/2012 9:43:44 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The reason you can only tab through the running apps from right to left is synonymous with pressing the "back" button on your web browser. Similarly, if you press and hold the "back" button in your browser you'll see a list of all the sites you visited and can pick one to revisit without having to tab through each of them.

MS basic paradigm here is based around abstracting a web browser - which is probably the most universally familiar way of interacting with a computer for most people. Even granny can work a browser.


I did not read your whole post, but I did get up to that section.

I find your analogy perfect. However, you forgot to mention the best part : browsers have tabs, allowing fast switching between different web pages. If MS really did create the paradigm based on a web browser, it was thinking about a stone-age browser.


By Fritzr on 11/21/2012 10:58:42 PM , Rating: 2
Tabs & Tiled panels to allow looking at App A while entering data in App B are essential and will likely appear in future iterations.

For an example that does not work without multitasking or a multiformat program: I am using Sigil to create an ePub with Adobe Reader displaying the source text that I am using.

The complaints remind me of the reaction to a one page review of the Amiga in a PC centric magazine circa 1986. The Amiga has multi-tasking? There is no use for that. Priority levels for various running programs? There is no use for that. Multiple windows displaying the output of different programs? You only use one program at a time so that is not needed.

The nasty comments in the letters to the editor that followed were almost all in this vein. Of course each of these became wonderful ideas once Microsoft added them to the business OS :P Many of the features of Amiga were missing from Windows until Vista/7 and even now there are things The 1980's OS could do that have no Windows equivalent today.

On the downside of course, AmigaOS was a single user, minimal security OS which is deadly in the internet age. V4 of the OS was supposed to add security, but that project fell apart.

With Win8 MS is once again changing the way the computer is used. Once more there will be complaints along the lines of "This ain't the way gran'pappy did it!". Give it time and the next few revisions will have users wondering how they ever managed to get anything done with that 'old-style' OS that just didn't do what was needed :P


By EricMartello on 11/22/2012 3:17:26 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I find your analogy perfect. However, you forgot to mention the best part : browsers have tabs, allowing fast switching between different web pages. If MS really did create the paradigm based on a web browser, it was thinking about a stone-age browser.


Abstracting a web browser's basic functionality does not mean duplicating it exactly - Google tried and failed to do this with ChromeOS. Remember that? They basically made a linux distro with the chrome browser as the UI and it never really caught on. MS sort of built on this idea and improved upon it.

The tabs you claim are missing happen to be represented by both live tiles and the customizable charms.

Traditionally there was a requirement to open up several programs to accomplish a single task...metro UI reduces this with live tiles and charms. The remaining necessity for apps are to do a specific task like word processing or media editing.

Using the windows key, which is on most standard keyboards, you can perform simple key presses to bring up the metro version of the task bar, the "start menu", etc. No need to click.


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