Windows 8 Usability on PCs for Novice and Power Users Blasted in Study
November 21, 2012 4:20 PM
Windows 8 has some good ideas but not for the PC form factor, the report's author argues
Microsoft Corp. (
Windows President Steven Sinofsky
, 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
Users tend to be split into two camps. On one side are folks like Steven "Woz" Wozniak, Apple, Inc. (
) co-founder, who takes the perspective that Windows 8 (and its mobile brethren Windows Phone) are wildly innovative. "The Woz" commented in a
, "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
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
, who compiled a
rich, multi-page study
on what he feels are the flaws of Windows 8.
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)
creates interface slowness and cognitive dissonance
Switch to single windowing
Hard to remember what you have open for complex tasks
"Flat" look of Windows 8 UI tiles
Hard to tell where tile boundaries are, icons are more likely to be less distinctive
Photo/graphic heavy UI themes
While nice to look at they convey information at a lower density than "uglier" themes
Third party developers show less sophistication than Microsoft, toss together confusing tiles that don't enhance usability or understanding.
Harder to use on traditional devices, are hidden (and thus forgotten), and don't work universally across Windows interface, so they confuse.
Nielsen says the gestures are error prone and overly complex, such as the multi-step gesture to reveal running apps.
Tablet UI for Desktops
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
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.
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.
UseIT / Jakob Nielsen
"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive
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