The Windows 8 Problem

Microsoft is in the news again this week for finally admitting that Windows 8 has not been a runaway success with users; sales have been poor and complaints about the new interface are plentiful. The blame seems to lie clearly with not-Metro, the new tile based, tablet-friendly interface that was the flagship feature of the new OS - crafted to closely identify with the Xbox and Windows Phone interfaces.

Are there things that we can do to improve the experience?
— Tami Reller

Asside from some reasonable questions about the suitability for a touch-centric interface on a desktop or laptop machine, and ignoring potential compromises made in the attempt to provide a single unified OS for all devices I believe the real clichéd devil in Windows 8 is indeed in the details.

Identified as a primary concern is the Windows 8 learning curve:

There is a learning curve and we can work to address that.

This is a direct result of poor attention to detail and bad interface design. The big, colourful square tiles are not to blame at all here. The culprits are details like undiscoverable, obtuse gestures that are sometimes awkward to execute and incomplete settings and options in the tile interface requiring unnecessary interaction with the classic desktop. Windows 8 is failing because it simply is not easy enough to use. That's not so suggest that Windows 7, Linux or OS X are free of these kinds of problems. They do however have the benefit of a couple of decades where they exemplified the consumer computer interface paradigm and were sufficiently simple, once you grasped the fundamentals, that you could generally figure out how to access almost any function.

The introduction of touch interfaces was a pretty big deal. There were touch sensitive Windows machines available before the iPhone and the iPad but the gesture based interface was really something that Apple championed, and did so with widespread adverts and demonstrations showing the operation of the interface and paid a lot of attention to making the gestures predictable. On the other hand, the very moment a user is about to interact with the Surface in Microsoft's original promotional video the ad abruptly ends. You never even see any meaningful interaction beyond swiping through the tiles on the Start Screen.

I think Microsoft got so wrapped up in their fervent hype that the hype became more important than the real goal: a high quality user experience.

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