Last week, I was surprised to read Don Norman’s thoughts about Windows 8, and I got excited to test-drive the consumer preview. Norman wrote the book on usability, quite literally, so his opinion matters. He and Jakob Nielsen have previously been critical of touch interfaces, so I had hope that Microsoft had managed to meld the classic keyboard/mouse interface with a modern touch one.
Today, I finally spun up a VM of it and kicked the tires.
What a disappointment. I wonder what Norman saw in it that made him practically glow with praise. Did they only show him the Metro interface? Was it running on a tablet? I’m guessing yes and yes.
I’m not alone by a long shot either. Tim (@oraclebase) wrote a scathing review of Windows 8 last week, which rang true to what I experienced in the couple hours I invested to test it. Even more telling, Chris Pirillo (@chrispirillo) put his father in front of Windows 8 to get a real user’s experience. The results aren’t terribly surprising; it doesn’t pass the parent test.
For everyone, yes even you and me, Windows 8 requires relearning functions that are deeply ingrained after years of using a computer, and that creates a boatload of frustration. Most users do not want to spend time learning; they want to spend time doing.
Frankly, not much has changed since the developer preview I also test-drove a few months ago.
I gave up after a couple hours, but here are just a few major issues that bugged me.
Applications behave differently
While I enjoy the minimalist Metro interface, it removes helpful features like menus. After opening IE 10, I found I couldn’t quit using Crtl+Q. I was stuck in IE for quite some time with no affordance to let me know how to get back to the opening tiles.
Finally (and accidentally) I blundered across the menu, which is hidden by default. You have to mouse into the bottom right corner to pop out the opaque menu of options. There’s no way to know this, since the OS gives you absolutely no clue, at least in IE. I did notice a small glyph there in other applications, but not in IE.
The Windows Live fiasco
I wanted to try out the WordPress app for the Windows Store, which launched last week, to write this very post.
Sadly, the Store refused to accept my Windows Live credentials. After some brief Googling, I couldn’t find an answer, so I began experimenting.
One new feature of Windows 8 is the ability to login with your Windows Live account. I declined that option on setup naturally, but therein lies the key.
Along the way, I discovered that even though you can define very strong passwords for Windows Live, Windows 8 only supports 16 character passwords. As a devoted 1Password user, I’ve seen this from other sites. Unfortunately, Windows 8 gives you absolutely no indication that this is the case, so you’re left to figure it out on your own as you fail over and over silently.
Once I had switched my login to my Windows Live account and changed my password three times, I could finally install the WordPress app.
Of course, I quickly discovered it’s for WordPress.com users only, at least for now. So, all that effort was in vain.
Along the way, I had to find the Control Panel, which is hidden away and can only be found via search. Once launched, I found myself in the classic Windows 7 desktop interface, minus the Start button and without any affordance to return to the Metro tiles.
Luckily, my earlier fail in IE clued me in on how to do this. Ctrl+Esc is your friend, ironically, given how touch-friendly Metro is. Learn the keyboard shortcuts.
The desktop is just as tacked on and janky as it was in the developer preview. It’s obviously there to ease the transition for classic Windows users, but it’s been neutered so much that I wonder why Microsoft even bothered including it.
Why not make a clean break and force the user to relearn everything? Offering the crutch of an old-school desktop is worse, since its presence only serves as a reminder of how things used to work.
I actually like the Metro design. It’s clean and fresh, very un-Windows. I’ve been curious to try WP 7 for the same reasons. Metro is obviously the future of Microsoft, and I can see it being very comfortable on a tablet or a standup touchscreen.
Microsoft should get credit for trying to move forward with touch-friendly design that is consistent across devices and form factor. Windows on a phone should be the same as it is on a tablet and a laptop and even on a Surface.
However, the inclusion of the desktop interface shows they’re afraid to alienate users. That makes sense, and I wonder if there will be Metro-only versions sold. Even so, it’s almost an insult to include them together in the same OS. Ironically, this will drive people looking for a new computer to buy iPads and Macs.
One thing is clear though. The days of a keyboard/mouse OS are numbered. Windows 8 joins OS X Lion and Ubuntu Unity as touch-first interfaces. Soon, those of us who prefer a tactile keyboard will be pushed into inferior interfaces for content creation.
So, the biggest impression I’m left with is frustration, e.g. I wanted to add screenshots of the OS in this post, but after fighting it for a few hours, I’m gassed.
Have you tried Windows 8? What do you think?
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