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November 19, 2012

Windows 8

Filed under: Usability,Win8 — see @ 11:24 pm

I wanted to write a bit about Windows 8 for quite some time now but never came round actually doing it. While reading Nielsens Alertbox on Windows 8 I remembered and actually have a reason now to write something, mainly to address some points in Nielsens rant – ok, it is none ;) but some stuff in general too.


I have noticed quite a few reactions to Windows 8 until now:

In the beginning (maybe end of 2011/beginning of 2012) most were hostile, later on hate came to that…

Magazines like c’t magazine (maybe one of the leading german computer magazines?) printed pages over pages of basically rants about a system they never even tried properly (as it was not finished at the time). I don’t want to go into details but in my humble opinion they seemed kinda biased at the time. Everything a certain other company did (even the very minor and even to long time OS-X users lame Mountain Lion update) was great, everything MS did was not so.
Strangely enough this has changed in the latest issues. They now are critical as they are supposed to be (and which in one reason I like the mag) but not “ranty” in the sense of almost unfair and biased anymore.Actually Windows 8 seemed to have grown on them?

BTW, haters are to be seen elsewhere too of course. ZDnet seems to have a lot of writers on anything MS does and some like Win8, some just hate it. (Commenting on all the writers of all the online mags and blogs and if all the stuff they write is actually just for the sake of writing anything is another topic ;) .

Even reactions of people I know were partly “hate”. Ironically enough mostly from Windows users. Mac users were actually quite open and somehow interested (not that they would switch but still).

Other reactions by some people I know were simply “ignorant” – not in a negative way though.
I myself have not really  looked into any upcoming version of Windows until at least Service Pack 1 was out.
That is not since Windows 95 ;)
Exception was Windows 7 to which I upgraded almost immediately (not that I disliked Vista much, but Win7 seemed and was mature enough).

And then Windows 8. I got a Windows Phone in 2011 and immediately liked the UI. So guess because of this excitement actually installed the first version of Win8 I could lay my hands on (Consumer Preview in about April 2011?) in dual boot with Windows 7 on my main PC. I did not use CR that much (CR was an early preview) but the later version from I think May/June I gradually used more and more until with the general availability of the RTM (actually even earlier) I hardly ever booted into Windows 7 at all anymore.
So I guess I have used Windows 8 for almost 6 months now. Not exclusively as I still used Win7 (almost daily) at work but still. I actually updated to Win8 at work now too though ;)


So I think I have a bit of experience with this new Windows. And NEW it is. So I thought I comment a bit on the issues Nielsen writes about in his Alertbox.

  1.  The double nature of Win8 is jarring at the beginning
    True. At the beginning…
  2. Lack of multiple Windows?
    Desktop still works with multiple windows, just as before (more on that later). And actually there are at least two possible windows in Modern-UI. But true, it might not be the easiest thing to do this. But especially compared to e.g. iPad/Android tablets this is a great and welcome improvement (even if maybe used by more advanced users only).
    BTW, browser apps actually almost only have a single “screen” and not a lot of people complain about this. There would be the option of multiple browser windows at the same time, but almost no one I know uses this setup. There also are tabs in most browsers, but one could simply see multitasking on tablet OSs as this.
  3. Flat style:
    Maybe Nielsen is right, the “extreme flat” is basically a reaction to the extreme skeuomorphic style of especially iOS and maybe both are just too extreme. OTOH, I think MS did not have the chance to go the middle ground… And actually partly think this IS a matter of taste and actually I like it a lot :)
  4. low information density:
    True, but not necessarily bad. And mostly dependent on the app…
  5. Overly live tiles:
    Definitely true. But this totally depends on the app and the live tile it provides. Of course most app providers go over the top (like every website goes over the top with the homepage ;) and maybe MS should at least point this out during app submission (they should not reject apps for this, there are other companies whose name should not be spelled out ;) who would do this but I do hope MS does not). OTOH you can always disable a live tile, again, maybe an average user does not know this or won’t bother.
    AND: I think live tiles are generally the best thing since sliced bread. Ok, ok, not really ;) but still they are verrry useful (if done right like Nielsen points out, e.g. apps like Calendar, Mail etc) and are a big improvement over static icon-filled screens with no real value. I guess there always will be the typical offender with a massively annoying livetile but the same could be said for icons. I think tiles are simply the next evolution of app icons.
    Maybe comparable to static images vs video or a static JPG vs GIF. For some purposes the static version is better (and should be used static) but for some purposes (and especially with all the communication stuff like messaging services, email, social stuff etc) a live tile is just the thing to do (again, if used properly). With tiles you have the choice.
  6. Charms:
    True, they are hidden. A friend of mine did not even find the search in the Store app. And it took me some time to find out how to shut down my PC or print from the Mail app. But actually the charms are very useful once properly understood. I especially like the “Share” charm which makes better (than simple copy&paste) inter-app communicationpossible at all.True, maybe search and esp Devices (used e.g. for printing) need getting used to. But once they are, they are much faster and easier to use than app specific stuff.
    Guess a bit similar to websites where certain things have become almost the norm like the logo in the top left, search in the top right for the exact same reason they are the way now in the Charms bar. And the difference of a website or a single app to an OS feature is that people will get used to the feature just because no app can do different (unlike a website which may screw up almost any best practice – sorry for the use of this terrible term ;)
  7. Gestures:
    Yes, some are complicated. The most complicated (open tasks view) has two simplifications though: Use ALT-TAB if you have a keyboard. Use swipe-in from the left to quickly switch between all open apps.Actually multitasking on touch seems generally hard. Android now has an explicit button for it (copped out ;) . iOS double click and endlessly swipe through a lot of icons (no app preview) is actually worse.So I guess gestures on Win8 could be improved on and maybe we see this in Windows 9 or even in “Blue” already? But again, once you used to the gestures, they are real time savers (on touch at least).
  8. Terrible for PCs:
    Actually I think this is not true. Windows 8 could simply be used like Windows 7. Use the desktop only, maybe even install a start button replacement app (you won’t need one, just try without).
    This is actually the point where I think Nielsen is missing something. Maybe some Modern-UI apps are difficult to use on a non-touch PC. Yes, but there is always a desktop replacement. Windows 7 was complete(!) and Win8 did actually not remove anything from it (again, forget that start button!).Also, maybe people should try a touch PC. I am already happy without one but see e.g. Jeff Atwood’s interesting posts about touch laptops/replacement
  9. One Windows Everywhere:
    Nielsen says: “wrong”. I don’t think so. Just ignoring the fact MS could not simply have developed a completely new and totally unrelated OS (like Apple did with iOS in 2007) now, no one including me would have been interested.
    Nielsen totally ignores the interoperability aspect (or would the term network effect?) of different devices. The web was and still is so successful because it runs everywhere. And yes, the web also has a lot of usability problems, also and maybe because it runs everywhere…E.g. synchronization seems one of the most interesting and also hardest problems and having the same OS (or at least very similar, see Win8 vs WinRT) is a step towards it. And yes Windows 8 is far from perfect. But the direction is exactly right and a needed innovation.

Maybe to summarize a bit.

I think Windows 8 is at least as useful and productive as Windows 7. An average user maybe needs a week to come up to speed with it, but then would even be more productive than with Windows 7 (Windows 8 has quite a few improvement like improved startup time, native opening of a VM or ISO images which is very useful, an improved file explorer including improved libraries and even slightly improved taskbar, etc, etc). The average user probably won’t use much of modern UI (on a normal non-touch PC) but will use the desktop maybe for 95% of the time.
The new Start screen is in this scenario just a glorified Start menu (if using desktop apps only there would even be no live tiles but just program shortcuts just like in Windows 7).

But Windows 8 does add some stuff too and there are already quite useful and impressive Modern-UI apps which show even with keyboard and mouse new ways for programs.

On a touch PC (laptop, all-in-one, touch-monitor or whatever) Windows 8 mostly uses the same programs and apps, but more importantly the same services etc. And compared to other tablet OSs, Windows 8 usability is IMHO already better, just new and needs more time getting used to. I think like Windows Phone the Windows 8 UI is not learned nor liked in 5 minutes. It gets appreciated as you use it. And an OS does not need to be learned in 5 minutes if it is useful in the long run. (For if an OS needs to be liked in 5 minutes is  maybe a problem for marketing, but that is another topic altogether…).

Windows 8 with touch is even better. Or maybe a hybrid laptop is the best machine.

Anyway, there is no real reason not to use Windows 8. The very average user won’t upgrade anyway (he never does) but when getting a new PC/machine/laptop/device Windows 8 is an improvement over Windows 7 even a very average user will be happy with it I believe.


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