I’m not one for picking sides when it comes to my Operating System, if I can work on it, play on it, browse the internet etc then it does what I need but it always makes me laugh when a new Operating System rears it’s head and the avid supporters of each OS either shoot it down in flames for no apparent reason or show a devotion to it that would make religious fanatics look like athiests.
I recently installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview into a virtual machine so I could try it out. Installation was a breeze; very quick and many of the old installation steps have been merged to make it more streamlined: so far so good!
Once installation has completed however, things start getting a bit confusing. Instead of loading the desktop most windows users are so comfortable with, we now have Metro, a collection of coloured tiles grouped together to form a new type of interface.
Nice isn’t it? I love the way Metro looks, its slick, easy to scan and uniform, it also works beautifully on a touch screen, its intuitive, smooth and most of all modern! But not everyone has a touch screen and not everyone who will upgrade to Windows 8 will go out and buy one and this is where the coloured tiles suddenly become drab and instead of slick become cumbersome.
So what’s it like with a keyboard and mouse?
Shocking. It is no where near as intuitive as the touch interface, and this is where I see a lot of problems for your average Joe. Let me explain first about the kind of people I describe as average Joe’s. I often sit down with colleagues, friends and family members to help them with computer issues, and it’s amazing how many people don’t know the basic principles of operating a computer. The browser is a good application to draw examples from. I have seen a great many people use google to find a page even when they know the correct URL. Instead of typing or pasting say: www.bcc.co.uk into the address bar they first type or paste it into google, hit search and then click the link, why do they do this? Because they don’t know any better, even though the address bar has sat at the top of every browser since the 90’s they just don’t realise they can interact with it.
When the user needs another browser window open, do they open a new tab? No. a) because they are using an antiquated browser that hasn’t been updated because it came with the PC when they brought it and never knew it could be upgraded and b) because they don’t know they can do it so they just open another instance of the browser. Its balmey, but it explains a lot.
How does this relate to Windows 8? Most people don’t care about new interfaces, they might want the latest thing but they don’t like change, look at Facebook as an example, every time facebook change their interface there is a public outcry and everyone threatens to jump ship and the same applies to operating systems.
So, lets say you’re an average Joe and you’ve just installed Windows 8 on your desktop computer. Installtion was easy but now you are faced with the following screen:
This is the Windows 8 Lock screen. Don’t confuse this with the logon screen which you now need to find. I know I set up a user account when I installed Windows 8 so how do I access it? If I click on the pretty image it does a little jump, if I double click on it spasms a bit but it stays in place. Hmm. Right clicking does the same. Lets move to the Keyboard: Enter – hey presto! it slides up! What if I try another way. Click and drag up with the mouse. That works as well and what a great idea (no sarcasm this time) gestures with mice! Superb! (Don’t get your hopes up though as thats all there is). You can also use the mouse wheel to hide the lock screen, but without touch I think a simple click would suffice as this will just confuse normal users.
Now you’ve logged in to the Metro style interface, you can see a Desktop tile and thankfully after a quick click it takes you to the desktop you are so familiar with. How do you open your applications? You can’t open them using the start menu as that has now gone. You could manually open them by browsing to the executables or you could return to Metro and launch them from there. Lets do that then. But I’m an average Joe, I don’t know that by pressing the windows key it would open the old start menu, so how do I get back to Metro? There is no back button, backspace doesn’t work, I can’t click anything, if i move my mouse down to the very bottom left corner a thumbnail appears labelled start, clicking that takes me back, but that’s a bit out of the way. Why not just put the icon back?
I’m back in metro then but how do I find a specific application when it’s not pinned to the start screen? If I move the mouse to the edges of the screen nothing happens – but there is a pathetically small icon that appears in the bottom right hand corner when I move the mouse (we’ll come back to that in a minute).
To get to your apps you will have to right click (an interaction that has for years brought up context sensitive menus). This brings up a bright blue bar with a single icon (by default).
Clicking the All Apps link will present you with an exhausting list. Select the one you want and you are done! To be fair, to make it easier next time, you could right click on an app and select Pin to start so its easier to get to next time.
Alternately you can just type on the start screen and that will be classed as a search which makes things a lot easier.
Lets try something every user will have to do at somepoint, Shutdown.
You have finished your first Windows 8 session and its time to go and throw iStones at Apple fanbois but you need to shut your pc down first – being an average Joe and not knowing that I could just press the power button to turn it off – where do I start? If you are on the desktop you are out of luck, the start menu as mentioned before has gone and along with it are the shutdown, hibernate and restart controls. It must be in metro then.
I’m back in Metro (I’m starting to miss my desktop) where do I shutdown, I move my mouse around and out of the corner of my eye I see that tiny icon appearing at the bottom right again (told you we’d be back).
This is the smallest button in the world! Its a measley attempt at creating functionality for a keyboard and mouse that was designed for a touch screen. Oops. The image below is the actual size.
Clicking this infinitesimal button resizes my tiles so that I can see the groups of apps available to me. Microsoft, would it kill you to add a larger more prominent icon?
But what happens if I hover over this diminutive icon? a menu appears – what Microsoft is calling the Charms bar (oh dear).
Now you have hovered the button (it might as well be a spec of dirt on your monitor) for 500ms a menu appears, don’t hover too long though otherwise it will disappear and don’t move the mouse off the menu or it will close; now select settings (why is power off in settings?) and select power and then select shutdown.
To sum up, Metro is radically different to anything Microsoft has done before and I applaud them for trying something new and it does work on touch screens but for mainstream and corporate users which make up much of Microsoft’s marketshare, it’s going to be a steep learning curve, productivity will take a drop as people get used to how the new interface works and businesses may hold off on upgrading for that very reason.To Microsoft I would say this, don’t change too much too quickly, if your going to insist Metro becomes the main interface at lease give us a Windows 7 style desktop so we have a comfortable area to fall back on while we get used to Metro and that means bringing back the start menu.
- A nice looking interface.
- Slick and fast animations.
- Completely different to anything else (well apart from Windows Phone 7 and the XBox dashboard)
- The majority of users will struggle with the huge change in interface.
- Removal of the start menu will have a negative impact on user experience.
- Lack of mouse gestures.
- Menus should pop out from the edges when near them.
- Some popular functions such as shutdown should have more prominence.
Update: Chris Pirillo’s Dad uses Windows 8 for the first time
In this Video Chris Pirillo’s Dad is sat down in front of Windows 8 for the first time and is not given any help. All he is armed with is his knowledge of using old Microsoft operating systems.
Turns out there are a shed load of similar videos on you tube.