Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Windows 8 verdict: daft UI

I've been using Windows 8 on my desktop PC at home, with a 29" HD screen, for about 3 months now. I'm sure there are tons of improvements under the bonnet, but the new user interface features have served only to get in the way. Not "proved difficult to adjust to, but eventually became great time-savers." Just got in the way. I feel like I'm constantly having to move stuff out of the way, yet also having to poke around for other stuff. Where's the control panel? I dunno, I'll just search.  Which is fine, I suppose, so why have the tiles? As well as the old desktop?

I open Windows Reader (like OSX Preview, only crappier) and it fills my widescreen, mostly with empty black space. I want to see this document in a window... but, irony of ironies, I can't.

Microsoft have done their old trick of giving us more and leaving it to us to figure out which bits are better. Remember the Office wars? Wordperfect and Lotus lost out to Microsoft Office through sheer feature power: the newest version of MS Office would have all the best features of its competitors combined.  The fact that most people didn't (and don't) use more than 10% of the features was irrelevant in the exuberance of the PC revolution. The software could do so much, and it was relatively cheap.

The web, and mobile in particular, changed consumer perceptions, though. Now we don't want more functionality, we want less. Given the abundance of technology choices in our lives, most of us simply want a consistent narrative: phone has good reception and battery life, it takes decent pictures that I can upload to all my favorite places, etc. Ubiquity and usability of software is a consumer choice, and if you mess with it you will suffer the mass wrath of consumers.

I get what Microsoft are trying to do: make an OS that is as phone/tablet/touch-friendly as it is mouse and keyboard friendly. But rather than do the difficult thing of rethinking it from the ground up (like Apple tend to do), they've stuck to their old approach of extending what they have.  Maybe I'm over-blowing it, and they'll get it right for Windows 8.1. I certainly hope so: while I love Apple interfaces, their enterprise/collaboration tools stink. Nobody knows the enterprise like Microsoft. Although Google are nibbling at their lunch...
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