I think that perhaps the term ‘hate’ is a little emotive but that is what much of the media portrays the reaction to Windows 8 as. I’ll try and take a pragmatic view to why I believe many are having such strong reactions.
The first point I believe is that the major issue for most people is the new ‘fluid’ or tiled interface (that was once known as metro). Thus, I’m going therefore focus on this and assume that most of the other parts people can live with.
So why does the new ‘tiled’ interface cause so much angst? I reckon because there is no bridge for users to bring their accumulated knowledge forward. Let me start with an analogy.
Imagine that you came into work one day and found that not only had your desk been relocated, but everything on the desk had been moved inside cabinets. Also imagine that you where no longer located near your previous work colleagues and worst of all no one assisted you make this transition. You’d probably really struggle to settle into your routine and get work done wouldn’t you? You’d also get pretty annoyed about these changes being something outside your control.
So let’s now reframe that in the Windows context. The Windows 7 interface many people are using today is now actually over 20 years old. If you stop and think about it, you need to go back to Windows 3.X to find a major interface difference. The old Start button has been with us since Windows 95 days, almost 20 years!
If the interface change from Windows 3.X to Windows 95 was the last major look and feel that Windows underwent you’ll still find some commonality that was brought forward. Things like the desktop, wallpaper, maximizing and closing windows in the top right corner, icons, etc remained essentially the same. Such items provided a bridge for users to make them more comfortable with being able to bring some of their accumulated knowledge forward. Because of this they were much more willing to learn new features.
So even though there was major interface changes, there was still enough things that didn’t change to assist people moving forward. Now fast forward 20 years to the next major interface change Windows 8.
In short, Windows 8 has been too ambitious in what it has tried to do. When an existing user boots Windows 8 they no longer really see anything familiar. This immediately creates a sense of panic. Also unfortunately, Windows 8 has not provided an easy path to help users acclimatize to the new operating system. This is where my previous post on training was relevant as well.
What do I mean? As an example let’s take a look at the standard desktop wallpaper. Many users like to customize this with pictures of family, pets, vacations, dreams, etc. Having such familiar objects helps them personalize their machine and develop a sense of ownership since they can make the changes themselves.
Problem is with the new titled screen in Windows 8 you can’t easily change the background. You also can’t easily have a familiar wallpaper here. In short you are stuck with what Microsoft dictates, you don’t have the control you used to. The same arguments applies to the colours and theme, again something that many people like to customize, to feel a sense of ownership and familiarity.
Another example is that previously in Windows 7 everything you worked on was available on the one screen. I could see all the desktop icons or access the programs via the Start menu. With the new tiled interface you need to scroll to the right to see things. Obviously that is something copied from devices like the iPad but when you come from a legacy environment like Windows, subjecting this to users so dramatically will cause problems. It is successful on an iPad because that’s the way it has always been on an iPad. If Apple ever attempt to change that they’ll face the same challenges Microsoft currently does.
Next example is the app duality. This means you have apps that run on the tiled interface and different apps that run on the desktop. A good is example is viewing pictures. If I run Outlook on the desktop and open an image from an email, by default it launches the titled interface app to view that image. Now how do I get back to Outlook? Once you know that hitting the Windows key or dragging from the top of the screen down does the job BUT my point is people don’t know this initially and the product doesn’t provide any hints on what you need to do. There again is a sense of a loss of control which leads to frustration. To my way of thinking it would have been a very logical idea to include the familiar close X button in the top right of the tilted program as an additional method of closing the app. That way, most people would probably try looking there to close the app. Thus, add all the new features but keep some of the old ones that people are familiar with as an transition.
Next, by making all the titled apps run in full screen mode it not only creates a lot of wasted space but hides everything you are doing. Even if you maximize Windows 7 apps you generally still retain the bar at the bottom of the screen along with the Start button in the bottom left. In Windows 8 all you get is a full screen app. This again creates a sense of the loss of control and frustration when it comes to navigation.
I’m sure there are plenty of others people have frustration with but I hope you see my point that unfortunately Microsoft has neglected to retain some key features of the interface to provide people with a bridge into this new world. There is no doubt that Windows 8 is a better option than Windows 7, especially in the long run, however if people have major frustrations when they first start using something they are going to turn against it as they have.
Unfortunately for Microsoft they are constrained by the legacy of their existing successful software which limits their ability to bring true innovation to the market, which unfortunately is something they get roundly criticized for. They have certainly tried to make this jump with Windows 8 and as expected they have copped backlash. Perhaps they have been too bold? Perhaps users are too conservative? Over time we will no doubt reach the happy medium everyone is looking for, but it will be a bit bumpy along the way as both Microsoft and users insist that they shouldn’t have to change. Both have valid reasons both need to compromise to move forward.
As I have noted, I think that a few minor inclusions in Windows 8 to allow a bridge between the old and new interface is what would be the best option, however I am yet to see them. Microsoft has attempted a really innovative change to its flagship product in order to align with the coming changes in technology. Problem is the sheer legacy of its previous successful software has meant such a radical change is no longer without major risk simply because, thanks to human nature, people prefer things to stay the way they are. The only way to move them forward is to provide a familiar bridge so that they have early successes and have confidence to explore new features and functionality. Balancing how big this bridge is with the need to innovate is a challenge that is not always achieved at the first attempt.