Windows 8 UI gets a scathing review from usability expert

windows 8 homescreen metro modern ui

Jakob Nielsen, a usability expert and consultant, recently published a blog post with a thorough critique of the latest operating system from Microsoft. His post was based on the results of 12 experienced PC users testing Windows 8 on regular computers and the new Surface RT tablets. 

Nielsen’s top complaint is the company’s decision to run two interfaces – one for tablets and one for desktops – within the one OS. He said the choice to put two user interfaces within the one OS was a critical misstep that made Windows 8 problematic for any level of computer user.  He cited learning and remembering where to find specific features, inconsistencies across the two setups, and the high interaction cost of switching between interfaces as the main issues caused by Microsoft’s design choice. 

With nearly 80 U.S. patents under his name, Nielsen, a former Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer with a PhD in human-computer interaction, knows his stuff. His list of Windows 8 problems continues to the lack of multiple browsing windows in the Modern UI. “The product’s very name has become a misnomer,” he bemoaned. “‘Windows’ no longer supports multiple windows on the screen.”

Nielsen noted that the OS requires a high learning curve because of the flat nature of the interface. There are no illusions of raised icons or inset fields that people have intuitively come to understand mean they can click on them or type in them. The flatness made it challenging for some of the testers to know where to go in order to complete basic tasks, such as changing the background color of the start screen. 

He also questioned why many developers of Live Tiles made overly active widgets without the full name of the application, and called out specific apps (Urbanspoon, Epicurious, LA Times) for offering a low density of information. Inconsistency in the swiping gestures and the decision to hide important features in the Charms section round out his analysis. 

Despite the long laundry list of problems and concerns, Nielsen concludes with a disclaimer that he is not anti-Microsoft. He also concurred that people should have an easier go of navigating Windows 8 given enough time. Still, according to Nielsen, these problems will always be there. “People must think to do something, rather than being reminded to do something, and thus users will sometimes neglect useful Win8 features,” Nielsen said. 

There’s no denying that Windows 8 has been highly divisive, with fans lauding its impressive developments and critics agreeing with many of Nielsen’s points. Most notably, many of the same points are on both lists. The question of whether or not Windows 8 will be a good fit for you seems to boil down to how steep a learning curve you’re willing to tackle in order to use your computer, and how much you believe in the choice to unify the worlds of tablet and desktop. 

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