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Usability Guru Rips Windows 8 Design

Usability Guru Rips Windows 8 Design
November 20, 2012 7:04AM

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More blows for Windows 8. And this time, they're heavy. Jakob Nielsen says Windows 8's user interface sacrifices usability on the altar of looking different. Nielsen calls the icons in Windows 8 flat, monochromatic, and coarsely simplified. He says the overly live tiles backfire and that the Windows 8 designers went overboard, while key functions are hidden.

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Usability guru Jakob Nielsen had to end his review of Windows 8 with an assurance that he doesn't hate Microsoft. That's because he tore it to shreds.

Apparently, Nielsen didn't like what he deemed a reversal of Microsoft's user interface strategy, one that differs from the traditional Bill Gates-driven style that emphasizes powerful commands. He said Microsoft has "gone soft" and "smothers" users with big colorful tiles while hiding needed features.

"One of the worst aspects of Windows 8 for power users is that the product's very name has become a misnomer. Windows no longer supports multiple windows on the screen," Nielsen wrote in a blog post. "Win8 does have an option to temporarily show a second area in a small part of the screen, but none of our test users were able to make this work. Also, the main UI [user interface] restricts users to a single window, so the product ought to be renamed 'Microsoft Window.' "

Sacrificing Usability for Looks?

As Nielsen sees it, the single-window strategy works well on tablets and is a must on a small phone screen. But with a big monitor and dozens of applications and Web sites running simultaneously, he said, a high-end PC user definitely benefits from the ability to see multiple windows at the same time.

"When users can't view several windows simultaneously, they must keep information from one window in short-term memory while they activate another window. This is problematic for two reasons," Nielsen said. "First, human short-term memory is notoriously weak, and second, the very task of having to manipulate a window -- instead of simply glancing at one that's already open -- further taxes the user's cognitive resources."

Nielsen said the new user interface sacrifices usability on the altar of looking different. He called the icons flat, monochromatic, and coarsely simplified. He said the overly live tiles backfire and that the application designers went overboard. He also complained that the charms are hidden in generic commands. Charms are a panel of icons that slide in from the screen's right side after a flicking gesture from the right edge on a tablet or after pointing the mouse to the screen's upper right corner on a computer.

"In practice, the charms work poorly -- at least for new users. The old saying, out of sight, out of mind, turned out to be accurate," Nielsen said. "Because the charms are hidden, our users often forgot to summon them, even when they needed them. In applications such as Epicurious, which included a visible reminder of the search feature, users turned to search much more frequently." (continued...)

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Eric J. Green:

Posted: 2012-11-21 @ 9:49am PT
Am I mistaken or does the full Windows 8 version not have a desktop where you can run multiple applications side by side?

I know with Windows 8 RT, you can only have one application run at a time and it is horrendous to rotate between applications. This is the same for iPAD 1 (not sure about 2+, since I've never used them.) But if I were a power user, why would I purchase the Windows 8 RT version? Go with the full blown Windows 8 version and boom: I'm a multitasking champ again.



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