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The Windows 8 UI: How do interface and usability experts rate all the changes?

Ian Paul | Oct. 16, 2012
When Windows 8 debuts on October 26, users will be confronted with the most radical changes to the look and feel of Windows in nearly 20 years. The traditional desktop has been relegated to second-class status, hidden beneath Windows 8's new touch-centric Start screen. And that’s just the first confusing surprise that awaits long-time Windows users.

When Windows 8 debuts on October 26, users will be confronted with the most radical changes to the look and feel of Windows in nearly 20 years. The traditional desktop has been relegated to second-class status, hidden beneath Windows 8's new touch-centric Start screen. And thats just the first confusing surprise that awaits long-time Windows users.

Traditional point-and-click functionality on the Windows desktop will also change, to accommodate the needs of the new touch-centric interface. Once they get past the new Start screen and enter the traditional desktop interface, users will discover that the Start button is gone, and that key features such as the Control Panel and Search have moved to the new Charms bar, which pops from the right side of their display.

Microsoft is changing the design of Windows to adapt the OS to our new multidevice world. So whether you're playing Diablo III on a desktop PC, checking quarterly numbers on an Ultrabook, or reading an ebook on a tablet, Windows 8 can serve as the operating system in each hardware scenario.

[With Windows 8] Microsoft is doing something we are all going to have to do soon, which is designing for all these different outputs and inputs, says Josh Clark, an interface designer and the author of Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps.

But Microsoft's new direction poses a problem for users: Many people whove played with the RTM version of Windows 8 on non-touch-enabled desktop PCs complain that the new OS is difficult to use.

The problem for Microsoft is that it has millions of users who've been using their products for a really long time, says Jared Spool, a usability researcher with 30 years of experience, who is the founder of usability training and consultancy firm User Interface Engineering. Spool says that the question facing millions of longtime Windows users is, How much downtime are they willing to endure in order to learn about new features that may or may not be useful to them?

The longtime user dilemma

Its too early to say how people will respond to tablets running Windows 8, since the devices havent shipped yet, but PCWorlds initial experiences have been positive.

Early adopters using traditional mouse-and-keyboard PCs, however, have experimented with two public Windows 8 beta versions of the OS since early 2012; and their reaction, while far from unanimous, has tended to be negative.

Raluca Budiu, a user experience specialist for usability consultancy firm Nielsen Norman Group, has been running user experience tests with the Windows 8 preview releases to see how people deal with the new interface changes. Budiu says that users generally experience several pain points in Windows 8, most notably hunting around for traditional functionality thats now hidden in pop-up sidebars.

 

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