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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.

For example, to scroll through recently used apps on a Windows 8 touchscreen tablet, you simply use a swiping motion with your finger. But on a desktop PC, you must hover your mouse cursor in the lower-left corner of your display, and then move up to see a sidebar with thumbnail listings of recently used apps. This is a fairly difficult technique to master, according to Budiu.

Budiu shared with PCWorld a number of other pain points from her study with Windows 8 keyboard-and-mouse users. Here are some of them:

  • So far, in our testing, discovering and remembering the different gestures was a big issue, because these gestures lack affordance and people just dont click randomly on the screen hoping for something to happen.
  • Also, reliably reproducing those gestures was difficult for some users. Closing windows and starting all over, which a lot of people tend to do when something is not rightfor instance, when an app gets stuckwas also very difficult.
  • Some mouse gestures are really hard to replicate. For instance, weve seen users struggling to expose the right-hand-side charms by hovering on different sub-regions of the right edge, rather than on the upper or lower corner.
  • The right button of the mouse is used to expose controls or text fields throughout the interface. Right-clicking is a fairly expert user behavior, and in our testing, some users never did it.

Clearly, navigating the desktop isnt immediately intuitive in Windows 8. Newer PCs will try to simplify the task of accessing hidden menus by introducing multitouch-enabled mice and touchpads that support tablet-style gestures on a PC. But even so, users will have to learn new ways of interacting with Windows.

'Dualing' Windows

Learning how to navigate one system is hard enough, but on Windows 8 you have, in effect, two different and somewhat separate operating systems: the old Windows desktop and the new touch-friendly start screen. You might be able to get away with spending most of your time in the interface you prefer, but sometimes youll have to navigate both of them.

Working with two interfaces also means having to associate different apps with different UIs. Want to read a Kindle book? You can download Amazons app to your desktop or to the new modern UI, or both. Want to watch a Flash video in your browser? Use Internet Explorer for the desktop, but not the version for the Windows 8 UI.

Each interface also has its own rules for interaction and navigation, such as vertical scrolling for the traditional desktop, and horizontal movements for the new Windows 8 UI.

Multiple ways of doing the same thing usually make it harder for people to learn how to do it, says Budiu. My guess is that in the long term, most people will stick to just one version [of an app]for instance, use IE only in the desktop environment.

 

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