Windows 8 is like a bad blind date
She's stunning, sexy and sultry. But you can't live with her.
Every day for the last three weeks, I sat down to write this analysis but couldn't bring myself to. I resisted for not having used Windows 8 as much as its predecessors -- typically from public beta to release candidate before offering hard opinion. In October, I requested one of the Samsung tablets handed out to BUILD attendees but Microsoft wouldn't provide one. After several more requests, I got one in April and May for about a month's use and was shocked -- and not "wow, it's good". Windows 8 demos much better than my actual user experience. I blamed myself. Surely the problem is mine -- that Microsoft wouldn't unleash UX worse than Windows Vista. But as I see other users/reviewers sharing similar experience, time has come to break my silence. I wouldn't recommend Windows 8, in its current form, to anyone.
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes finally set my writing in motion. Yesterday his June 7 ZDNET post "Final thoughts on Windows 8: A design disaster" popped up in my RSS feeds. The headline doubly impacted: "final thoughts" -- for software not released -- and "design disaster". While reading, I kept thinking "yeah" over and over, because my experience so closely mirrors his.
Kingsley-Hughes writes: "On the face of it, the Metro UI looks good...And then you start to use it". Almost nothing more needs to be expressed. That sums up the biggest problems. Metro is exhausting and demands users to scroll too much. The flat, user interface feels old -- not modern -- after the initial excitement. It's pretty to start with, but the beauty is skin deep. That's my experience using Metro on a tablet, which is what the UI is designed for. The complaints among testers using mouse and keyboard are cacophony.
Metro is a usability nightmare, and mixing it with the desktop motif makes matters worse. Kingsley-Hughes astutely writes:
Not only did someone at Microsoft think that it was a good idea to make Metro the primary user interface in Windows 8, but they also decided to destroy the 'classic' user interface experience too by also 'ribbonizing' most of the applications. These ribbon toolbars are packed with small user elements and are fiddly to use with a mouse, and even more fiddly -- at times bordering on impossible to use -- when driven with a finger.
Going from those big tiles on Metro to the tiny, finger-hating ribbon buttons is jarring and frustrating. User frustration is one of the primary things that killed Windows Vista. Developers should want users to feel good about their software. Vista made many people feel bad, and I predict many more will feel worse about using Windows 8. Metro is bad enough. Metro + Desktop = UX fail.
How people feel about a product is paramount to success. For me, it's not about resistance to change. I'm all for breaking habits, and I frequently switch products in part to shake up my routine. So change isn't my problem with Windows 8. But something else: The changes make Windows harder to use, which is no recipe for market acceptance or adoption.
From a performance perspective, however, there is much to like about Windows 8. Startup is fast, and the UI zips. But there's a split personality here, with the OS trying to be two things and doing neither really well. Hopefully, Microsoft addresses this problem with Windows RT, which is more about the future than supporting the legacy past.
When Microsoft issued Windows 8 Release Preview, I asked BetaNews readers for their reviews. Craig Simpson writes from Australia: "This operating system should be first and foremost renamed Windows 8 Mobile. It is completely useless without a traditional Start Menu and desktop for a desktop PC".
That's another problem with Windows 8. Besides grappling with the ribbon motif adopted from Office, users find something missing: The traditional Start Button/Menu. I don't miss it all that much, but based on BetaNews comments and postings elsewhere, I'm a minority there. Simpson continues:
I have tried to use it in a virtual machine and I’m sorry but it is completely useless. I’m not the only one as I have shown many friends and customers and they have no idea at all how to use it. When they try to do something that would come naturally in windows xp, vista or 7. They just give up and ask how does this work and are completely gobsmacked by the solutions. None of them have suggested that they will upgrade to windows 8. Microsoft have created a dog of an OS for desktops and yet they do not realize it.
Devil in the Red Dress
Recognizing that I spent much less time with Windows 8 Consumer Preview and none with Release Preview, yesterday I asked for reaction on Google+. "Windows 8 has a learning curve", Martin Brinkmann writes -- "a steep one". He continues: "After having tried all three public releases I have to say that Microsoft has improved the operating system considerably, and while I personally would not update my copy of Windows 7 to 8, I definitely would consider updating XP or Vista to it, and would not mind buying a new PC with it installed". He offers more in blog post: "Windows 8 is not that bad actually".
Oh, but it is that bad. Windows 8 is the blind date who is pretty in the red dress but a real bitch outside the bedroom. She's too demanding. She's fussy. She wants you to change to conform to her rather than finding common ground.
"The problem I see, is the closing off of any form of choice", Jake Weisz responds on Google+. "They've now decided what their customer wants doesn't matter. They didn't just make the Start Menu go away, they put in the effort to prevent you from bringing it back. They didn't just create Metro, they force you to start in it".
Pushkar Chivate agrees "about Metro's usability experience on laptop or desktop. The use of Windows 8 Consumer Preview and now the release candidate reminds me of the training issues I had with users when they had to switch from classic menu to the ribbon interface. The usability of Metro could become a deciding factor whether organizations upgrade to Windows 8 or not and how soon. Personally, I am not finding much use of Metro on desktop or laptop and prefer Aero".
A Picture Too Dark?
In Microsoft's defense, Windows needs a modern makeover, and this is the right release for it. The majority of enterprises, which compromise Microsoft's core customer base, will have recently deployed Windows 7 or will be in process when its successor ships. They won't be ready for Windows 8 anyway. Even if adoption is modest, as low as Vista, Microsoft risks little, while preparing the market for what comes next. The Windows ecosystem will be much different in three years, particularly with rash of Metro apps available through the Windows Store.
Siamak Masnavi responds that "Metro UI is good enough already, and by next year I believe there will be Metro versions of all the popular mobile apps. He emphasizes:
The classic Windows interface will receive less and less attention from software developers as time goes on, but as the success of the iPad at both the home and enterprise has shown, the path to greater profits for Microsoft lies in following a mixture of the Apple and Google models and Microsoft's recent efforts indicate that they are not averse to learning lessons from both of these companies.
Meanwhile, Brinkmann sees many Windows 8 pluses:
I did work with Windows 8 on a second desktop PC for the last month or so, and have to say that many paint a picture that is too dark. Take things like the search. Instead of pressing the Windows key to open the start menu, typing in the search term and picking the results from there, I press the Windows key which automatically switches to Metro, where I'm presented with a superior search interface that allows me to filter and all. I have to admit though that I would have preferred that interface to become available on the desktop right away. Still, it is not as bad as it is painted once you get used to it.
I've seen those and other benefits, too, but must agree with Kingsley-Hughes, who calls Windows 8 "clumsy and impractical". Frankly, he's being polite. The split-personality UI motif doesn't work; Microsoft has moved so many things around, many users will feel lost and frustrated; and Metro's prettiness wears thin damn fast.
You must understand: I want to like Windows 8, and it's another reason my real assessment is so long coming. I'd like to see Microsoft give Apple some real competition on tablets -- generating competition that results in better products in a category that may define the cloud-connected device era. Instead, Windows 8 may create more opportunities for iOS, as businesses, particularly, either cling to Windows 7 or embrace iPad -- or both! Perhaps the future is Windows RT, but who really has seen it in action outside of Microsoft and its core partner ecosystem?
My disappointing expectation: Particularly for businesses, Windows 8 will be instead of a leap forward a step backwards -- to Windows 7.