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July 05, 2012

Can't teach old dog new tricks! (yes, I mean Windows 8)

As we all know Microsoft is recently trying to get into the 21st century by embracing new UIs, standards, Open Source and whatever else is fashionable. I have to say that I admire what Scott Guthrie is doing with Azure but unfortunately he seems to be the only one (I think) who does something in the right direction. For a long time the mantra in Microsoft was "We will make it and they will come" or more accurately "We will push it in your face and force you to use it until you give up and start using it." You would think that this has changed but...

 

Today I was looking at prototyping some WebSockets work using .NET and had to get my hands on IIS 8. The easiest way for me was to spin up Windows 8 VM, enable IIS and install Visual Studio 2012 on it. This was maybe my 5th encounter of using Windows 8 and I can say that I hated it yet again. Yes, there are "significant" improvements from the first build that came out of the Build conference (at the time Windows 8 was unusable virtualized or over Remote Desktop Connection) but that doesn't mean that it is any closer to a pleasant experience. It took only few minutes for me to get frustrated and if I didn't have to do it I would have given up on the 5th click.

I had to do four things:

  1. Change my IP address to static
  2. Enable IIS as a feature
  3. Enable Remote Desktop access to the machine
  4. Install Visual Studio 2012

Don't make me think

I am a big fan of Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think approach but with Windows 8 Metro interface I find myslef wondering what will happen if I do X or what my next action should be. Here are few of my points:

 

Windows 8 Search

I am perfectly aware that you can trigger search by just typing something on the keyboard but I am always reluctant doing this for one simple reason - my brain is trained that when you type something you type in an area visible on the current screen, and not on a completely new screen. But in Windows 8 there is no such area on the home screen and you are suddenly taken to a completely new screen where you see what you have typed. To iterate my expectation for the workflow is:

  1. Give me a way to choose that I want to search
  2. Type my search terms (edit, delete, insert and whatever)
  3. Trigger the search (if necessary - instant is fine)

"Wait! Wait! You can do that in Windows 8!", you would say! "You know - the hot corners?" I will come back to this later but for now let's see what Windows 8 workflow is:

  1. Type something
  2. We drastically change the current UI 
  3. ... and show you the instant search results (i.e. make the UI change yet again)

If you translate this to real live you will see that the common sense workflow is: 

  1. Get a pen and paper
  2. Write with the pen on the paper
  3. Do whatever needs to be done with the writing

You can think of the keyboard as a pen and the screen as piece of paper. But the Windows 8 real life example is:

  1. Start writing with the pen
  2. ... and we will pop a piece of paper in your hands

As much as I wish to live in Wonderland I think we are far away from materializing things out of nowhere. Hence I think that this is unnatural and confusing. For the poor people who buy tablets with Windows 8 I am also wondering how the heck the pen (think keyboard) will materialize in their hands. "Wait! Wait! There is a way to do that", you would say. I don't care because I don't feel any desire of buying Windows 8 tablet:)

 

One more thing about the search functionality. It is not very clear to me what the scope of the search is. If I type on the home screen do I search only among applications on the home screen? If not, do I search application across the system? If so, why when I type "System" the system settings entry from Control Panel doesn't show up in the search results (in comparison if you type System in Windows 7 you will get it)? If the search is across the system does that include files too? BTW, are there still files in Windows 8? ;)

 

The hot corners

OK, let's get back to your suggestion - to use the hot corners functionality that Windows 8 offer.

 

Let me first ask you the following question: How do I learn about the hot corners? With the mouse it is easy! When the consumers get frustrated they start shaking the mouse (you do that too, right?), and at some point naturally the pointer will hit one of the corners. Then there is this aha-moment and she knows that those corners are magical and she starts exploring. The thing is that with tablets consumers tend to shake them when frustrated so I hope Windows 8 team implemented discovery mechanisms for such cases:)

 

Coming back to the mouse experience I think it is pure steal from Mac OS with very poor implementation. The most frustrating thing with it is the area that the pointer needs to hit in order to trigger the functionality. I am pretty sure that this is 1px by 1px and I can assume what the reason for that is. Imagine the following conversation in a meeeting:

 

Junior PM: "We need to make the area bigger so that it is easier for the users to click on it"
Principal PM: "No, we can't do that because in Desktop mode the area will cover the X in the upper right corner, or the menu button in the upper left corner, or Show Desktop button on the lower right corner, or the Start Button in the lower left corner. Oh, we don't have the Start button anymore because we need to force the users to use the Metro UI - the more they use it the more familiar they will become with it."

 

The next frustrating thing with the hot corners is that the functionality is not complete. For example when I wanted to configure my network I pointed the mouse in the upper right corner (which turned out to be quite tedious task in a VM window), clicked on Settings -> Networks, then I saw my network connection and... what am I supposed to do next? Neither double-ckick nor right-click helped me open the Network settings. I had to go the traditionial way by searching for Control Panel (remember, System doesn't show in search anymore so does not Network too), then opening Network Settings and so on. 

 

One additional thing to note here is that while Mac OS uses Spaces to either clean up your windows (show Desktop) or show you all available windows from the current app but it does not enable any new functionality that is not available from other more intuitive places in the UI. This is not the case with Windows 8 - there are no other entry points (that I could find) in the Metro UI that I can use to open the search box or the settings. I don't remember seeing the hot corners functionality in the first public build of Windows 8 (the one from the Build conference) - you can correct me if I am wrong here; but my impression is that Windows team discovered all the shortcomings in the UI and shoved those as "the hot corners". Whether this happened before Build or after doesn't matter because I think it is poorly designed experience.

 

Windows Metro and the Desktop

At the end I would like to go back to the value proposition of Windows 8. If you ask anybody who works on Windows why should you buy Windows 8 instead iPad the answer will be: "Because Windows 8 allows you to not only consume content but also to easily create such." This message was even reinforced by Ballmar at the Surface announcement. But after using Windows 8 for a couple of minutes you will discover that you are constantly pushed into the Metro interface, which... interestingly enough... is designed for content consumption and not for content creation. Either there is big disconnect between what Microsoft wants to deliver and what is actually delivered (remember this nice caricature about the software projects?) or I am not getting it how is it easier to create content with Windows 8 Metro interface. If I am required for every simple task to go from the Desktop view to the Metro UI and back to the Desktop view then I am better off staying on Windows 7 or Mac OS for my content creation and buying iPad or Android for my content consumption.

 

The whole problem here is that for long time Windows team thinks that they should create one product that will be able to satisfy everybody - enterprises, consumers, content creators and your grandma. Unfortunately such products are rarely successful (the only two I can think of are the Swiss army knife and the copier-printer-scanner one). The underlying cause though is that the people who brought you Windows 3.11, and Windows 95 and Windows 98, and... every other Windows including Windows 8 are all the same, and they think that if you force it down the consumer's throath they will swallow it. Well, maybe or maybe not. One thing is clear though - you can't easily teach them to do something new especially if this has been successful tactic for so long. Now, you poor consumers will need to swallow and learn how to create content with Metro.

 

What about me?

In conclusion I want to say that I have been Windows user by choice for the last 20 years. And by choice I mean I wanted to use it and have not been required to use it - I've used it at home and at work. However, I like to have choices and to make my own decisions. Looking at Windows 8 though I don't think it will be a choice of mine - neither for content consumption nor for content creation. Windows 7 and Mac OS will be my "content creation" choices while iPad and Android will be my content conssumption choices. I don't think I will need to overwhelm my brain with a mutant OS that does everything but nothing well.

 

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