The problem with Windows 8

When Windows 8 was first released to techies, I made the effort to install it on my main computer at home and use it in order to try and get used to it. I’ve always done this; if you work in technology you need to be up to date with technology. This install lasted for a bit longer than a month before I gave up on it and rolled back to Windows 7. The problem with Windows 8 for me wasn’t the big differences, but the little frustrations.

Having tried it again on a test desktop and a touch-screen enabled convertible laptop/tablet, I still find it incredibly frustrating to use and I’m far from the only person struggling.

Where have Microsoft gone wrong? Microsoft need to respond to touch. They need to because it’s the future.

But my issue is that their current response is wrong. It’s horribly disjointed, and their idea of “no compromises, lets put the same UI on everything” has in fact led to lots of compromises, because compromise in design is inevitable, but it’s also led to bad compromises because when you pretend that you can ignore something then you surrender control of it. And this should have been obvious to them. As any professional designing any solution already knows, every single choice a designer makes is a matter of picking the right path between two contrasting requirements. “Compromising” if you will.

We compromise as network manager/sysadmin types when trying to design systems that are reliable and robust for the business without bankrupting our employer, or systems that keep customer data secure without being impossible for authorised users to work with.

Car designers compromise when they sit down to design a sports car and don’t give it a massive trunk and a large kid-friendly back seat area, or when they sit down to design a safe family saloon with good luggage space and cross “getting around the nurburgring in a record time” off the list of requirements.

Trying to build a “no compromises” UI design between two very different use modes was always going to be a risky prospect.

We’ve got a Dell touch tablet/laptop here that we’ve put windows 8 on to and the consensus here is that while the touch-orientated UI parts of Windows 8 make sense on a tablet, the experience is very much undercut by the jarring experience of trying to use the desktop for some apps via touch. The exact opposite of our thoughts about it as a desktop. Hmmm.

This is my point. Not that Microsoft have dared to change, but that the changes they’ve made are bad ones. If they’d produced a dedicated touch interface and kept the dedicated desktop interface and only “integrated” the parts that made sense, they’d have a much better system, both for touch and mouse use. Instead what they’ve got is the worst of both worlds.

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