To Windows 8 critics: Is there any objective case against Windows 8?
So I've heard a lot of criticism of Windows 8 from keyboard and mouse users and Windows traditionalists. So I ask people: Where specifically is your criticism, and is that an opinion thing or is there an objective case where Windows 8 fails in usability compared with Windows 7?
So I'll start with some of the criticism I've found in usability.
So we've heard that Metro apps are really unusable in Windows 8. I can agree somewhat. They aren't that great right now, they need to be better written and more optimized in general. But in my view, they are not a replacement for Desktop apps. The Desktop apps you know and love are still going to run on x86 Windows 8 (if it's compatible with Windows 8). Therefore, I believe we should look at Metro apps as sort of an add-on to Windows 8, and if you really don't like a given Metro app or even all Metro apps, then don't use them. Therefore, Metro app criticism should be considered independent of Windows 8 criticism.
Start Screen Vs Start menu
This has been really contentious. There's a couple of places where we can break this one down:
- Pinned apps
- Unpinned (All) apps
- Log on/log off/switch User
- Power options (now moved to the Charms bar)
- Computer stuff (like Music, Downloads, Control Panel, etc)
So, firstly, pinned apps is there. You can pin more stuff to the Start screen than before on the Start menu. You can organize it into stacks and break it into different sections, and there's two sizes for tiles. Functionally, this is a step up from the way it was in the Start menu, you couldn't organize your pinned stuff into groups, you couldn't put them into stacks, and there was a limit to how many pinned items you could have (I think it was based on your screen resolution, they only had one stack that would fill the screen and that was it). And since they're now tiles, they don't require as much fine motor coordination as they did on the Start menu (why? Because there's now more area to click on, this helps prevent you from clicking the wrong thing accidentally).
Second, all apps. I actually agree with some of the criticism here, because it's now accessible through right click in the Start screen, where it would be better as an icon straight on the Start screen. But, even with that one additional click, it will on average be just as many or even less clicks to access the same items in the Start screen as the Start menu. In the Start menu, it would usually go like this:
Start button->All Programs->Click on each folder, if any, to access an app from All programs->click on the app/item
This could be anywhere from 3 to 5 user actions, on average 4.
In the Start Screen:
Start->Right click->All Apps->Click on the item you want.
This is always 4 user actions.
In my Windows 7 experience, an item in the Start menu would have at least one level of folder organization to access that item. Which means that on average, Windows 7 and Windows 8 are the same number of user actions away (disregarding keyboard shortcuts and only using All apps) when accessing these unpinned items. In my opinion, the right click-> All apps thing should be changed, but it's no less efficient than Windows 7 in number of user actions on average (usually 4 user actions, with default application install behavior on Windows 7).
All apps is now graphically laid out instead of in a list with folders, this may be less mouse movement but in fact requires less precise mouse movement, so I view the layout in Windows 8's All apps menu as no problemo.
User account options: Yes people have criticized that that's been removed from the power options. It may be annoying, but user accounts are not power states. Having this separated can be considered good or bad depending on how you like your organisation. I'll call that one down to opinion.
Computer links: Well that's been removed by default but you can still pin the stuff you want onto the Start screen. No loss there.
Power options: Now this may be the case where Windows 8 clearly loses to Windows 7 when we discount keyboard shortcuts. In Windows 7:
Start->Either press your "pinned" power option, or the more options button next to it->and if you pressed more options, you click an additional time for that power option.
That's 2-3 actions.
Activate Charms bar->Settings->Power->chose power option.
That's always 4 actions. That's not good. More clicks, not as easily accessible as it was on the Start menu. I'll grant everyone that power options (without resorting to shortcuts or using the keyboard) is one area where Windows 8 loses to Windows 7.
(you can alleviate the situation through making shortcuts (google Windows 7 shutdown shortcut), keyboard commands (Win key + I takes you straight to settings on the Charm bar), or typing in shutdown -s -t 00, but I'll agree that the user shouldn't be forced to use these methods, or everything should be straightforward enough so they don't have to resort to them).
Search: They still have search like it was in Windows 7, just type in the Start screen and it automatically searches. But it's now split up between settings, apps, and files. I like that change, but other people don't like it. This one comes down to opinion.
Alright, so in sum, the Start screen is not worse than the Start menu (except for the power options that's been removed from the Start screen). Pinned items are better (more are available, live content, etc). All apps is there, but less accessible thanks to the right click (but once the user knows how to get there, it ends up being as efficient or more efficient than the Start menu's All Programs. User account stuff is there. Power options are gone to the Charms bar and I'll give you that is less efficient on Windows 8. Overall I think the Start screen in many ways is better than the Start menu of old with more options and configurability.
The network switcher has changed, and it's now Metro themed. Some have criticized that that means more mouse travel and that it takes up more of the screen. More mouse travel=true, by a few inches on the screen. But more options are there and like other Metro stuff it requires less precise mouse movement, making it actually easier to click on. More of the screen=true, but why is that bad? You can't spare your screen real estate when you do one specific task and the switcher goes away?
So there's now the Metro multitasking, but Alt tab is still there. The Metro multitasking has been criticized for not showing many apps (I think it maxes at 7 apps on my computer), and for not showing the desktop apps as separate apps. The desktop thing is done because desktop windows can be different sizes while Metro ones can only be full size or split screen. That kind of makes sense in the Metro scheme of things.
But if one really doesn't like that, use Alt tab then! It works just fine. Or stick to the taskbar which is still there last I checked. This Metro thingy replaces the Flip3D thing, which it looks like no one used that or cared about it. Therefore, this one is not a loss in functionality, because unless you actually liked Flip3D, this no loss to you.
The Start button
Ah, the quintessential criticism of Windows 8. The Start button was removed because it had no place in the developer preview and there was no more Start menu. It activated the Charms bar options in the developer preview, but I always clicked on that expecting Start! But now I think it's better the way it is in the Consumer Preview. It has no more mouse travel as a button than as a hot corner. So once you know about that hot corner, it's not a problem to use it. This one is down to opinion, if you liked the Start button, great, but it's not less usable now that it's a hot corner.
The Charms bar
Well this wasn't in Windows 7, so view it as an addition if you don't like it. You don't even need to use it if you're a desktop user, you can simply stick to the desktop equivalent options (like the volume and other stuff). Except for the Power options, which I said that you can alleviate with icons or keyboard shortcuts, but this one comes down to opinion.
Desktop vs Metro
If you don't like Metro, you can stay in the desktop. It works pretty much as it did in Windows 7 there except for a few changes. You can even stay in the desktop permanently by simply pinning icons to the taskbar, making icons on the desktop, and even putting your power options as shortcuts on the desktop. Almost everything you can do on the computer can be done on the Desktop.
If you don't like the Desktop, well that's harder, because of the file options and such. Some people have complained that there isn't a separate tablet OS for Windows 8. This was done so you can do file management on ARM tablets and use Office (maybe other apps will make it to the ARM desktop?). But if you used a WoA tablet like an iPad (as in, you never used a file explorer or advanced options you might find in the control panel), then you won't need to even use the Desktop. You could pretty much stay in Metro completely.
OK, so it's claimed to be "jarring" that there's two paradigms. From my standpoint, you could almost exclusively use the OS in one paradigm or the other if you wanted to. That will actually be a positive, because then the user gets the options to use the paradigm he or she is most comfortable with most of the time. If you hate Metro, stick to the Desktop. If you hate the Desktop, stick to Metro. You could probably spend 99.9% of your time in one or the other based upon the context of how you use your computer. This is a plus because if the user finds a situation where they need one or the other, they can use one or the other. You're using a tablet and you need to move files around and organize them into folders and move them over your network? You still have the desktop. If there was only a Metro OS, you wouldn't have the Desktop. You're a laptop user and you find a cool app that's only programmed in WinRT/Metro? You still can access it. This was done because this maximizes what the user can do, and prevents him or her from having unnecessary limitations based on device use, and still gives an environment suitable to the device.
This area is where everyone should praise Windows 8. More keyboard shortcuts that are useful=Win-win for everyone. I like Win-Q, Win-W, and Win-I, and all new. There's many more so look them up and try to memorize them, and you could be even more efficient with Windows 8 than with Windows 7!
So aside from opinion, I think I've nary found much of an objective and empirical case against Windows 8. In the realm of facts and reality and not opinion, I think they've actually made some stuff better for the desktop/laptop keyboard and mouse users. They've not even taken anything away (well ok there's Flip3D). The only real case in terms of efficiency seems to be the Power options (which can be alleviated as I've said). Other than these few cases, I've seen little in the way of objective factual analysis that establishes that Windows 8's UI is worse than Windows 7's for traditional PC users. Yes there's changes, but these changes can be communicated to users as they should be with any changes in the OS. If the user doesn't like change, then sure, he/she is entitled to the right to criticize Microsoft for changing things, but there may in fact be reasoning behind the changes, and the user should learn why those changes were done to get an understanding of the OS and how to maximize their use of the new OS. If the user doesn't want to adapt to changes that have been made on sound reasoning, then the user shows an unwillingness the learn and an unwillingness to adapt, or the user should show why their sound reasoning is not so sound for the average user. (Remember, a given OS will never be perfect for everyone. To suggest that Windows 8 sucks for you won't make your case any easier for Microsoft to change stuff, because they have to change stuff so that the average user is more efficient/works better with it).
So I ask you, Windows 8 critics: Give me your empirical/objective/fact based evidence that Windows 8 is less efficient/worse/crappier/whateverbadtermyoucomeupwith than Windows 7. Remember, no opinions, no "it looks ugly" or "it's two OSs" or "it's a tablet OS". Give a factual analysis with reasoning that applies to the average user. If you don't like a change but can't demonstrate why it's a bad change, then don't bother responding.