Usability expert tears apart Windows 8

Yet another critic has stepped up to call Microsoft’s still-fresh Windows 8 operating system a usability nightmare, saying it is “a monster that terrorizes poor office workers and strangles their productivity.”

Jakob Nielsen, one of the world’s foremost web usability experts, slammed Windows 8 in a lengthy blog post today. He calls out the OS for hiding features, reducing discoverability, low information density in “Modern” apps, overly active live tiles, and overall reduced power using a single-window interface.

One of the biggest problems Nielsen addresses is Windows 8’s two distinctly different interfaces — the desktop and the “Modern” Start screen merged into one.

Unfortunately, having two environments on a single device is a prescription for usability problems for several reasons:

• Users have to learn and remember where to go for which features.
• When running web browsers in both device areas, users will only see (and be reminded of) a subset of their open web pages at any given time.
• Switching between environments increases the interaction cost of using multiple features.
• The two environments work differently, making for an inconsistent user experience.

Another major problem for Nielsen is how much the OS gives preference to tablets over desktops, something we’ve also noted before.

Windows 8 on mobile devices and tablets is akin to Dr. Jekyll: a tortured soul hoping for redemption. On a regular PC, Windows 8 is Mr. Hyde: a monster that terrorizes poor office workers and strangles their productivity.

This used to be Microsoft’s core audience, and it has now thrown the old customer base under the bus by designing an operating system that removes a powerful PC’s benefits in order to work better on smaller devices.

While Nielsen is down about Windows 8, he at least thinks that Windows 9 could fix these mistakes, just like Windows 7 fixed Vista’s problems.

I have great hopes for Windows 9 on mobile and tablets. Just as Windows 7 was “Vista Done Right,” it’s quite likely that the touchscreen version of Windows 9 will be “Windows 8 Done Right.”

I’ll stay with Win7 the next few years and hope for better times with Windows 9. One great thing about Microsoft is that they do have a history of correcting their mistakes.

While I agree with Nielsen that there are several problems with Windows 8, the OS is an important step for Microsoft to make Windows usable on tablets. I would add one major caveat to Nielson’s criticisms — Windows 8’s desktop environment works extremely well, and using that primarily instead of the Start Screen makes for a mostly good experience with the software. (Read our full Windows 8 review for more.)

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