As a usability expert (and I really am, I kid you not), I am astonished at how bad the user interface on Windows 8 is. It’s not just a bit bad, it is staggeringly, shockingly bad. It breaks just about every principle of good UI design – many of which have been well known for the past thirty years – and not in a good way. It looks and feels like it was designed by a programmer and then given a shiny gloss by a graphic designer. I find it hard to believe that any real usability specialists were let within a mile of this abomination.
Or, here’s another way to think of it. The part of the Windows 8 user interface that is new, is a layer of badly designed, low-usability fluff comprising a whole slew of Microsoft shops and flashy but mostly-useless widgets, that stands between the user and the “real” operating system which lies beneath it. Mostly, you can get past the front end quickly and avoid going back into this nightmare layer of stupidity, but sometimes you just can’t help it. When you have to, you get blocked and delayed and misled by a noddy version of a tablet interface, designed (presumably) for the computer illiterate who just want to watch videos and use Facebook, as you struggle to get back to what you were trying to do (and which used to be so easy!)
Here’s another way of looking at it. The bizarrely childish front-end to Windows 8, uses a completely different interaction style to the entire rest of the operating system. Not only are the two styles incompatible, but, in the front end, almost all the functionality you might need is is either inconsistent (internally, as well as with everything else you’ve ever used), counterintuitive (I had to Google how to shut the thing down the first time I used it), or just plain hidden (that shut-down I just mentioned, is under the “settings” “charm” which you find by mousing into a particular corner)! Here’s all three in action. To get Windows Explorer up, you mouse into a different particular corner (hidden functionality), right-click the mouse (hidden and inconsistent), and select “File Explorer” (inconsistent). Once there, what looks like the “Home” menu pops up a ribbon which allows you to do things like cut and paste (counterintuitive).
Frankly, the whole thing is a mess. But the ugliness isn’t just skin deep. Microsoft has introduced a whole new concept – the “app”. Apps are just programs, of course, yet they behave very differently to your other programs. For a start, you download and install them through the noddy front end interface. They don’t appear in the list of program files in Windows Explorer (or is that “File Explorer ” now?) In fact, I haven’t yet found where these files are hidden. I hate an OS that hides files from me. These app programs run only in the noddy front end. So integrating anything with other programs by, say, dragging and dropping a selection, is impossible. They also don’t behave like “real” programs. They take over the whole screen (as if multi-tasking, or windows had never been invented) and cannot easily be dismissed or minimised. You have to navigate away from them before you can even shut them down.
You can “uninstall” them quite easily (once you’ve learned the hidden trick of right-clicking on a closed app tile to bring up a ribbon at the bottom of the screen with a handful of options on it), but uninstalling an app isn’t like uninstalling a “real” program through the old “Programs and Features” window. In fact, you can’t even see apps in the “Programs and Features” window, so the only way you’re allowed to uninstall them is through the noddy front end. Yet, when you do, they don’t go away. Yes, their tile disappears from the (stupidly named) Start page, but they are still there and can be reinstated if you want them back. I was extremely annoyed when I discovered this (and it took a while, because this too is well hidden) because I’d gone to the trouble of uninstalling a lot of the crapware that came with Windows 8 and was not pleased to find it all apparently still sitting there on my disc. I had also downloaded a number of apps from the app store to try them out but had then uninstalled 95% of them because they were rubbish (and because they had advertisements in them!) but the bloody things were all still there! It looks like, once you download one of these app things, you’re stuck with it for life. Well, that will certainly stop me exploring the app store the way I have been doing. (Of course, they might not still be there at all, the noddy front end might just be making it look as if they’re still there. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no way of knowing – meaning I can no longer trust the integrity of my file system. Nice one, Microsoft.)
There is more, much more, about Windows 8 that is poorly designed and difficult to use, but I think I’ve ranted enough for you to get the message. Let me sum up what I think about this new OS from Microsoft.
No-one should install Windows 8 unless they intend to use it only on a touch-screen tablet and only for playing videos and music. Even then, you’d be far better off installing Android. Live with Windows 7, wait for Windows 9, and hope they’ve scraped all that barely-usable crap off the front end by then.