I'm in the market for a new laptop, trying to decide whether to go with Win 7 vs Win 8. Today's review by Jakob Nielsen is kinda discouraging -
Having two environments on a single device is a prescription for usability problems. Users have to learn and remember where to go for which features. Switching between environments increases the interaction cost of using multiple features. The two environments work differently, making for an inconsistent user experience.
One of the worst aspects of Windows 8 for power users is that the product's very name has become a misnomer. "Windows" no longer supports multiple windows on the screen. Win8 does have an option to temporarily show a second area in a small part of the screen, but none of our test users were able to make this work. The main UI restricts users to a single window, so the product ought to be renamed "Microsoft Window."
The single-window strategy works well on tablets and is required on a small phone screen. But with a big monitor and dozens of applications and websites running simultaneously, a high-end PC user definitely benefits from the ability to see multiple windows at the same time.
The Windows 8 UI is completely flat. There's no pseudo-3D or lighting model to cast subtle shadows that indicate what's clickable (because it looks raised above the rest) or where you can type (because it looks indented below the page surface)
We saw problems with users overlooking or misinterpreting tabbed GUI components because of the low distinctiveness of the tab selection and the poor perceived affordance of the very concept of clickable tabs.
One of the most promising design ideas in Windows 8 is the enhanced use of generic commands in the form of the so-called charms. In principle, it's great to have these commands universally available in a single, uniform design that's always accessed the same way. In practice, the charms work poorly, at least for new users. Because the charms are hidden, our users often forgot to summon them, even when they needed them. Hiding commands and other GUI chrome makes sense on small mobile phones. It makes no sense at all on huge PC screens.
Furthermore, the charms don't actually work universally because they're not true generic commands. In our test, users often clicked Search only to be told "This application cannot be searched." This violates basic usability guidelines - you shouldn't tease users by offering a feature that isn't actually available.
Many other features are initially hidden and are revealed only when users perform specific and often convoluted gestures. Users' difficulties were exacerbated by the fact that the Modern GUI style doesn't indicate which words and fields are active and can be changed.
What's the long-term usability of the hidden features in Windows 8? We might expect users to grow accustomed to the need to reveal the charms and other non-visible commands, even though this imposes additional cognitive overhead on using the system. That is, people must think to do something, rather than being reminded to do something, and thus users will sometimes neglect useful Win8 features.
Also, the familiarity bred by long-term use might be counteracted by the fact that well-designed websites have trained users to expect important features to be shown directly in the context in which they're needed. You simply can't design a website with hidden features and expect it to be used. Website features are usually ephemeral, meaning that they must be explicitly represented if they're to gather any use. Thus, people's experience with the web exerts a powerful pull in the direction of expecting visible features.
The tablet version of Windows 8 introduces a bunch of complicated gestures that are easy to get wrong and thus dramatically reduce the UI's learnability. If something doesn't work, users don't know whether they did the gesture wrong, the gesture doesn't work in the current context, or they need to do a different gesture entirely. This makes it hard to learn and remember the gestures. And it makes actual use highly error-prone and more time-consuming than necessary. The UI is littered with swipe ambiguity, where similar (or identical) gestures have different outcomes depending on subtle details in how they're activated or executed.
The underlying problem is the idea of recycling a single software UI for two very different classes of hardware devices. It would have been much better to have two different designs - one for mobile and tablets, and one for the PC.
Because this column is very critical of Microsoft's main product, some people will no doubt accuse me of being an Apple fanboy or a Microsoft hater. I'm neither. I switched from Macintosh to Windows many years ago and have been very pleased with Windows 7.
I have nothing against Microsoft. I happen to think that Windows 7 is a good product and that Windows 8 is a misguided one.
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.