Windows 8 a "Cognitive Burden"

Microsoft’s latest and greatest can’t be all that bad, can it? One usability expert thinks so:

“Windows 8 is optimized for content consumption rather than content production and multitasking,” [Raluca Budiu] said. “Whereas content consumption can easily be done on other media… production and multitasking are still best suited for PCs. Windows 8 appears to ignore that.”

Budiu thinks that the biggest pain will come when users switch between the standard desktop mode on the OS and the User Interface Formerly Known as Metro, which is designed for touchscreen use more so than for operation with a keyboard and mouse.

“Users will need to remember two different interfaces,” he explained. “They will learn Windows 8, but won’t be able to forget Windows 7. And they will need to keep track of which app goes with each framework. [It’s] definitely a cognitive burden, but not an insurmountable one.”


I just don’t understand the thinking behind Windows 8. The first mystery is, why MS would choose to shoehorn a desktop OS onto tablets. They’ve tried that for a dozen years, with Windows Handheld for Tablets with Pointing Devices Pro or Whatever, with zero success. And they have a perfectly suitable (and well-reviewed) mobile touch OS in Windows Phone.

The next mystery is why they would then, as Budiu notes, try and cover a desktop screen with a touch UI. I’m reminded of Tolkien’s line about too little butter spread over too much toast. Touch has certain limitations, but also certain advantages. But when a touch UI is on a non-touch screen, the advantages go away and the limitations become magnified.

The third mystery: why one operating system but two user experiences? OK, this one isn’t actually a mystery. Rather, it’s the inescapable consequence of Microsoft’s decision to unify tablets and traditional PCs. That decision has forced them to over-engineer the Surface to include a keyboard it shouldn’t require (but does), while simultaneously dragging unwilling desktop users and developers into using — partially — a kinda-sorta touch UI on non-touch computers.

And if you think that last sentence was a lot to dig through, it seems like that’s nothing compared to what Windows users are about to go through.


Windows 7 was an amazing success, the most rapid uptake for a new OS ever and a huge moneymaker. But instead of building on the success of Win7, MS seems determined to repudiate it. That, I suppose, is the final mystery.


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