Microsoft is undoubtedly taking a huge gamble with Windows 8. Changing the user experience almost entirely, Windows 8 is expected to be the first truly cross-device operating system outside of the heavily customized Linux environment. The same OS is expected to work on everything from a desktop computer to a smartphone, giving the user a truly cohesive experience throughout.
This is a bold strategy, and one that could make or break Microsoft in the tablet market. If Windows Vista was any indication, users are typically difficult to predict when it comes to change. In order for Microsoft to pull this off, it needs Windows 8 to be absolutely perfect from the day it launches to the day it’s replaced by the next big thing.
The Windows 8 Consumer Preview introduced this new user experience to the world. While the Developer Preview release in 2011 hinted to the new Metro UI, this new version brings those subtle hints to reality. The Start menu which has gone largely unchanged for many years has been replaced entirely with what Microsoft dubs as the Start screen. Charms, which are accessible by swiping your mouse cursor over the right-side of the screen give you quick access to settings, search, device control, and built-in social sharing capabilities.
With all these changes come customer feedback. A great deal of these feedback is fairly generalized as an overall like or dislike for the user experience. These mixed reviews hit a pressure point with users that fear losing the traditional Windows interface that we’ve come to know over nearly two decades.
So, what would make Windows 8 an easier pill to swallow? Could Microsoft really pull off a major UI shift without losing a large chunk of its current supporters?
We decided to take this question to the community. Together, we’ve compiled an early list of adjustments we believe could benefit Microsoft as it attempts to introduce this new operating system to the consumer and enterprise markets.
Give Users a Clear and Simple Choice — It’s obvious, at least at this point, that Windows 8 will combine the best of Windows 7 with the latest tools Microsoft has to offer. If possible, give users a choice between the traditional Start menu and the latest Start screen interface. Yes, Metro is at the heart of what Windows 8 is about, but just as Windows XP made the classic UI of Windows 98/2000 available with a few simple clicks, Windows 8 should do the same.
Perhaps allow for Classic Mode to exist as an option during installation and within the Control Panel? Michael Dzura, a member of the LockerGnome community, commented: “Make Metro optional at startup just like Media Center used to be. That way a user can customize their setup for either a tablet or desktop PC.”
Create a Tutorial — When subjecting your users to a brand new UI, a tutorial should be included that walks users through everything in a simple and efficient step-by-step process. This is something Microsoft has added since Windows XP, and we expect it to be included with Windows 8. The problem is, your software’s reputation is being built during the beta, so the sooner the better.
Bring Back the RSS News App — While we realize the Developer Preview was intended to highlight the possibilities of the Metro UI, there were some clear diamonds in the rough that seem to be missing from the Consumer Preview. The News app was potentially one of the best RSS readers I’ve ever experienced. It was disheartening to launch the latest preview only to discover that this went missing. Bring it back, please.
Concentrate on One UI over the Other — Windows 8 feels disjointed. I shouldn’t be experiencing two different settings menus when activating the same Charm. It seems like I’m running two operating systems on one machine, with Metro being within a virtual environment. Bring it together, or don’t bring it at all.
Stop with the Editions — Microsoft needs to follow the lead set by Apple and stop releasing its product under different editions. Honestly, this is tiresome and it makes it impossible to explain a process when things work differently on one edition than they do on another. If you want to bring your OS to multiple devices, you need to bring these editions together on one SKU. Windows 8 is expected to have 9 different editions, each with its own set of versions that add or subtract certain features. Let the buyer do this after the fact or during installation.
Make Shutting Down Easier — Craighton Miller contributed this idea. Windows 8 appears to add extra steps to the process of shutting down or putting the computer to sleep. This process could easily be worked into a Charm or become part of the Start screen interface, but instead you need to go through Settings to shut your system down. What?! Microsoft, really.
Custom Background Images for the Start Screen — iOS and Android have both set an expectation for custom backgrounds on a mobile platform. Where Android and iOS have adapted to customer preferences, Windows 8 risks falling behind by several years. If you enter the game late, you need to make sure your platform at least feels as though it is attempting to keep up with the pack. This is a minor yet important detail to casual users that see this little change as a sign of a brand that just doesn’t “get it.”
Allow Metro Apps to Run in Windows — Not everyone wants to run apps in full-screen mode all of the time. I’m constantly comparing one window to another when writing articles, and while being able to place them across different spaces on a single screen, I still want to organize apps the way that suits me the best. For example, my chat program generally runs in the upper-left corner of my screen while my music player occupies a space in the lower-left quadrant. The center of my screen hosts a browser while the lower-right area is my writing space reserved for Evernote. Every user has their own personal preferences, and not everyone wants their desktop experience to feel like a tablet (or a smartphone for that matter).
Give User More Control over Start Screen — Brent Church, a member of the LockerGnome community, said: “I’ve noticed when you install legacy apps or drivers, those tiny stray files that are included in the installation get placed on the Start screen. There’s got to be a way to have it curate what gets put there or some auto sort/filter mechanism.”
Standardize Keyboard Shortcuts — Lars Fosdal, a member of the LockerGnome community, advised: “The use of keyboard shortcuts for navigation within Metro apps should be standardized across apps. Currently, it is a little dicey and flakey.”
Improve the Mail App — Even though the built-in Mail app is seen as a preview, and may not make the final cut when it comes time to go to a gold master, the app itself has several failings that may turn off a potential user. Lars Fosdal said, “The Mail app needs some major attention. It is really not good.”
Currently, Mail only works with Hotmail, Gmail, and Exchange servers. This limits you considerably when you use IMAP accounts hosted on your server, or wish to use other mail protocols. It’s a good early attempt, but it isn’t there yet.
Different Interface for Different Devices — As stated previously, the current state of Windows 8 is disjointed and feels like two different operating systems forced to live on one machine. While the Metro UI may well be a hit on mobile devices, I couldn’t see the Aero desktop environment working very well on a mobile platform. Perhaps for mobile users, you should be able to shut off Aero almost entirely. Perhaps if Windows could detect what type of device it’s running on, it could customize the experience for that particular screen.
Windows 8 is definitely made for touch, but I don’t see desktop users flocking to give up their keyboards and mice just yet. It’s like being at a party that only plays one person’s favorite song over and over. After a while, you will get tired of it and want to leave.
Stay True to What Windows Is — Windows is an operating system. Currently, it dominates the enterprise market while maintaining a firm grasp on the budget consumer base, as well. While OS X may be targeting high-end consumer users, Windows has a lot going for it in its current state. By shifting its attention to the mobile market, Microsoft is essentially firing all of its guns at a single target. The question is, will it lose or gain more fans in the process?
I’m an admitted fan of Microsoft, just as I am an admitted fan of Apple’s hardware and Google’s Android OS. Each company is competing for dominance in a market that is riddled with fragmentation and poor hardware/software release synchronization. If you bring a desktop operating system to this market, you’re bound to have problems. The question is, will Microsoft’s loyal users stick around to see Windows 9?