Critiquing Windows 8 — While There’s Still Time for Adjustments

Over the last several days we’ve seen a number of people level high-profile criticisms against their former employers and/or their practices and products. Former Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) middle manager Greg Smith wrote a New York Times op-ed piece taking the firm to task for its “toxic and destructive” environment and predatory treatment of clients. Former Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) executive James Whittaker, now a Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) development manager, took to the Microsoft blog site to criticize Google’s social networking priorities.

Microsoft itself got off somewhat easier as the subject of a candid blog about how its forthcoming Windows 8 operating system could be improved.

According to tech site Tom’s Hardware, an initiative called “Fixing Windows 8” (its website is currently down) is a project of Mike Bibik, reportedly a former user-experience designer for Microsoft who is now affiliated with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). Bibik counters claims that Windows 8 operates equally well whether used on a touchscreen device or a personal computer.

Among his observations: the system’s tile-like Metro interface will be difficult for new PC users to decode because many navigation tools, such as the Charms menu, master apps list, and “Start” button, are hidden from view; the system’s Metro apps don’t have window controls, so users can’t minimize or exit an app; also, the Charms menu hides key functions. Too, some apps require Windows Live account sign-in.

Bibik’s main concern seems to be that while technically inclined users could figure out how the system works, novice users may face discouraging confusion.

A common complaint about the system’s Metro style is that, while it may be well suited to touchscreen tablets – which is one of its key adaptability goals — it can be cumbersome on a PC. Applications that launch to full-screen size may have no clearly displayed exit option. Basic Windows functions, like launching the applications and shutting down the system, can also be hard to find and navigate. Bibik suggests, for example, combining the Charms bar and master apps list, adding a dedicated Charms bar to the bottom of the screen, and resurrecting the “Start” button.

The benefit of beta

Windows 8 is still in beta, or testing, phase and it will undergo tweaks before the product officially rolls out later this year. Negative feedback early in the process can still prove damaging, as it did for the Windows Vista operating system, which was released in 2007 and never really took over the market away from its predecessor, Windows XP. And Bibik isn’t the only one expressing concerns.

PCWorld conducted a survey of nearly 3,000 users who had downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Fifty-two percent of respondents expressed overall satisfaction with the experience and 34% were dissatisfied overall. Half were reluctant to recommend use of the operating system to a friend. The main complaints, among the satisfied and dissatisfied, revolved around the Metro interface and questions about its ease of use.

The positive spin on all this is that, even combined, these issues don’t have to become a major problem for Microsoft. There’s still time for adjustments before launch. Users may find a further refined user interface is as easy to use as previous Windows incarnations.

The Windows 8 launch and adoption will be roughly coincident with the launch of Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) Mountain Lion operating system. Both projects are attempts to synergize proprietary products to make the step from PCs to mobile devices more natural for users. Microsoft has historically had the stronger foothold in personal computers while Apple has dominated mobile devices. This year will show which company was more successful at bridging the divide.


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