Hang On to your Windows 7 PC: Windows 8 Hit by Usability Issues

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If you’re thinking about making the switch to Microsoft’s latest operating system, you may want to think again, as the release of Windows 8 and Microsoft’s Surface tablets has been beset by problems with usability, this according to Danish usability consultant Jakob Nielsen.

His study of Microsoft’s latest and greatest OS shows user confusion over dual environments, reduced visibility, and hidden features are just some of the issues plaguing the new OS.

Nielsen points out that the biggest change in Windows 8 is its design; it’s obviously built for touchscreen devices, featuring widget-like tiles for programs and folders on the desktop—kind of like the home screens and app drawers of tablet and smartphone devices. However, Windows 8 also features the familiar desktop environment for power users.

Windows 8 is a bold attempt by Microsoft to encroach on the growing tablet market, but its foray isn’t without serious misses. Below is a look at some of them.

Goodbye Multiple Windows

Perhaps one of the most glaring problems of Windows 8 is the absence of multiple “windows” on Windows. The sad fact is that Windows 8 doesn’t support multiple windows on a single screen, creating potential problems for power users. The OS’s main UI restricts users to a single window, which may not be a problem for content consumption, but is totally another matter when it comes to content creation—it’s why tablets are poor devices for productivity compared to conventional computers.

Given this problem, Windows 8 should be renamed “Window 8.”

Double Environments: Double Mayhem

On paper, taking the best of tablet and desktop environments seems like a good idea by Microsoft, but the company’s execution leaves plenty to be desired in terms of usability. For starters, dual environments add a layer of steps for users who want to access certain features. Likewise, switching between environments creates delays in interaction. There’s also the problem of inconsistency in user experience, who have to remember how both environments work—and mind you, they work very differently.

Flat UI Doesn’t Encourage Interaction

Nielsen also highlights Microsoft’s minimalist approach to its Win8 interface, now called Modern UI instead of Metro. It’s clean, has no 3D lighting for shadowing effects on what elements can be clicked and typed on. At first glance, Modern UI seems elegant and fresh due to the typography used, but it also compromises usability to set itself apart from ordinary GUISs.

Because some elements of the UI are so flat, it can be hard for users to discover certain settings, what with some buttons and tabs looking like labels instead of clickable commands. Icons are supposed to be distinguishable, not flat.

Overactive Tiles for Apps

Microsoft’s introduction of Live Tiles is one of the most significant design updates of Windows 8. Rather than having a static icon for an app, a live tile streams updated information  about the app, allowing the user to know information about the weather for weather apps, email status for the email app, calendar updates for the calendar, stock conditions for the stock market app, and so on and so forth.

The problem here is that many app designers have been a little to enthusiastic with their live tiles, saturating them with content instead of giving brief and elegant previews. It gives the user the impression that far too much is going on at the same time, a classic usability problem.

To Upgrade or Not?

Nielsen points out that given the stability of Windows 7, it’s hard to make the decision of jumping into the Windows 8 bandwagon right away. Just as how Windows 7 was the improved version of Vista, Win8’s usability problems could very well be worked upon during the release of Windows 9, if it comes soon.