In case you still care about those mainstream folks who are not yet in the Apple and Linux clubs, now it's not too early to take a look at the usability issues of the new Microsoft Windows 8. We all understand why M$ want to introduce the Metro UI to catch up the mobile (touch screen) bandwagon, but that's not an excuse for messing up the desktop user experience.

I don't want to rant about my personal experience only. Fortunately, Jacob Nielsen has posted some results from a user testing with 12 experienced PC users to test Windows 8 on both regular computers and Microsoft's new Surface RT tablets. I cannot agree more with his conclusion: "Windows 8 UX: Weak on Tablets, Terrible for PCs... Summary: Hidden features, reduced discoverability, cognitive overhead from dual environments, and reduced power from a single-window UI and low information density. Too bad."

There are three different kinds of demands or loads that you can make on a person: cognitive, visual, and motor. Looking at something or to find something on a screen (visual load) uses up more mental resources than simply ask someone to press a button or move a mouse (motor load); asking a user to think or remember or even do a mental calculation (cognitive load) is the most mental resource intensive task, which is why "Don't make me think" and the formula for Fitt's Law.

  • Auto-hide is terrible for new user
Clearly, clicking on the old Windows start button was a simple motor load for users, maybe plus some visual load to find the program to launch. However, without the start button, simple task as launching a program become the most expensive cognitive load which require people to remember clicking on the conner or a motor switch which require people to switch between two input devices.

  • Avoid switching input devices

    The basic problem here is switching user input devices, no matter keyboard to mouse, or touch-screen to keyboard, this is exactly the type of motor load to avoid in Human Factor terminology. Without the start button, the most basic operation as running a program could involve switching between two devices, namely, press windows key, click on the start screen.

    I guess what we could all learn from this is, it's not easy to get all different user interfaces work well together, people are still fighting over keyboard-based command-line and mouse/trackpad-based point-click preferences. If not done right, adding touch-screen could be disastrous.

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