Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Windows 8 Start Menu - A Usability Problem?

After the release of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview I downloaded and played with it for a while. On the surface the Consumer Preview is much like the Developer Preview however underneath there were supposedly over 100,000 code changes. One major change that is of most concern to every-day users like myself: the Start Menu redesign.

As a long-time Windows user I can attest to the declining usefulness of the Start Menu, in fact these days I prefer to search for the application I want instead of scrolling through the menu. Search is much more efficient than browsing as long as you know what you want. There are a few times where I'm brain dead and are left to browse the list.

The Start Menu user interface is going to change in Windows 8 into a "ribbon" or "tile" like display listing all of the applications on one page that scrolls left and right. At first this concept seems like a natural progression since most of us use tiles or icons to represent applications on our mobile devices. Yet from a desktop or laptop stand point this seems like a less desirable layout. The main input devices for desktop and laptops are still going to be keyboards and mice (touch-pads) and with the new layout you have the same problem: a slow method of locating your applications.


If you watch the Official Demo the Program Manager is using a touch screen device which shows the true beauty of the new Metro UI design for the Windows 8 start menu:



After running the Consumer Preview in a virtual machine on my desktop I realized many of the features are designed around touch. So what happens when you aren't using a touch device? This new Start Menu redesign seems like a big usability problem for a majority (and perhaps declining share) of users. More so there appears no way to disable this feature either, no customization for the type of device. Perhaps that's coming?

There's talk Windows 8 could be the next Windows Vista / ME. The Start Menu usability is enough to put me off of upgrading - if I have to test it, I'll use a VM and keep my current machine on Windows 7. I bet desktop application testers are going to have fun with this new OS!

3 comments:

Andreas said...

"If you watch the Official Demo the Program Manager is using a touch screen device which shows the true beauty of the new Metro UI design for the Windows 8 start menu:"

Although I share your concerns... did you watch the whole video? In the second half, the mouse-only-non-touch-device capabilities are shown. And although they are new interaction patterns for windows, users might get used to them quite well.

Chris Kenst said...

I did watch the whole video. The Program Manager shows Windows 8 using a laptop but the gestures are very touch centric, for example moving your mouse up to the left hand corner to show open windows or to the right hand corner to display extra menus.

Great (perhaps intuitive) for touch. A problem (not intuitive) for mouse and keyboard.

Chris Kenst said...

Luckily / hopefully this will be much improved if not fixed with Windows 8.1 release next month. Maybe then I can start using Windows 8.