Windows 8: Simplicity Done Badly

When using a new version of a product, having built a relationship with the old version, I try to give it a chance before judging. I gave Windows 8 a chance, and my opinion didn’t change. In terms of little things, it runs better/faster/smoother than Windows 7, but the big thing (the UI tablet-minded overhaul) is an atrocious experiment in testing a loyal user’s patience.

This is the first version of Windows that I would not recommend to my mom. My mom is a very intelligent woman, but she is probably not a “power user”. Her interaction with the computer does not involve more than browsing the web, writing Words documents, and using a few other applications. In that sense she represents the strong majority of Windows/OS X user’s today.

windows-8-metroThe new “touch-friendly” interface is called “Metro”. At first glance, its design may appear “simple”. But actually it’s not simple. It’s clean. It’s big. It’s sexy. But it is not simple in that accomplishing basic tasks is not any simpler than it was on Windows 7, and in many cases is more difficult. That’s after you invest considerable effort in adjusting your brain to the new interface, shortcuts, and apps. The problem with this adjustment process is that it is counter-intuitive and under-documented. The new interface is clearly designed to be simple enough for a 3-year-old to use. But it doesn’t hold your hand through the learning process like it should if its design is targeting 3-year-olds.

If you were to ask me what the number one principle of good design is, and I wasn’t allowed to answer that there is no such principle, then I would have to say that “Simple” is the #1 principle. But “simple” can be the hardest thing to get right. Just because it looks like a minimalist painting, doesn’t mean it’s simple.


As a “power user”, I don’t care how effective the new UI is. I learned it, took from it what I like, threw away what I don’t, and installed several programs (e.g. Launchy) that help fill the gaps that were clearly there (from my perspective). But it’s still frustrating to see an operating system that I have supported for a long time struggle so much in simplifying itself. Simplicity is the future, but it has to be done right. And Windows 8 does not do it right.

That said, you should still upgrade, so you can know what everyone else is bitching about, and join in on the conversation.

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