Will 90 percent of users always hate Windows 8?

Will 90 percent of users always hate Windows 8?

Summary: Windows 8 doesn't exactly seem to be setting the world alight. Perhaps the requirement that indifferent users have to sit down and learn their way around something new is causing problems...

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TOPICS: Windows 8
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Grumpy Cat and Windows 8
In this artist's impression, internet sensation Grumpy Cat is illustrating how a typical user may feel about Windows 8.

It came and went without me noticing, but I've been using Windows 8 as a full-time operating system for over year now. I installed the Consumer Preview on February 29th 2012, and I've stuck with Windows 8 ever since.

I have been pretty positive about Windows 8 since about the time the penny dropped and I realised what Microsoft was doing: the PC market is going away, and Microsoft had to produce a product that straddles the PC and post-PC transition.

Read: "Start8 and ModernMix -- Windows 8's last, best hope for normality on the desktop"

For me, Windows 8 does a good job at being a desktop operating system. I use it every day and it's robust, solid, fully-featured and capable. At a kids party last weekend one of the dads asked me if he should downgrade his new Windows 8 laptop to Windows 7 — I didn't even hesitate before saying "keep Windows 8."

But something happened to me this week that has made me wonder whether actually Windows 8 is actually a total miss-hit for 90 percent of consumers.

Metro-style

What happened was that a good friend of mine directed me to a book she had been reading called Simple and Usable by Giles Colborn. She pointed me to a section in the book where Colborn breaks down the following:

  • A tiny percentage (say one percent) of users are experts, with a high tolerance for learning.
  • A few more (say nine percent) of users are willing adopters — they have an expectation that the product will meet their needs, and some (albeit low) tolerance for learning.
  • The remaining 90 percent of users just use technology to get a job done and have no tolerance for learning at all. These are mainstreamers.

This method, by the way, explains Apple quite precisely. Apple's products don't do much, but what they do do requires no cognitive load or expectation of understanding drawing from prior experience whatsoever. For example, my son who at nine months of age would happily flick around the photo app on my iPad. Nine months!

That realisation made my heart sink as I realised the mistake that I'd been making with Windows 8: I actually cared about trying to make it work and did, although that wasn't an entirely deliberate and conscious process. Although Colborn doesn't put it exactly like this, 90 percent of the people (particular consumers) who will sit down in front of Windows 8 most likely will not care a jot about learning how it works or about any of the history and thought that's gone into making what's technically a very clever product.

Guilt

I met with the CEO of an IT support company last week who I asked about uptake of Windows 8 and he, perhaps surprisingly, told me he was happily rolling out Windows 8 to his customers. I mentioned that I was surprised — he replied with "of course, we just install this 'yadda-yadda' app that puts the Start button back." (I can't remember the name of the app he used, but my ZDNet colleague David Gewirtz talks much more on this topic in his piece "How to make Windows 8 seem normal".) He then went on to describe how his staff trains the end users to blast through the Start screen as quickly a possible and just pretend they're using "Windows 7.5."

Now that the penny has dropped re the 90 percent, I now understand the wisdom of this move. Personally, I think this strategy within the IT company was not intentional. What I think happened was one of their staff didn't like Windows 8, tinkered, found a Start button replacement and whacked it in their build process. The upshot — whether inadvertent or deliberate — is that they have managed to stop their customers from being jammed into a 1+9 percent "willing to learn" slot, leaving them happy to float into the 90 percent "don't care" slot. Windows 8 to them just looks like Windows 7, ergo they don't have to learn anything new. Their expectations — i.e. "this just needs to work, thanks" — have been met. By the inclusion of a $5 utility. On an operating system that cost billions of dollars to develop and market. That's insane.

I've met a good number of that IT support company's customers — trust me, those users really do fit into the 90 percent "don't care" slot.

There's another category of people that fit into the 90 percent. They're not really "don't care" types, they're more "they shouldn't have to care." My dad is an older gentlemen (sorry, dad!), and in November he needed to replace his aging Vista laptop. I suggested he get a Windows 8 laptop, which he did. He bought a Dell. No touchscreen, but otherwise decent specs.

It arrived, but I forgot about it for a couple of months until he had a problem whereupon I popped round to fix it. I asked him how he found Windows 8. His reply was: "I hate it." This in and of itself was not entirely unexpected. But what happened next left me feeling profoundly guilty. I watched him try and do simple tasks and saw him again and again just floored by Windows 8's odd usability modes. He showed me how double-clicking a photo in his mail software (a normal desktop app) would open up the Metro-style photo viewer. Blam! His whole machine is taken over. Just a picture in the middle of a gray ocean with no clue, nothing to click. Taskbar gone. A close button? No. He was used to clicking on the taskbar to switch apps, used to clicking the close button to dismiss things when it got out of hand. (He'd never used Alt+Tab.) What's he supposed to do at this point, learn Alt+F4 to close a Metro-style app or the utterly undiscoverable mouse-based gesture of dragging a Metro-style container to the floor?

You could ask the question "why didn't he learn the new way of working." The simple answer to this, I think, was that he didn't know he was supposed to learn. All he saw was something basically and painfully broken. Moreover, as I implied above, why should he have to learn? He's got better things to do. All that's happened to him is that Microsoft and I have colluded to take away a computer that worked and replace it with one that doesn't. That, dear reader, is where my guilt came from.

I changed all his file associations so that it won't open Metro-style apps. He seems happier.

Conclusion

When I think about technology, I like to think that I consider it with empathy for the 90 percent who don't care or shouldn't care. What's happened with Windows 8 is that my underlying technologist instincts have been fooled — I've gotten too close. It started to work for me, and from the perspective I gained, I neglected to think that it wouldn't work for other people. 

Microsoft is an enterprise software company. As it tries to move into one that serves the consumer market it needs to appreciate one problem: enterprises impose a solution on its users, on the proviso that a good business case can be constructed for its procurement. Consumers choose solutions that they think will work for them, and it needs to work for 90 percent of them without any heartache. Microsoft's engineers are building products for themselves — you see this in Windows 8, Windows Phone, Surface, and Windows RT. That's fine, if you're in the 1+9 percent of people who like to play and fiddle. If you're in the 90 percent "normal" bucket, it's quite a bumpy ride. There has to be virtually no expectation that a product that irritates and upsets 90 percent of its potential market will sell. Market numbers are early for all of these products, but early out of the gate they seem to be bearing this out.

With my technologist hat on, we should all be aspiring to build post-PC devices and software for for the 90 percent. And it's not just because the 10x increase in market size is attractive, it's because of this: technology is boring, but being a human is interesting. It's also much, much harder, and therefore much more rewarding, to build products for mainstreamers.

Regardless, I now find myself in the ridiculous situation of thinking that, actually, the only way to deal with Windows 8 in the consumer market is to install one of these stupid Start menu replacements.

It's one less thing that people have to learn.

Update: I received tons of email feedback on this ideas raised in this article. You can read a summary of this in "The Mailbag: What you said about '90% of users hating Windows 8'".

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Image credit: Thanks very much to the owners of Grumpy Cat for their kind permission to use their kitten's likeness in this article. 

Topic: Windows 8

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482 comments
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  • The problem is not learning curve but it is more like this

    windows 8 with its focus on metro has usability problem !
    L3thargic
    • this part is interesting which i have to add to what i have written

      ". (He'd never used Alt+Tab.) What's he supposed to do at this point, learn Alt+F4 to close a Metro-style app or the utterly undiscoverable mouse-based gesture of dragging a Metro-style container to the floor?"
      When a UI expect you to use a combination of keyboard and mouse to work properly on desktop there you have found the usability disaster of that specific UI, it is not the poor old man...it is the usability disaster of metro....it reminds me to the same discussion which Linus Torvalds recently had with Sriram Ramkrishna! Ramkrishna expected people to combine key+mouse to use gnome shell and could not get it were they went wrong and why people are whining and there was forks!!!

      read here:
      https://plus.google.com/115250422803614415116
      L3thargic
      • Win 8 - a touch oriented OS where you have to use mouse + keyboard

        Thanks G3niusOwl for giving me the idea for the subject of this post. It is rather lkudicrous, isn't it?
        JohnOfStony
        • No, it's gesture based UI

          Where the touch gesture and mouse gesture pretty much mirror each other. You don't need BOTH keyboard and mouse to close the app if you do not have touch, it's one or the other. Which is the same as the non-touch OSes that came before.

          What's different now is that you gesture rather than click. And that does take getting used to, I will admit. And I would say that perhaps one of the tweaks MS should strongly consider for a service pack is to allow for a click-based way to close Metro apps. For example if a mouse is detected, an X appears on the upper right when there is mouse movement and disappears 1 or 2 seconds after movement stops. I would still keep the gesture for touch based computing only because it would be too easy to accidentally touch the X.
          Michael Kelly
      • What G+ post?

        Please try to be specific.
        Grayson Peddie
    • Actually, it doesn't.

      I use the Windows 8 desktop from the time I arrive at work to the time I leave work. Metro doesn't get in my way. It does give me a simpler/quicker path when I don't need more powerful tools.

      When I get home, I spend a lot more time on my Metro Start Screen.
      M Wagner
    • The problem is WindoZe is still MS DOS from 1979

      Who in their right mind enjoys viruses and malware or lockups, freeze ups, or slow downs due to the pathetic Micoklunk registry, or time wasted doing Defrag monkey business which is ridiculous 35 year old 4 bit file system technology?

      The answer is no one! That's your 90% of the market. That is why they don't buy Microsoft phones or tablets or Wndows 8.

      But let's say you want a real cool modern 3D operating system that works with all your Windows data but runs 10 times faster, uses one fifth the RAM and never gets a virus or slows down?

      Then you install Robolinux which takes less than 10 minutes!

      Check it out... http://robolinux.org
      ITJohnguru
  • You should listen to Simon Sinek

    He says after 16% that the tipping point is met and the early majority sees that it is safe. This is a TED speech I watched that proved to be very interesting.

    I personally think more is going on. Technology is lasting longer than when XP or even Vista was released. You combine that with the increase in mobile device usage and most people are not seeing a reason to upgrade quite yet. I think in 2014 when XP support ends that your "90%" will have a new reason...unsupported software.

    Windows 8/RT is also tricky in that, while completely usable without a touch screen, Microsoft is selling the touch aspect. Well, this device have a much higher starting price point and I don't think people see a need yet. Thus when they need to upgrade they will decide based on what is available at a price point they are comfortable with. I think we will likely see the return on the $199-250 "netbook". Paul T. wrote an interesting piece that Mary Jo recently pointed to in a recent article that discussed just how much the disposable netbook increased PC sales. I totally agree with both of their assertions based on my own experiences. "Normal" people want to spend the least they can get away with since tech isn't a huge part of their life.

    I think if you look at the popularity of unsubsidized phones worldwide you see the average price is significantly less than the real price of phones being bought with subsidies. In other words, 90% of people would ignore the GS3, iPhone 5, Lumia 920, and Z10 if they had to pay full price. Similarly, upgrade cycles would be dramatically longer. Apple sells a relatively tiny amount of laptops/desktops because they have nothing in the $250-400 range. Microsoft is trying to sell people something they may or may not want, but very clearly are not willing to pay for at the higher prices.
    ikissfutebol
    • Most 'normal' users don't care

      Most 'normal' users don't care about XP being unsupported. A lot of the computers for friends and family that I work on are never updated (unless I do it) so the end of support from MS won't matter to them at all. They'll just continue using the same computer and OS until they can no longer load facebook or yahoo mail on it.
      johnd126
      • Most 'normal' users don't care

        Really? So when XP gets a polymorphic virus it's just okay with them?

        I think NOT!
        ITJohnguru
        • The difference between change and improve.

          I agree with johnd126. Even if they do get a virus they will just get a tech buddy to remove it or buy a new machine. Most users I support are ether unaware that updates even happen. People follow the path of least resistance. No one wants to learn new ergonomics to get the same result. It is something to the effect of your commute to work having a change in roads. Unless it noticeably reduces traffic or takes out the number of turns, you are going to hate it. For most people Microsoft reduced the traffic and added enough turns to make you want to take the bus.

          I tend to think Microsoft expected to make more money in retraining and certs than driving people back to Windows 7 and XP.
          Owen King
  • will 90 % of users always hate Windows 8

    I don't know about 90% of users, but I have hated it since the preview edition. I am not an MS hater. Just a Win 8 hater. MS evangelists refused to understand the difference and ignored the huge negative reaction from users to the preview edition. It is a little harder to ignore falling sales projections, OEM's in revolt. and consumers opting for tablets over PC's.
    krossbow
    • Same here.

      reminded me of those lyrics:
      "Hate is a strong word.
      But I really, really, really, don't like you"
      Jean-Pierre-
    • Agree

      I've been a Windows programmer for 20+ years and I find I hate Windows 8. Microsoft should have given people a choice between using Metro or the Windows 7 desktop experience.
      roteague
      • Bad argument

        Bad argument, you have the choice.
        didier.m.rousseau@...
        • No choice

          Really? Please enlighten us all on how I can return 100% of the functionality of the Windows 7 GUI on Windows 8 without Metro EVER showing us its ugly face. None of the "shell" addon's are 100% - they are perhaps 70% at best.
          NixRocks
          • Get the start button back

            I've been using Classic Shell, and it works 100% of the time!
            JimFromIL
  • Today....

    Today, no one cares about desktops It's all about iOS and Android. Windows has become irrelevant.
    ashdude
    • LOL

      Yes, because everyone knows that all of those apps you use were made on iOS or Android...not on a PC...
      Azzras
    • At home perhaps....

      moderation is broken
      NixRocks