Windows 8 Modern--is the customer right?

Windows 8 Modern--is the customer right?

Summary: Microsoft makes a bold gamble by ignoring customer feedback about the Modern Windows 8 interface. Is this a case of the customer is wrong or is Microsoft ahead of its time and forcing us all to catch up?

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft

I own a restaurant called Standing Sushi Bar. Why? Because when I opened it, it had no chairs. It was the first restaurant in Singapore that forced customers to stand while they eat. Forced is a strong word; I felt that standing and eating during a fast-paced weekday lunch was a good and natural thing to do. You're spending the whole day sitting in front of a computer screen, why not stretch your legs during lunch time?

I didn't think it was a big deal. Apparently most others in Singapore did. After two years of trying to convince people that standing and eating was a good thing, I decided it was time to stop fighting what the public wanted and put in chairs. From the beginning people kept telling me--people don't want to stand. They will ask for chairs. You will need to put in chairs.

Does this sound familiar? You're hearing the same thing when it comes to Windows 8. The "Modern" (Metro) interface is simply too jarring for a keyboard and mouse setup, yet Microsoft is adamant that their users get thrown into it.

From the preview builds, there was already feedback about how the Modern UI would be great for a touchscreen but poor for the conventional interface. As Windows 8 approached release, the clamor increased to bring back the Start button or an option to disable the Modern dashboard. Speculation is that Microsoft is charging forward with this interface and smashing it into every user's face as the quickest way to get people used to it. Giving people an option to disable it will slow down adoption.

Is this the right decision? I have no idea, but it's clear that Microsoft is making a specific choice to go against customer wishes. During usability tests, I'm sure Windows program managers and designers would have noticed the frustration in their users. "Oh, I was typing a document on Word and hit a key, and all of a sudden found myself in a tile-based screen." In my restaurant scenario, it's like if you were seated eating your meal and I yanked out your chair mid-bite.

Don't get me wrong; I think Windows 8 is great. I have been using it as my main operating system since the consumer preview, and have figured out the shortcuts to quickly flip between the classic desktop and the Modern dashboard. However I fall under the power user group; imagine your grandmother trying to figure out why she only sees the taskbar sometimes and how you would explain to her what's involved to show it.

It's brave for a company to plow forward and believe in something so strongly that they feel customers must be pushed to use it. Facebook did it with Timeline, Microsoft did it before with Windows 95, and Coke famously introduced "New Coke". Who knows whether Windows 8 Modern will be a successful implementation like Timeline or a roll-back-the-clock Classic Coke?

My guess? Microsoft adds an option that lets people stick only with the classic desktop mode. Over time as touchscreen Windows PCs and tablets become commonplace, people will naturally use the Modern interface and it will become the right choice for the appropriate scenario.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft


Howard spent 14 years in the tech industry working as a programmer, evangelist, and community manager for Microsoft. In 2009, he had lived his "dream" of middle-management long enough and opened a Japanese restaurant called Standing Sushi Bar. Trading in stock grants and software licenses for raw fish and cash, he enjoys mixing his passion for technology into the daily hustle of small business.

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  • Windows 8 Modern--is the customer right?

    Customer is always right regardless.
    • Sometimes, customers need to be cajoled

      I know of people who still wish that Ms had stayed with DOS - seriously! But as much as that might be right for them, is that really what most people would want? There is always intransigence to change. I don't know whether the changes in W8 or good or bad, but to suggest that the status quo should always be maintained to satisfy the customer is equally wrong. If it were correct, we would never have developed enough to even have a stone ax!
      • Status Quo

        I'm not trying to suggest that the status quo should be maintained. It's important for Microsoft to get people used to the Modern interface, especially on touchscreens. However is forcing it on non-touchscreen scenarios (i.e. mouse & keyboard) pushing things forward or too overbearing?
        • Not you, Howard

          I was responding to @RickLively
        • Non-Touch Screens

          I don't think it is overbearing. I upgraded my computer with Windows 8 and I enjoy it very much. It works just fine with a keyboard and mouse. You just have to learn the corners and sides but I wanted that touch experience so I did go out and buy a touchpad. I didn't just go out and buy any touchpad but one specific for Windows 8 and of course I had to learn it all over again. How ever the touchpad did come with a handy little page that showed you all the different gestures you can do to navigate Windows 8.
          Wow what a difference. I do recommend people get a touchpad. It takes a day or two to get the gestures down but now I can fly through my computer getting to different things. Is it faster than my keyboard and mouse, yes it is but I still use my keyboard and mouse. There are things on the computer still that I prefer to do with a mouse. People just need to quit bitching about changes in this world because it happens and unfortunately the only people you hear are the ones that complain because that's all anyone else wants to hear is the bad not the good.
      • Axtually...

        I have confidence that one day, if you keep developing, you too will earn your akks.
      • ...and sometimes companies make the wrong decision.

        Sure, sometimes the customer needs to be cajoled into accepting new ideas. Apple did it with the switch to OS X, and then Intel processors. I think it's time to ditch 32bit OSs and move everyone to 64bit (Windows x64 has always maintained 32bit support, but it's crazy that a 32bit version still exists).

        On the other hand, sometimes companies simply make the wrong decisions. Microsoft did it with Bob, ME and Vista. More recently, Netflix did it with splitting up their mail and online plans into different companies.

        As it pertains to Windows 8, there a definite "throw the baby out with the bath water" mentality going on. Current UI's (pre-Win8) are the result of decades of refinement. They work, and they work really well. Touch screens are great for small devices or limited use systems like point of sale, simple data entry, etc. I won't say never, but I can't imagine ever sitting at a desk and using a touch screen monitor as the primary input device. It's just not ergonomic, efficient or accurate.

        People quickly picked up touch screen input on phones because it was natural - it felt natural, it just works. But slapping a UI that works with touch on a 4 inch screen onto a desktops with 20 to 30 inch screens is like slapping a full physical qwerty keyboard into a 4 inch smartphone. What works in one form factor, and what might be optimal in that form factor, doesn't necessarily work or is efficient on a completely different form factor.

        I like Windows 8, it's a nice upgrade from 7 and well worth the $40 upgrade cost. But try as I might, I simply can't find a single instance where Metro/Modern is of any value on my desktop and for the work I use my computer to accomplish. I tried to use the start screen, and it simply doesn't provide any useful capabilities to justify the drastic wastage of screen real-estate. So I installed Start8 to launch my applications through a traditional start menu. I kept trying to find a use for the hot corners, but here again, found nothing compelling. Closing apps by gestures that involve drags clear across my entire 30 inch monitor is inefficient. Switch apps by a series of intricate mouse moves - first to a corner, then sliding it directly down... but don't let it move too much left or right, or the magic hidden menu disappears... is just frustrating and, again, inefficient. These might be easy and natural gestures on a 4 or 5 inch screen, but as I said, they simply don't scale to a 20 to 30 inch screen with the same natural feel or efficiency.

        And let's be honest, Microsoft's forcing of the issue isn't one of "let's move customers into the future for their own sake". It's clearly a case of Microsoft having so missed the boat on Mobile, and being so desperate to gain traction that they're using their vast Windows customer base to FORCE people into learning their mobile UI. The hope is that once people are familiar with Metro, they'll be more likely to purchase a Windows phone or tablet. The dangerous part is that, while Metro might work very well on a phone, the level to which it does NOT work well on a PC might turn people off to it without every seeing, experiencing or considering it in it's element on a smartphone.

        Time will tell, but to me, this looks far, far more like a company making an arrogant and shortsighted decision to force their customers into a direction advantageous only to the company as opposed to a necessary cajoling of the customer to make a necessary step into the future.
        • Great points.

          I have installed this on a VM and play with it daily to aid in customer support when needed. I think it would be great on phones and tablets but its horrible on PC. For the customers who ask we disable to the metro interface for them. As for me I loved XP and the change to Windows 7 I thought was great but I think this is a complete wash for the PC. IT SUCKS. There is no good functionality in the desktop setting. I do no recommend this to most of my customers because everyone has complained about it and I myself after playing with it on a daily basis since the preview copy was released still hate it. The fact that the drastic change is being forced on you if you buy a new computer has sealed the deal that I will continue to own android based phones and will not ever give a windows phone a chance now. I also will be upgrading by downgrading my new systems I am about to purchase to my current Windows 7 Pro copies.
          Randy WD
    • What percentage of customers don't want Windows 8?

      I'm a customer and I think Windows 8 is better.
      I also first found the ribbon in Office a push away from what I was used to but I can see how better it is but with Windows 8 that realization came sooner.

      Try it with an open mind and you won't want to go back .....
    • Why is this field required?

      Been using 8 for awhile now on a test machine. I have confirmed my original impression. If one wants a "productivity" machine, then go 7. Of course, you can do the same things with 8 as with 7, but the new interface never does more than get in the way. It is very hohum in general. For a tablet, well, then maybe Metro is OK. I won't be finding out. Actually, I want to down tone the word "productivity" and say that if one simply wants an efficient-to-use machine and is not interested in fluff, then Win7 is the play.
    • Paradox

      Customer A wants computing to move forward, away from the WIMP paradigm of the 90s.
      Customer B fears change.

      How can both be right?
    • No they aren't.

      People generally hate change. There are plenty of XP users that complain that 7 doesn't have a "Classic" start menu. To be clear, "Classic" means the windows 95 start menu.

      The arguments they made (it takes too much real estate) don't ring true (I've seen pretty common classic menu setups that span halfway across at 19x10 monitor) At some point, you quit supporting old tech. The consumers were wrong!

      Nevertheless, it's a bit much to go from XP to 7 and then 3 years later force an even bigger change on consumers.
      • Force??

        With the rate of changes in the phone space, 3 years is an eternity.

        I think too many are being excessively presumptuous in thinking they represent anything like the bulk of users.

        I run a system with six monitors, two of which are touch screen, dual-booting Win8 and Win7 (which I haven't got round to upgrading). The way the start screen works is like a big start menu which disappears when doing anything at any desktop monitor. A simple press of the Windows key gets it back. It's a simple paradigm that does not impede normal desktop workflow for me.

        On a tablet with lots of Modern apps, the start screen is the main workspace. On a multi-screen desktop, it is just a big menu. I don't really understand why anyone can get confused, any more than they do when they have a desktop/laptop and a tablet with differen OSs now. Are people having aneurysms because they have different paradigms to deal with when using different devices. Obviously not. Having the two paradigms on the one device allows the usage to change according to the circumstances, just like one can choose between using a mouse or a keyboard do do thing. Touch is just a third way, but like a mouse, it needs certain visual elements to be useful.

        MS designed Win7 to be more focused on the taskbar than the start button, and most users got that. The tech bloggers seemed to have lost the memo, still thinking the Start button is indispensable to Win usage.

        I never liked icons all over my desk (namely because I couldn't group them), so I focused on the Start button menus for organisation. However, the Win8 start screen allows grouping, so it was easy to shift to it.

        The thing I do miss is gadgets, but they were not a deal breaker.

        I think that PCs are finally getting the attention that has been languishing in the shadow of phones and tablets. The next couple of years will bring a lot of changes, and so deeply embedding too much of one's workflows in possibly transitory OS GUI elements is not good practice. Or at least don't expect to be able to use them for 10 years as with XP.
  • The Customer Is The One Handing Over The Money

    If you don't give the customer what they want, they will go elsewhere.
    • The Future

      Most customers in the market to buy new computers are people who will quickly learn to love windows 8 either because they are generally technically savvy or willing to learn and use innovative products. Some others who are happy with their old user environment, still have the option not to upgrade, and probably represent a very small portion of those who actually plan to buy anything new anyway. Those few need not fret, because you can't expect Microsoft to keep supporting windows 95 to keep a few customers happy who are not willing to buy new computers in the first place.

      And your right, if a customer goes into Best Buy looking to buy a laptop running windows XP in 2013, he will be sorely disappointed when the sales person recommends windows 8, and he will go elsewhere to find what he wants...more than likely Craigslist or a local yard sale perhaps.
      • XP still selling at or beyond its price when initially launched

        No, not a yard sale. Amazon, for example, still sells used XP machines for the same price as you can get in a new Win8 machine. And if you only buy the OS, you better have some cash: the usual price for Retail XP Pro (factory sealed, never used) is about $300, which is more than I paid for mine at Sam's, back in 2005.

        Noticing this uptick in price, I searched around and found some sold by DigiConcepts, all factory sealed with the inventory control tag still on it: each for $150. They also had some System Builders left over, also factory sealed, for $125. Originally, they had 19 of the former, and about 5 of the latter. I waited only a few days, back a month ago, and most of the 19 were sold out, and only a few of the System Builders were left -- this latter run was last week. So I snapped them up (a month ago and a week ago), afraid that at that price, I'd not be able to get them again.

        So now I have four more pristine XP Pro 32-bit OS, which I could turn around and sell tomorrow, for $300 each. Pretty nice, for a 'yard sale'.

        Businesses do not want to move to Win7, and especially they do not want to move to Win8. Reason? Their vertical applications (tax, finance, law, auto dealer, CNC machines, many others) don't work on the new OS, and would cost a FORTUNE to change. The retraining cost is enormous. MS is deaf to all that, and so are you.

        My XP Pro OS extra copies (all including SPs up through SP3) will come in handy, someday. And they will double my expense, if I sell them. That's no yard sale, honey: that's insurance.
    • The problem is that too many think they speak for the majority of customers

      Give it a few months and we shall see where the problems actually lie.
  • Standing up for one's believes

    If one strongly believes standing and eating is good, shouldn't one hold that position till people realize that fact rather than just give in to what people want. Just saying
    • Sometimes...

      Sometimes you can be wrong... or ahead of your time. :)
      • Standup bars are popular in New York and Chicago

        Maybe you can come here and start your restaurant. :)