Building Windows 8 blog, Microsoft's latest post works hard at trying to convince the reader that the classic Windows Start Menu is both inefficient and outdated. I agree with this so there's no argument from me. The post then goes on to argue that the Windows 8 Start Screen is so much better for both mouse users and those who will be using touch. On this point, I remain unconvinced.
What follows are my thoughts and feelings related to Microsoft's latest post over on Building Windows 8 about the Windows 8 Start Screen.
I like Windows, and I like Windows 8.
I'm still not convinced that Microsoft plan to shove a touch interface into what is essentially isn't designed to be used that way is flawed, and I'm worried about what effect this may have on both users and the Windows ecosystem in general.
In other words, touch might one day be big, but expecting it to go big during the three or so years that Windows 8 will shine for is crazy.
And there, in a nutshell, is the problem with the Start Screen - it's a solution looking for a problem to solve. If people were clamoring for touch-enabled PCs then the Start Screen makes sense, but they're not, and they're unlikely to be for the foreseeable future.
I have a question for Microsoft. Exactly how is this (something that to me looks like a throwback to the Program Manager days of Windows 3.1) ...
... any easier (to use and on the eye) for keyboard and mouse users than this ... ?
Both involve scrolling, but at least the Start Menu focuses the eye and the user's attention on a small portion of the screen.
How does this fit in with Windows 8? Well, Fitts' law can be used to create a heat map to show how long it takes to reach specific areas on screen. Microsoft has done this for both Windows 7 and Windows 8. Here are the results:
More of the screen is easier to get to for users using the Windows 8 UI than there is on Windows 7 ... but an awful lot of that screen is still red, and that means that those areas are still slow to access.
Note: What's interesting about the heat map for the classic Start Menu is that it backs up the theory I had that pinning items to the top of the Start Menu wasn't the best idea and that pinning to Quick Launch was faster and more efficient.
Another Fitts' law factor that's taken into account is the size of the object that you're trying to click on:
So, to counteract distance that you pointer or finger has to move, Microsoft has made the targets that people are aiming for bigger on the Start Screen. Again, in many ways I can't argue with this when it comes to a touch interface (except that on touch-enabled desktops, where having to wave your hand across the whole screen is likely to be cumbersome and get real old, real fast). Your finger is not as precise as a cursor and you need that extra space to prevent accidental 'clicks'. But why spread all the stuff across the screen unnecessarily for desktop users with a mouse? Across a big screen it makes little sense, across multiple monitors it's insanity. You'll end up having to scan the whole screen looking for the application you want to run. What's more, you'll have to scan the whole screen each time you scroll the screen.
What's the Start Screen going to look like once installers are done installing all the crap onto the Start Screen (readme files, help, unistallers ... stuff that shouldn't be in the Start Menu any more but it)? Is the whole thing is going to end up becoming a new horrid hellstew of its own, with icons for applications strewn across the entire screen?
If having my apps spread out across the screen was actually better than having them in the Start Menu, I'd already be putting my applications links on my desktop. The fact I'm not already doing this says something.
So far, there's no indication from Microsoft that the classic Start Menu will be available 'officially' in Windows 8. Whether the lack of an official 'on' button for the feature is by design of a trial balloon to see what people think is unclear at present. Maybe Microsoft will eventually back down. That said, I can understand why Microsoft might not want to make it easy for people to disable the Start Screen. If the Start Menu was available as an option, it's very likely that the Start Screen would wither away and die as the majority of users went back to something that they know and has worked well so far.
Maybe Windows 8 will indeed turn out to be Microsoft's riskiest product.
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