Windows 8 Modern--is the customer right?

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?
Written by Howard Lo, Contributor

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.

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