14 November 2012

The most baffling turd : Windows 8

In all my years as a geek and usability efficiendo I've seen a lot of strange stuff, kid, but the weirdest thing I've seen in a very long time is the latest release from Microsoft, their Windows 8 operating system that's, well, kind of like their latest attempt at win back market share of the future of all computers. The thing is that Apple and Google together have now more operating systems in the market than Microsoft and you probably don't even realize how many phones and tablets are out there. It's in the mega-millions, and Microsoft have no share in this market. Zero. Nothing. Zilch.

And, as the threshold between a phone / tablet operating system and a desktop / laptop computer slowly whither away - at least in the more casual "normal person" segment - Microsoft is rather desperate to to get in on the action, also demonstrated by the give-away prices they're offering up for upgrades. Of which I took one.

And it went reasonably smooth to buy online and start the upgrade. Had to free up some space and reinstall a few applications, but nothing noteworthy. And then ... then I was in. I was greeted by the now almost too common start screen.

My home computer is an ASUS all-in-one with touch-screen, and it swished and swooshed cool back and forth, however there was a problem; the screen resolution was ridiculously low and so I hampered away trying to find out how to increase it. Normally I would have gone to Control Panel for such things, but there was no such thing, at least not at first.

I had learned before installing Windows 8 that the functionality now in front of me was to swipe in from left or right to see menus and options, but, um, my computer has a frame around it, meaning that I can't swipe in as much as a flick off the frame and land on the screen far from where Windows 8 classify as a swipe. And so the first dent for me (and I suspect many thousands of people with a similar monitor frame) as a desktop user is that I can't swipe to get to menus.

Okidoki, the mouse, then. But where to swipe? The handy animation shown while installing does a right-to-left swipe motion with some fingers, but that clearly only works with a proper swipe (and fingers!) and not a mouse. After fidgeting around I learned that lower-right hold-the-mouse-there slowly fades in a half-contextual menu (presumably the application currently running in full-screen mode), and that the lower-left hold-the-mouse-there until a box appears and then you click (without moving the mouse into the little box which will remove it) it to return to the start screen. And, er, I'm still trying to work out the top-left hold-or-click-right-mouse-button brings up; it's some twisted version of a application or task switcher, but damn if I can properly work it out.

Often I get stuck in the Internet Explorer in full-screen mode. I can only assume the idea is to swipe back into some other place in order to stop using the browser, hiding the "complexity" of it all some how. However, what happens is that lots of windows gets opened in the background over time, but you don't realize what's going on because you only see the one window all the time. Where do we need to go to a) see what's going on, and b) do something about it? Why you right-click anywhere in the browser, of course. Of course. Yes, it's so obvious now that I think about it; the context menu of the past is now a contextual kindof page with some functionality. Wtf?

There is a serious mix of metaphors going on here, switching between the neato but limiting Metro full-screen look, to the wanna-be old desktop with task bar but without the Start! menu. What does a right-click mean? Depends. What does a swipe do? Depends. How do I find some application? Depends. How do I? Depends.

In fact, in removing the many pop-up windows and menus they've made it pretty and much clearer how you can't do many things you'd like to do. And, seriously, did you really need to remove the Start! menu from the desktop mode? What a turd of a decision that was. And how about this; I can't run websites which use Flash in the full-screen Metro way, no I have to run them in a window on the desktop. This doesn't even make sense in any way or form, but it's right there in the help files that this is how to do it. I can understand that technically the full-screen Metro browser might be different (or different profile, or different zone, or different ... something) in regards to plugins (especially from third parties, which Flash is) but pull my titties if somehow my decision to trust the plugin in a windowed browser should in any way or form not be honoured because it runs in a non-windowed browser. The technicalities might make geeky sense, but to normal people on Terra Firma it makes no friggin' sense at all. Another turd on your nice, green lawn.

I have to talk a little bit, too, about how all this ties to the new way of the future, the cloud. In order to properly use Windows 8 you need a Microsoft account. I didn't have one (being a Googloid), but my wife did have a Hotmail account. The installation happily accepted this account, but then it wanted us to "trust" our computer (in similar veins as you "trust" devices and computers in iTunes, I suspect). And where would they send this trusted verification? No, not the Hotmail account, but some long forgotten Yahoo account. I can't even begin to figure out where they got that email address from (we're talking about something on the Internet from more than 8 years ago), but the option to send anywhere else was no where to be seen. They hinted that in order to send elsewhere I had to delete that email from my profile, but it's not in there. Wtf? I've mucked about with this nonsense for the last two days; all I want is for my wife's Hotmail (and Microsoft) account to be the account, but I've had to rename her account (probably converting it from Hotmail to Outlook/Microsoft account?), I've tried to delete old stuff (which it have scheduled to do a week from now? Wtf?), renamed stuff, create a new one and link them, all sorts of stuff, but Microsoft won't budge; either we send info to your non-existent Yahoo account, or ... there is no other option. I'm just baffled as to how non-intuitive and turdish this part was. And there is no explanation anywhere as to what piece of information means what in what context. Nothing! I'm just guessing what things might mean. Wtf?

We've had Windows 8 now for a few days, and I'm starting to think that this is worse than I thought. I'm a power-user, a geek, software developer and a usability consultant, and I'm struggling to figure a lot of this out. My wife is telling me to un-install and get that nice Windows 7 back so she at least can do normal stuff, like not guessing what user-interface paradigm works in what context in order to read her friggin' email or write a stern letter to the editor of Windows 8 and tell them what a turd they've created.

Sure, I understand where they're going, why it's done this way, that Microsoft needs to refresh itself and push forward into new markets (as old markets are shifting), I understand why swipes are cool and needed or certain hardware platforms ... but there's something to be said about not being consistent across contexts and alienation in the light of different dichotomies that so easily could be avoided.

Currently, Windows 8 is a turd. A nice-looking, polished turd. And you're not fooling anyone in my family with this nonsense; we want consistency and some coherent logic to how to operate our machine. Even Ubuntu / Linux looks easier and just as nice at this point.

I'll report again in a week or so to see if the torture will get acceptance by habit, or if it is so bad we have to do something more drastic about it.