20 November 2012

Jakob Nielsen and Windows 8

When the Jakob Nielsen makes an usability study on Windows 8, you know is going to be an interesting read, not only for Windows people, but also for those involved with other "modern" desktop systems, which share a lot of its features and concepts.

As everyone expect, the result is not favorable, while on a tablet Windows 8 is found only "weak", with problems which can be fixed in time for Windows 9, on a desktop it is found nothing short of "terrible", quote "much worse on regular PCs, particularly for knowledge workers doing productivity tasks in the office. This used to be Microsoft's core audience, and it has now thrown the old customer base under the bus" (emphasis his). Read on to understand why.

And remember, this is not some random change-hater, is one of the most prominent figures in usability and human-computer interaction. His conclusion: no not upgrade to Windows 8, wait and hope Microsoft will correct its mistakes in a future version, they are known to listen to customer feedback.


  1. Thanks for sharing Nicu! Interesting read. Quoting from the link: "Icons are flat, monochromatic, and coarsely simplified. This is no doubt a retort to Apple's overly tangible, colorful, and extremely detailed "skeuomorphic" design style in iOS. For once, I think a compromise would be better than either extreme. In this case, we often saw users either not relating to the icons or simply not understanding them.

    Icons are supposed to (a) help users interpret the system, and (b) attract clicks. Not the Win8 icons."

    Oh wait, am I reading Win8 review or a Gnome 3 review or new Anaconda UI review? Who knows...

    1. bingo! i thought the same, but not necessarily targeted only at Anaconda, is a trend common in FOSS. for example i recently saw a proposal for similar icons in GIMP, which i found very unusable.

  2. Nicu have you used Windows 8?

    I'm not an UI/UX guy but as a developer after two months of use, all I can say is Windows 8 was very frustrating experience.

    Its two desktop nature and lots of bells and whistles hidden in hot corners makes it very painful to use. Those two paradigms are isolated from each other so you have to know in what desktop you are in to do some specific tasks.

    I guess this was yet another "mandatory" move for Microsoft. They always have had "weak" releases where they drive in new technologies for next releases; Windows ME, Window Vista, Windows 8(?)
    It's very interesting to see what changes they are going to do with Windows 9.

    Linux desktops in the other hand has done excellent work. Fedora 17 with GNOME 3 is already very pleasant experience and can't wait install Fedora 18. At least nightly builds are excellent.
    GNOME 3 works very nicely on ~15" touch screen. It would be interesting to run it on smaller Nexus 7 as well.

    1. i have no intention of giving money for Windows 8, i use home a Windows machine only for games and light, casual browsing when i am too lazy to reboot. all the serious work is to be done on a Linux desktop.

      actually some of the points Nielsen is making can also be applied to GNOME Shell :)

    2. You can try/use Windows 8 for free (90 days if my memory serves right). I'm pretty sure Windows 9 will be more interesting release. At least MS has had time to solve many bigger issues. The rumours says that there's going to be "Blue release" for Windows 8 in summer 2013 but there isn't information what kind of release it's going to be yet.

      GNOME 3 is a big change but nothing compared to Windows 8. Sure there's work to do on all desktop environments but I don't think that "issue" will be ever solved on any platform. GNOME seems to improve nicely in every 6 months which is quite remarkable such a short development cycle.

      I like flat-themes and for example Visual Studio 2012 dark flat theme was easy for eyes and therefore nice to use longer times. I think GNOME 3 has a nice mix of flat- and gradient theme. I like it much better compared to GNOME 2 times when gradient theme made some applications looks very cluttered and widget-rich applications made it even worse.

      I have not tried new Anaconda UI for a while. The main window had a flat feeling but I need to use the final version to have a opinion about it. Even if I would have some issues with it and ideas how to "fix" them I wouldn't be here whining but discussing with the designers/developers :)

    3. GNOME 3 and Windows 8 are in the same class since both of them are designed with tablets/mobile device as a primary target, in essence both have the same flaws. GNOME design is a bit older, this is why it does not go that far.

      What will happen in the Windows land is still to be seen, but the scene is full of events: we see reports of poor sales, Sinofsky departed and so on. The "Blue release" may be a kind of service pack trying to make some more customer happy, incorporating some of the feedback received. After all, Windows is a commercial product and Microsoft a profit-driven company, for a company is a must to follow the customer feedback.

      As a personal preferences, I still run GNOME 2 with tweaks to add back icons in menus and buttons.

    4. Windows 8 has two very different kind of desktops that are more or less isolated from each other. You still have to use them both since the mobile desktop "Metro" has replaced Start-button. The UX is drastically different for example when you are using web-browser. IE on desktop is very different to IE running on Metro. Yes, two different UI and UX for the same application.
      Desktop applications has small menus items, icons and they are too cluttered with widgets to be used with touch screen conveniently. In the other hand Metro is not nice to use with mouse and keyboard on a desktop computer.

      To me it feels that GNOME 3 target is still desktop/laptop. Its design has influences from mobile UX and therefore it works very on thouch screens as well. I think GNOME designers and developers has done amazing work to archieve that.
      I don't mind about mobile influences at all. Applications like "Documents" are much more nice to use to read documents than desktop style File manager/filesystem/Evince usage if you ask me.

      Windows 8 and GNOME 3 has very different kind of implementations. I think GNOME 3 did much better work to be usable on both desktop and touch screen devices.

    5. according to Nielsen the the two modes of Windows 8 are the source for "Cognitive Overhead and Added Memory Load". yes, GNOME does not have that, but still have things like "Memory Overload for Complex Tasks", "Flat Style", "Low Information Density", "Hidden Generic Commands".

    6. GNOME 3 may have partially of those same problems but compared to Windows 8 they feel very very small. Metro alone has at least three different views, getting to Control Panel from Metro requires jumping between different UX, many hot corners that are mandatory to use but you have to find by yourself without any hints about their existence, etc. Compared to GNOME 3 pretty much everything is much more complicated.

      In a developer point of view Windows 8 has some nice features like sandboxing that we still have to wait to GNOME for a some time. Thanks to GNOME developers its coming. As said, GNOME 3 is taking big steps on every release.
      What I have seen so far and what to except in the future (gnome-design mockups) at least I feel very confident about the future of GNOME.

    7. nice to see you so confident, i lost faith in GNOME a couple of years ago, not getting back any time soon.

      PS: compared to GNOME 2 or Windows 7, both of them are much more complicated

    8. Well at least we are luckily that FOSS has many choises where to choose from :)
      I'm running F17+XFCE on my PandaBoard and CentOS+GNOME2 on my server and I find them both OK.

      I find GNOME 3 "System settings" much more clear compared to GNOME 2 Preferences/Administration menu split. GNOME 2 feels an environment without any kind of consistency or a plan/design but just bunch of 3rd party applications which are more or less integrated to the rest of the system. To me it feels quite heavy filesystem based environments so file manager is very much in use.
      If I would like to have my GNOME 3 be more like GNOME 2 I would use some extensions instead of installing GNOME 2 (jhbuild)/MATE.

      I have Windows 7 just for gaming so I can't say I use it much at all. At least the menu is very cluttered and slow and Control Panel is a mess. Maybe if I would use it more I would find it better as I do now.

      Well, Windows 7 and CentOS will be supported still a long time so there's no hurry jump to use any other systems for a while :)

    9. for a desktop system CentOS is not the best choice, you need recent builds of various apps and only few of them are available. for me is about the time to replace F14... there are a few 3rd party repos helping, but not enough.

      really, i don't want to get now in a flame about GNOME 3, i don't find it good enough and any amount of lipstick added won't help it.

    10. To each their own. I ended up using cinnamon. The "new" paradigm in G3 I could get used to, the lack of control and configure-ability I could not. While cinnamon is better, it isn't prefect, still suffers from lack of control over many aspects, simply because in the end, it only is another shell for Gnome-shell.

  3. Nicu: classic mode for Gnome 3 is coming replacing the now defunct fallback mode.

    About Windows 8, I let my relative trying it via Gnome Box, they found it horrible.
    The interface code wise is the most bloated system ever bar none. The installation needed at least 16GB compared to the normal one from Fedora. For me, it is just Microsoft Windows Vista. Finding a shortcut without proper documentation is a trial and error. The loading is very reminescent of Sugar Interface activities.
    What i like about Windows 8 is the typographic layout which could help some DE.

    1. is worse than Vista, is a paradigm shift moving from a (relatively) open desktop to a closed appliance and an "app store" service and the design choices are made to support that