Monday, April 29, 2013

Windows 8 is a MASSIVE Shit Sandwich

“The most common user action on a Web site is to flee.”  - Edward Tufte

Yep, this is how far back my direct Nrrd Grrl influence goes
Many of you reading this may not be aware that I was once neck-deep in computer engineering.  Specifically, I was a Human-Computer Interaction professional, an Information Architect. I worked with a number of high tech OEMS, including IBM, where I worked with both the OS/2 Lan Server/Requester and with the RISC 6000 groups. And I worked at Dell Computers, where I was in charge of worldwide usability.  As such, I was pretty much joined at the hip to Microsoft, as our hardware had to play nice with their software.  We also wrote a fair share of software that had to integrate seamlessly with all the MS code.  My part of this labyrinthian quagmire was an endless and earnest attempt to ensure some measure of user friendliness to our end product.  I was successful in some ways, not so much in others, primarily because I was leading the effort for usability during Dell's Halcyon Days of selling computers faster than they could produce them.  In otherwords, there was little belief in any "Value Add" in increasing the usability of the product.  My work was generally perceived as simply adding to the bottom line. To be fair, given the sales volume of the time, they were probably right to see increasing the cost of their products for ANY reason as, well, useless.  I stand by my belief that creating a better product is the right thing to do, and that in the long run will result in a healthier bottom line, but in a seller's market, who cares about the future, right?

So that's my background with computers.  I just wanted you to understand that interacting with computers is second nature to me; they don't scare or baffle me even a little bit.  At least, they never have before today.

Yesterday, V's ancient, creaking, and extremely patched-together (in some ways literally, with tape and glue) Dell portable (you know it as a laptop) finally let us know it was time for The Big Sleep.  So while we were at Costco, we thought we'd look at new ones, and of course we found a flipping BRILLIANT deal on a nice little HP.  Fast forward to this morning.  The new system's set up, V's gone to work, and I have gained his permission to install Skype so we can talk f2f when one of us is out of town.  Easy-peasy, right?  WRONG!

This is an edlin screen in process
It's been a VERY long time since a computer made me cry out of frustration, but the new Windows 8 interface has managed to drag me down to a level of misery and loathing unequaled since I first started learning edlin (look it up, kids, and be very very afraid). I'd been using vi, and foolishly thought the segue to the DOS editor would be easy. Boy Howdy was I WRONG!  But enough arcane computer lore...

I beLIEVE I finally managed to install Skype, though I was FORCED to create a MS account to do so (let's not talk about the LOATHSOME degree of personal data one is required to share with MS to simply use their product - they act as though they still own FULL rights to the very thing you just paid them hundreds of dollars for...grrr).  However, I cannot even find a way to FIND it on the system, let alone create shortcut for it on the desktop.  Oh sure, it's now in that heinous graphical interface that neither V nor I care to use, but I want it in shortcut icon form on the desktop, and the extreme arduousness of what would seem to be a very simple task had me crying this morning.

Windows 1.01
I say this as both Usability Professional and as humble human user; the number of things I see as wrong with Windows 8 are legion.  I truly wish I had been among the test participants for this product, as my feedback would've set some hair on fire.  Windows 8 is the single worst software system interface I have EVER seen, and remember, I date back to Windows and OS/2 1.0, CPM and  DOS...just to name a very few contenders for Best Frustration Fandango dancers.

Given the choice, and I fully plan to make such a choice available to me 24x7, I will NEVER take another bite of the shit sandwich called "Windows 8."  With a single interface, Microsoft has pushed me from a solid "oh, MS isn't so bad" to the ranks of those who join me in an intense and focused loathing for a company that apparently believes a product this poorly designed is an improvement to our lives.  Or maybe they simply believe that because they control the market (ask any OEM enginerd how much lubricant MS uses whilst screwing them over), they can do whatever they want and the Users will have to change.

I'm not one of those fawning fans of Steve Jobs.  My observation was that he was, in a myriad of ways, just the other side of the same Bill Gates coin.  They just weren't very different.  That said, the most important difference between them, as I see it, was in their intent.  Gates has always had a very linear view, and is all about the monetary result; Jobs was far more holistic, and although he was about the financial result, too, he was always far more attuned to the overall function of the product, and thus made the world a little better place for his efforts.

“To design something really well you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to thoroughly understand something — chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that. Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask a creative person how they did something, they may feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after awhile. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people have. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. They don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions, without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better designs we will have.”
- Steve Jobs, Wired (March, 1996)

Windows 8 will certainly work for a segment of the User Base, and due to MS's  aforementioned market share, even disgruntled users will struggle with the interface and finally learn to use it to some degree because they have no choice, but ultimately it's not an improvement on the knowledge and understanding already existent, and that makes it a bad product.   The tasks that are supposed to be easier and enhanced through technology are suddenly made more difficult and arduous with Windows 8, simply because of what seems to be a decidedly selfish view of what Users "should" desire.

I realise my rant is too little, too late, and my efforts will go unheard.  I am a User Advocate from birth-to-earth, and occasionally I cannot bear to keep quiet another second.  Experiencing an interface so frustrating that I was literally weeping whilst using cannot just be allowed to stand without objection.  I've been on a real gratitude-to-the-Cosmos kick the past couple of weeks, and today I am proFOUNDly grateful that I made the decision to return to the Land of Apple a few years ago.  I'm truly sorry I wasn't in a position to do battle against the advent of Windows 8, but I am grateful beyond reckoning that Steve Jobs and his team of Wunderkind worked so hard to create this elegant, efficient, beautiful system for us.

“One bad experience and poof…customers are history. Sure, you can replace them, but at five times the cost.”  - Pavvo Hanninen, Director, University of Alabama

1 comment:

Els said...

Two articles that support my faith in User-Centered Design have appeared, both worth a read.

The first from The Financial Times in London:

The other from Huffington Post: