Windows 8 bringing back the Start button and what I learned from Jensen Harris

Posted on Tuesday, April 23rd 2013 at 11:52 a.m.

The Verge is reporting that Microsoft has announced that a patch for Windows 8 to be released later this year, will be bringing back the Start button as well as an option to ‘boot to desktop’. That which is new is becoming old again. Responses to the move seem mixed, with all sides furiously debating whether this move signals failure, resignation or a smart recapturing of the familiar Windows experience.

Hidden within the numerous comments was a link to this video of Jensen Harris just prior to the launch of Windows 8. He discusses the evolution of Windows 8, the UX (User Experience, not User Interface) and how and why many of the design decisions were made. Some of it clarified decisions and actually helped me understand various nuances of the UX/UI that were previously lost on me. Other sections felt schizophrenic and frustrating. More than once he was criticizing Apple and Google for their handling of touch and their presentation of certain apps, then demonstrating the Windows 8 equivalent of that very same behavior with the changes not making sense. It felt like a lot of ‘change for the sake of change’, not innovation and improvement. Such has been my relationship with Microsoft since the 90’s. They either do not iterate enough, or they stray so far from the core concept that they spend significant portions of a products life cycle trying to steer it back to what it should have been at launch. Windows 8 fits the latter role to a T.

My personal experience with Windows 8 has been limited and to be fair, I had not used the OS for any significant amount of time until recently. I had toyed around with some pre-release builds but the interface turned me off so much that I didn’t even take the time to learn it as I should have. Using a mouse and keyboard with Metro, to me, felt everything but intuitive. Despite my initial impressions, I am now running an evaluation build at work to familiarize myself with the new layout and interface so I can be properly informed when my clients and friends ask me about it. I am the family IT guy, I am supposed to know these things.

After a couple of weeks, here is what I do know. I still find myself unable to warm up to the interface because I am using a mouse and keyboard and not touch input. It simply was not designed with daily mouse and keyboard in mind no matter what Jensen says. And that is fine. It is possible to carry a theme, a branding or a ‘feel’ across various platforms and form factors and still feel like a unified experience, and Microsoft should do this with Windows 8. Carry the core OS through PC, Tablet and phone but allow the desktop users to have a UI/UX that makes more sense. Same goes for the Xbox Live experience. As that environment has come more in line with their core branding, it has become more frustrating to navigate, begging for touch input as well. I assume the next Kinect will be the solution there.

We do not need one ring to rule them all. We need interfaces that make sense. Don’t use a Wii-mote to play Call of Duty, don’t use a Mac trackpad with no buttons for graphic design and don’t use Metro as a default UI on a desktop PC with no touch inputs  If it doesn’t make sense, it will be a bad experience. If it’s a bad experience the internet and retail sales will tell you.

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