A computer user interface expert, Jakob Nielson, has labeled Windows 8 “disappointing” for novices and power users alike.

Nielsen, a principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, invited 12 experienced PC users to test Windows 8 on both regular computers and Microsoft’s new Surface RT tablets.

Not surprisingly, his major gripe concerns the duality of the Windows 8 user interface – the tiled tablet-based Start screen and the PC-oriented desktop screen.. Nielson regards the two “sides” of Windows 8 as cognitively overloading the user.  He wrote;

“Windows 8 on mobile devices and tablets is akin to Dr. Jekyll: a tortured soul hoping for redemption   … On a regular PC, Windows 8 is Mr. Hyde: a monster that terrorizes poor office workers and strangles their productivity.”

Users have to remember more directions in both interfaces and switching between environments, Nielson says, increases the interaction cost of multiple features and makes for inconsistency.

He also identifies low information density as being problematic, with some large tiles providing very little information and indecipherable functions for the average user.

Low information density plagues many tiles

Nielson is particularly irked by Windows 8 retreating from the multiple window paradigm, forcing users to conduct their business primarily within one window. In his opinion, this forces a reliance on short term memory, which is notoriously weak.

The lack of raised icons that normally denote clickability is another pet peeve of the usability expert.

He also comments on charms, saying;

In practice, the charms work poorly — at least for new users. The old saying, out of sight, out of mind, turned out to be accurate. Because the charms are hidden, our users often forgot to summon them, even when they needed them. In applications such as Epicurious, which included a visible reminder of the search feature, users turned to search much more frequently.

Gestures also come in for criticism;

The tablet version of Windows 8 introduces a bunch of complicated gestures that are easy to get wrong and thus dramatically reduce the UI’s learnability. If something doesn’t work, users don’t know whether they did the gesture wrong, the gesture doesn’t work in the current context, or they need to do a different gesture entirely. This makes it hard to learn and remember the gestures. And it makes actual use highly error-prone and more time-consuming than necessary.

The gist of Nielson’s criticisms is that Windows 8 might be great for tablets, but it has huge failings on the desktop. In his most scathing comment, he concludes by saying;

I’ll stay with Win7 the next few years and hope for better times with Windows 9. One great thing about Microsoft is that they do have a history of correcting their mistakes.

Goodness, that is so damaging! Do you agree with Jakob Nielson?

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  • Thomas Greenberg

    I understand his point, but 16GB has been 16GB on any device. It is well known that the OS and other programs take up space. Ridiculous. If he prefers, he can run the system without the OS and have full memory capacity.