Paul McDougallEditor At Large, InformationWeek
Editor At Large, InformationWeek
Windows 8: You Can Handle The Learning Curve
The Times' critic isn't the only one to accuse the general public of having the acuity of a houseplant. Numerous others have condemned Windows 8 because they believe average users just won't get the hang of it.
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Detractors say Windows 8's supposed inscrutability makes it especially bad for the enterprise. White-collar workers, most of whom managed to get through four years of college or more, will be dumbfounded by the fact that it takes an extra click to get past Metro UI to the Windows desktop. The help-desk lines will melt amid the ensuing panic, the thinking goes.
Here's the truth. Windows 8 just isn't that hard to use. Win8 systems, whether Pro or RT, boot by default to Metro, or Modern UI, or whatever it's called this week. But if you want the classic desktop, just hit the tile that says, wait for it ... Desktop. From there you can access the control panel, files, and all the familiar Windows tools. Using a keyboard? Then it's even simpler--hit the Windows key.
[ The biggest threat to Windows 8? Microsoft. See Windows 8: The Most Confused OS Launch Ever. ]
If your employees can't manage either of those options, you might want to get new ones. You definitely don't want them, say, balancing your company's books or handling a big sale.
The controversy over the Start button's absence is overblown to begin with. I almost never use it in XP. I put shortcuts to most things I need right on the desktop. And you can do that in Windows 8. Or you can launch apps and full-blown applications like Word directly from Metro. More choices are good, aren't they? For those who do find the road from Metro to Windows Explorer still too winding, third-party tools, such as RetroUI, will let you boot straight to the desktop.
But for argument's sake, let's concede that Windows 8 is so different from past versions of the OS that it requires some real getting used to. Why is that an issue? The iPhone and iPod Touch were the first devices to carry iOS, which uses an interface that's very distinct from Mac OS, and they were runaway hits. I'll bet there were dissenters within Apple that said iOS was too radical, and I'll bet where Steve Jobs told them to go.
Our age is so dominated by technology that most everyone has learned to quickly grok how any machine with a UI works. How long does it take to figure out a new ATM, or a check-in kiosk at an airport? Or a Redbox, or your supermarket's self-checkout terminals?
I will concede this point. Microsoft needs to do a better job combating the FUD that's out there about how supposedly hard Windows 8 is to use. Most of its ads, like the one below, emphasize Metro. Not surprisingly, given that the new UI is the OS's most innovative aspect. But the ads also need to allay consumer fears by showing that the old, familiar desktop is just a click away. (On the other hand, if even zombies can figure out Metro ...)
Here's the bottom line: Windows 8's success or failure won't be determined by the interface's ease of use, or lack thereof. Its fate will rest on a host of factors that will decide whether consumers feel it's worth getting to know. Factors like application selection, stability, security, and, perhaps most importantly, price will weigh heavily. At $499, Microsoft's Surface RT matches Apple's new iPad--not a bad, uh, Start.