Windows 8 Is “A Cognitive Burden”

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It’s hard to blame Microsoft for making bold decisions with its upcoming desktop operating system. But the renamed Windows 8-style UI (or Modern UI) instead of Metro might be too great a departure from known and trusted interactions found in the previous versions of Windows.

According to Raluca Budiu, User Experience Specialist with Nielsen Norman Group, who gave an interview to Laptop Magazine, some design decisions are confusing at best and, at worst, a cognitive burden that slows down the user.

Budiu used to do research in human-computer interaction at Xerox PARC, the very same company that invented the Graphical User Interface and gives therefore a valuable opinion on user interfaces and user experience.

Budiu states that the main problem with Windows 8 will be that users will have to deal with two completely different interfaces, that is to say the traditional Windows desktop interface and the tile-based Modern UI. Not only will some interactions be drastically different in Windows 8, but users will have to keep track of which action to use in which environment.

In addition to piling up two different user interfaces, Budiu believes that the app switcher is problematic. It shows each Modern style app in its own tile but all the desktop apps are regrouped in one tile. Users will have to remember the apps that are currently running on the desktop in order to avoid going back and forth between the desktop and the Start screen.

When it comes to finding a common point between these changes, the Start screen seems to incur Budiu’s wrath. It is both a waste of screen space and unintuitive. The Start menu button is gone and switching between the desktop and the Start screen is not evident at first — the button is hidden in a corner and you must hover to make it appear.

Many of the Modern interface paradigms are taken directly from Windows Phone 7. Buttons are not in plain view and most of the screen real estate is dedicated to content. It should have been adapted more thoroughly to the desktop environment.

The risks for Microsoft are clear. Windows users might react badly to UI changes by using the desktop interface as much as they can. Some will put off upgrading their operating systems. By stating that they won’t offer to boot straight to desktop, Microsoft is courageous. The question now is whether they will be able to stay the course and whether the Start menu is effectively gone forever.