Windows 8 Metro isn't for power users - and that's a good thing

18 Feb 2014
Windows on a tablet

A Microsoft UX designer has taken to Reddit to answer questions about Windows 8 and Metro

Windows 8's Metro Start screen isn't designed for "power users" - but that doesn't mean Microsoft is ignoring those customers, according to an employee in the know.

Jacob Miller, a UX designer working at Microsoft, took to Reddit under his username "pwnies" to explain the thinking behind the new front-end introduced in Windows 8. His frank answers to questions on the topic were spotted by Neowin.

Metro is the "antithesis of a power user", he wrote, explaining that Metro was designed for "your computer illiterate little sister", not for content creators or power users.

"Before Windows 8 and Metro came along, power users and casual users - the content creators and the content consumers - had to share the same space," he added. "It was like a rented tuxedo coat - something that somewhat fit a wide variety of people."

Microsoft is making two meals now instead of one. That way we can provide steak for the grown men, and skim milk for the babies

As an example, he cited multiple desktops, a feature frequently requested by power users that confuses average consumers. "So the proposal gets cut and power users suffer."

"It's not that the desktop was too difficult for casual users, it's that by tailoring the desktop for casual users and power users, we had our hands tied by what we could provide for the power users," he continued. "By separating the two workflows, we can make the desktop more advanced than what the casual users are comfortable with, to the benefit of the power users."

In other words, he concluded, Microsoft is "making two meals now instead of one. That way we can provide steak for the grown men, and skim milk for the babies."

Questions raised

If that's the case, why not allow power users to turn off the settings they find annoying? "We needed casual users to learn this interface," Miller explained. "If there was an option to make all the new go away, many users would do it. It's the same reason why Facebook doesn't have an option to go back to old designs of Facebook. People hate change."

He pointed out that power users shouldn't normally have to use the Metro Start screen once they've pinned their ten most used apps to the taskbar. Microsoft's research shows that this covers more than 90% of interactions, and the rest of the time it makes sense to search textually for that little-used app, rather than hunting around with your mouse. "That's why we default to keyboard navigation (search to launch/find) in this situation," he explained.

Indeed, Windows 8 isn't designed to be used with a mouse, he wrote. "It's designed for keyboard (power users) and touch (casual users) primarily," he said. "Time trials showed that these were far faster methods than mouse-based navigation on the old start menu, so we optimised for that."

One Reddit reader asked whether the focus on Metro means the desktop environment is an afterthought to Microsoft. "In the short term you'll see less resources devoted to it until we get Metro figured out, but once that happens the desktop is very much a first world citizen," Miller wrote. "It will be equal with Metro. The desktop is not going away, we can't develop Windows in Metro."

While admitting that Microsoft hasn't done a good job of marketing the changes and explaining how to use the new interface, Miller revealed that he's currently working on new first-run experience tutorials to address that.

And he suggested that Windows 9 will help clean up many of the issues with Windows 8, admitting that Microsoft appears to be working on a "tick/tock" development cycle. "Windows 7 couldn't have existed without the lessons we learned from the mess that was Vista," he wrote. "XP couldn't have existed without 2000. Hopefully Windows 9 will be a solid refinement on all this."

Speaking up

If it seems surprising that a Microsoft employee would so publicly express his opinion, Miller noted that that's one of the benefits of working at the company.

"[Microsoft] allows employees to talk about products that have been released, and to voice their own opinions under the condition that they make it known that they're a Microsoft employee," he wrote. "This isn't a press release... So while I am a representative of the company, I am not doing so in an official, PR cross checked and approved way. This is allowed luckily, and it's a freedom I'm glad we have."

Stressing he wasn't a "corporate PR shill," he later added: "I'm not loyal to Microsoft. I'm loyal to making computing better. Right now [Microsoft] pays me. Tomorrow it may be Google, or Apple, or some small startup."

Read more

News