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

Windows on a tablet

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 18 Feb 2014 at 09:32

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."

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User comments

I see the Windows team have been taking the same substance as the Xbox division.

Their reasons to include Metro are fair enough (and their are even 'power users' who like it), their reason to not include the option of the start menu...not so.

The problem is that they have managed to cause problems for not just 'power users' but also the very 'computer illiterate' people Metro was aimed at but otherwise don't want/need.

Were it not for Classic Shell my usage would either be negatively affected or I'd be using W7.

By tech3475 on 18 Feb 2014

In the upside-down world of PR he could easily be being paid to say that. However, I think I would have drawn the line at describing my mother as a baby who needed 'skim milk' (sic).

On the subject of power-users, the usual approach is to add the feature and then switch it off by default. However, from what I see Microsoft took the opposite route of switching everything on by default and disabling the stuff that people knew. I'll believe the Mission Control clone when I see it, they've had ten years to get around to it since KDE brought multiple-desktops to the masses.

By c6ten on 18 Feb 2014

Waiting For W9

All the more reason to stay with W7 until we see what W9 looks like, then. Yes, most of my regular apps are pinned to the taskbar in W7(19 at a quick count), but sometimes when I want a little-used app I don't always remember its full name or the manufacturer, so keyboard search isn't an option. I'm happy to learn new ways, but W8 takes away a vital process for me and that's a major reason for not upgrading.

By davefaulkner on 18 Feb 2014

Not everybody's cup of tea

I never liked XP, I felt like they had taken Windows 2000 and put the worst bits of ME into it.

That said, I love Windows 8 and the Metro side of things, even though I'm a power user and developer.

On the desktop, I do pin my applications, so I rarely go into the start menu/screen on 7 or 8. When I do, I much prefer the clean, well laid out way that Windows 8 works. It is also much easier to customise than Windows 7, especially if you don't have Admin rights - try rearranging your start menu if you are a normal user in 7!

By big_D on 18 Feb 2014

"People hate change"

"people hate change" if they know that then why do they force it upon us. Maybe if they realised' people like choice', we would all be better off.

By davidk1962 on 18 Feb 2014

And there we have it.

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.... People hate change."

Well, at least he's honest. A frank admission that it was Microsoft's attempt to force the new interface onto everyone whether they liked it or not. MS should have given users the choice to use their computers in a way that they feel comfortable with.

If there's one thing people hate, it's being told what to do by a big company that pretends to know what people want better than people do themselves.

And that (in a nutshell) is why Windows 8 is a failure.

By Trippynet on 18 Feb 2014

@Trippynet

I 100% agree and you saved me writing that.

By Alperian on 18 Feb 2014

Ah, but skim(med) milk is not recommended for babies!

"Never give your child (12 - 24 months) semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, because these don’t contain enough calories or essential vitamins for children of this age." (http://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/food-and-health-ti
ps/milk/).

and I guess steak intake for adults should be limited too!

By QbixQbix on 18 Feb 2014

Ah, but skim(med) milk is not recommended for babies!

"Never give your child (12 - 24 months) semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, because these don’t contain enough calories or essential vitamins for children of this age." (http://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/food-and-health-ti
ps/milk/).

and I guess steak intake for adults should be limited too!

By QbixQbix on 18 Feb 2014

Ah, but skim(med) milk is not recommended for babies!

"Never give your child (12 - 24 months) semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, because these don’t contain enough calories or essential vitamins for children of this age." (http://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/food-and-health-ti
ps/milk/).

and I guess steak intake for adults should be limited too!

By QbixQbix on 18 Feb 2014

Sorry but i'm fed up...

...of people moaning about [insert product here]

It's a company's prerogative to make whatever software they want, how they want, when they want. Obviously it's in their best interests to make products that sell and the best way to do that is to make what people want or need; however sometimes things go wrong and a product flops.

If you don't like it, don' use it. That's the best way to tell any company their stuff is rubbish. Constructive criticism is good, but when people start moaning and wining like they have just had their sweets stolen drives me insane; Its an insult to the massive amounts of time, effort and skill that have gone into making a product by staff who are genuinely trying to make something brilliant.

Sorry but I needed to get this out of my system. If this doesn't get deleted I'll be very surprised!

#rantover

By ding_jimmy on 18 Feb 2014

@ding_jimmy

Actually, a better way to tell them is both to not use it, AND be vocal about why you're not using it.

Crap sales and silence from the masses means lots of head scratching for Microsoft. Crap sales AND lots of vocal complaint about Metro, lack of Start Menu etc. and Microsoft end up being fully 100% aware as to why lots of people are preferring Windows 7 over 8.

I appreciate what you're saying, but this whole "just be quiet and the problem will go away" isn't a philosophy I subscribe to. History seems to show that boycott-and-kick-up-a-fuss is the best way to get a big company to realise that it's made a pig's ear of something.

By Trippynet on 18 Feb 2014

Ah, but skim(med) milk is not recommended for babies!

"Never give your child (12 - 24 months) semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, because these don’t contain enough calories or essential vitamins for children of this age." (http://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/food-and-health-ti
ps/milk/).

and I guess steak intake for adults should be limited too!

By QbixQbix on 18 Feb 2014

Come on guys...

It's not been called 'Metro' for a LONG time. It's Modern UI.

By rhythm on 18 Feb 2014

Hotkey for closing metro windows

They should give us (power users) a hotkey to close Metro apps. That's the most painful thing of them, they only close by clicking and dragging the mouse. Maybe that's acceptable with touch, but we really need a keyboard shortcut. Altough killing off those Metro apps did fix Windows 8 for me: http://winaero.com/blog/how-to-remove-all-bundled-
modern-apps-from-your-user-account-in-windows-8/

By crackletinned on 18 Feb 2014

Hotkey for closing metro windows

They should give us (power users) a hotkey to close Metro apps. That's the most painful thing of them, they only close by clicking and dragging the mouse. Maybe that's acceptable with touch, but we really need a keyboard shortcut. Altough killing off those Metro apps did fix Windows 8 for me: http://winaero.com/blog/how-to-remove-all-bundled-
modern-apps-from-your-user-account-in-windows-8/

By crackletinned on 18 Feb 2014

Yeah sure.

So if what he said is even slightly true, we will now see a large effort by Microsoft to finally make the (non-metro) UI way less dumbed-down and have much more straightforward access to everything including all the system settings.
Yeah sure. I'm not exactly holding my breath.

By JustNiz on 18 Feb 2014

@ ding_jimmy

I'm fed up with the notion that we should just be passive consumers and accept whatever poor choices we are offered. BS!
We are all part of the same economy and each depend on the other's products to make the world go round. Put simply, you are suggesting the butcher just puts up with stale bread from the baker, whilst the baker quietly accepts rancid meat. Of course not. We should actively participate in the economy in which we hold a stake, whether as producers or as consumers.

By martindaler on 18 Feb 2014

Hotkey for closing metro windows

Maybe some of us (power users) are not power users at all. Any power user is very familiar with the old Alt+F4 and in Windows 8 this closes modern UI apps and also brings up the Shutdown dialog from the desktop screen. :-)

By cooloox on 19 Feb 2014

Start Menu

I'm still wondering what all the fuss is about the Start menu? Can someone please tell me what the Start menu does which the Start screen doesn't?

Please don't tell me it opens in a quarter of the screen instead of the whole screen! That means nothing.. while the Start menu is open you can't do anything else at the same time anyway.

Whether using the Start menu or Start screen.. you simply press the Start button, click an icon or do a search. There is no difference. However, the Start screen can have FAR MORE visible shortcuts on it than the Start menu and involves less scrolling and searching for what you want, especially if it was in the All Programs part of the Start menu.

On a full HD screen you can have 84 medium sized tiles, a good size for easy legibility. Place your favourite 84 apps at the left and your favourite administrator tools at the right (or vice-versa). A quick hit of the End key takes you to the right-most 84 tiles and Home key takes you to the left-most tiles. That's the easiest access to 168 shortcuts I've ever seen!

By cooloox on 19 Feb 2014

@JustNiz

If you set up your Start screen properly then you already have the easiest access to your applications that Windows has ever offered.

By cooloox on 19 Feb 2014

Again and again these threads....

...about Windows 8 show just how much ignorance there is about how to use it. And those who complain most appear to be the most ignorant. Sorry...I'm not trying to cause offence; just pointing out a fact that I find rather depressing.

By jmiii on 19 Feb 2014

@coolox

Hear! hear! to both your posts. And on Windows 8.1 I believe that Windows Key + F4 also shuts down a modern UI app.

By jgwilliams on 19 Feb 2014

Hotkey for closing metro windows

Maybe some of us (power users) are not power users at all. Any power user is very familiar with the old Alt+F4 and in Windows 8 this closes modern UI apps and also brings up the Shutdown dialog from the desktop screen. :-)

By cooloox on 19 Feb 2014

@jgwilliams

Thank you, Sir.

Microsoft should have marketed the Start screen a different way. "We realise the old-fashioned Start menu is a little cramped and fiddly to navigate, so we now give you an entire Start screen to place all of your favourite shortcuts. It is also the place for shortcuts to any Modern UI apps you may happen to use".

:-)

By cooloox on 19 Feb 2014

@Trippynet @martindaler

Sorry for the rant, I was having a bad day yesterday.

I'm not suggesting we all keep quite and just accept what's been put in front of us. I'm all for being vocal if you don't like something; however it is possible to be vocal and constructive at the same time.

It's the mindless 'I don't like feature x' or 'Feature y' is rubbish' sort of comments with no explanation or reasoning as to why that frustrate me. What further irritates me is the implication in a lot of these sorts of comments that the people creating the the product are either stupid, lazy or are trying to con you in some manner.

By ding_jimmy on 19 Feb 2014

They got it wrong; that doesn't make them evil!

Although I do smell a faint whiff of some PR involvement with Jacob Miller's comments they largely follow what MS were saying about win8 from the start (at least until it was released and the marketing department got involved), along the lines "its new, its different, it might not be to everybody's tastes and its a big risk; but we feel its a positive step forward".

They made a considered decision to change what windows is and who its aimed at; focusing largely on the average consumer, to the detriment of more advanced users.

Has it gone as they hoped; no. Is it as bad as a lot of people are making out; certainly not. Are they evil and trying to force everyone to bend to their will; I strongly doubt it!

By ding_jimmy on 19 Feb 2014

Fascinating posts, but give users more credit MS

The reasons behind pushing people to the Metro UI are explained but I think MS should have given customers more credit. If they clearly marketed W8 as having the Metro interface as the casual touch interface, and desktop as the content-creation interface for keyboard and mouse I'm really not sure that everyone would have defaulted to the latter. Instead they have ended up with W8 looking a lame duck. However it appears that they feel so confident in their market position that they don't mind another Vista moment and instead will rely on recovering their image with W9.

By AdamD6 on 19 Feb 2014

@AdamD6

Fair point. Reading between the lines I think that's going to be how they will market 8.1/threshold going forward. I think maybe focusing on marketing the hardware not the windows brand would be a good idea too. In my opinion the marketing for win8 focused on windows far too much; my mum and dad don't care what OS their tablet/pc is running - they care what the device does and how it will improve their lives.

By ding_jimmy on 19 Feb 2014

@ding_jimmy

My constructive criticism has always been the same - give the users a choice!

With Windows 95, it was possible to go back to the old Program Manager if you wanted to.

For Windows XP, you could both go back to the classic start menu and classic Win 98/2K themes if you wanted.

For Windows 7, you can show full title bars in the start bar and shrink the size so it looks like Vista/XP's start bar.

All the previous versions of Windows allow flexibility and the options to tweak the layout into various classic modes. Windows 8 is the first Microsoft OS to take the "our way or the high way" approach. These weren't legacy features either. They took the main UI and primary theme of Windows 7 and threw them into the bin with no official way of re-enabling them.

For those that don't like the new themes/start screen in Windows 8, there's no proper way to go back. That was the mistake. I'm happy for MS to introduce new UIs, layouts, etc. But allow users to change it back if they don't like it.

By Trippynet on 19 Feb 2014

It's Deja bleedin' vu, all over again, again

Am I bovvered by most of this?
Nope.

MS's task was always an impossible one, and (as usual) its taken over a year for the available hardware to catch-up with their software.

I always thought that RT would be MS's "answer" to iOS. I suspect they hadn't even nearly finished it when it went out the door. Hence all those excruciating switches between the desktop & "Metro".

Over time the NEED for Desktop will be eliminated from RT, though bits may stay for the edification of us geeks. In a similar timescale I expect to see the long-forecast merging of RT and WP. There should be genuine "write-once, run on many devices" compatibility across RT, Metro (x86) and WPX.x.

I'm less sure what will happen to Windows overall.
The most logical step is to "fork" it into "Mobile\Touch" and "Wintel" versions, no matter how much Humble Pie this involves eating.

If they ensure that Modern UI apps have a consistent API across all their platforms, "Wintel" fans can use Win32 & MUI applications with, or without touch.
Mobile\ARM users would have "just" MUI\Metro. If Office "Gemini" is any good, this could prove useful across both forks.

By wittgenfrog on 19 Feb 2014

Choice it's all about choice.

Microsoft added Metro and you have a choice to use desktop or metro. Basically they added more choice to your selection. Also they allow Windows 7 to still be sold and allows users to choice between Windows 7 and Windows 8. XP users have the choice to stay with XP but they are warning them if they do they will basically be supportless.

By orlbuckeye on 20 Feb 2014

Just more apologetics

It's the same with religious apologetics: it's built on lies, but these lies are so deeply entrenched and widely accepted that people forget that they are there and they can be hard to spot unless you are looking for them.

Almost everything Jacob Miller says here is nonsense or self-contradictory (aka delusional), and designed to hide the fact that MS forced TIFKAM onto the world in an attempt to catch up with their competitors' walled gardens and make a killing on apps. This necessarily meant making the traditional desktop hard to access and use.

As for power users, they've been using third party apps such as Classic Shell long before Win8 to restore bleeding obvious functionality that has been steadily dropped from Windows operating systems since WinXP.

By scoobie on 23 Feb 2014

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