I’m sure to Microsoft the problem seems insurmountable (Apple’s market and mind share, the rising tablet market, the sad rate of Windows Phone sales) and I understand trying to take it in a different direction. I also understand that moving a ship like the Microsoft Windows team must be near impossible since the design and development cycles started years ago. Yet every day I see more MacBooks than PCs at coffee shops. PCs still rule the enterprise, but “I”devices are making in roads. And almost worse, it looks like Apple may be about to take on the XBox.
But we have to ask something realistic here. If Metro is failing to sell on the Windows phone (which I own and use daily), why does Microsoft believe it will succeed on tablets? And why would it succeed on a laptop or desktop for which it isn’t the optimized experience?
I’m not an award winning designer but I think I have some good insight. Here’s where I think things went awry.
In WW2 the English started a program to analyze aircraft to figure out where they needed to add armor. They looked at all of the planes coming back and did frequency analysis of where the bullet holes were. Some areas were so riddled that easily 60% of bullet holes hit these key areas.
The first reaction is to armor these heavily hit areas of the plane. This is wrong. These planes survived. The armor should go everywhere else.
In a similar manner MS is collecting telemetry data from customers who have “come back” and deciding based on their usage patterns to change the product. This is wrong. MS needs to understand the ones who left for other operating systems and understand why they left.
People tell me OSX is beautiful. I think that’s rubbish. Have you seen the big ugly white toolbar at the top from circa 1990? Microsoft long ago did away with such things in their office products by replacing with the ribbon.
And let’s look at the IPad. Just take a phone and “make it big”? Surely this would be a recipe for failure..
Yet OSX market share continues to explode despite the big ugly menu bar. IPad sales couldn’t be hotter. Mac customers are repeat customers.
Apple isn’t very “innovative” – quite the opposite. They do one or two big innovations and then they find something that works and keep at it until everyone agrees. Many people still hate the ribbon (of course telemetry data says otherwise because many office users switched to Mac where they get to keep their ugly but familiar toolbars and menus). Even if the ribbon surfaces more commands, it’s jarring for users who are attuned to a product. Better would have been a search box.
Don’t underestimate the power of familiarity and muscle memory. I still “save” by hitting ALT-F and S. It’s inefficient. I know CTRL S is better. But I’ve been doing it that way for so many years, it’s a habit.
People hit the Start button and have an expectation based on over 15 years of familiarity. Some will be flexible and accept this significant change. Others will be very confused, so much so that they may think the PC is “broken” and they will want it “the old way”. When this starts happening PC makers will start offering Windows 7 instead of 8.
MS is betting that people want one device, not two. In some ways they are right. Most people I know (yes this is just my experience) want one device. But they want either a tablet or a laptop. The problem is the use cases are different. To try to put them in the same operating system gives us an OS with split brain syndrome. People want consistency.
Consistency is why the office ribbon was a bad idea. For each program, users must learn something new. Even the size of things aren’t consistent and the layout is haphazard. With menus you can easily read what you are trying to do. With toolbars, icon sizes are consistent and easier to scan. Yes, menus and toolbars and launch bars and start buttons don’t “surface” commands well – but there are other ways to handle this then to throw everything the user could possible need on the screen.
In the metro start menu, the only consistent motif is the rectangle. It’s why tiles are a bad idea. Metro tiles don’t promote mental mapping. From cognitive science we know we can only contain 7 +/- 2 things at a time unless we “chunk”. Chunking in Metro involves a sea of tiles grouped by spacing. This is why folders are so valuable. The Metro tiles are akin to taking your filing cabinet and dumping their contents on your desk.
Windows 7 was universally praised. Why loose that momentum? It seems more sensible to release Windows 8 as a tablet only release and “wait and see” before trying to use it in the enterprise.