The Windows Start Screen, specifically – the Windows 8 Start Screen: By public account, most people hate it, some people like it, few people love it. I love it. But I want to love it more, and I’m stuck.
The Start Screen at first impression looks neat, organised, ordered, and deliberate. Travel, Finance and Weather tiles quickly show you their eye-catching potential with a beautiful and informative swipe animation – but this beauty doesn’t explain itself. First-time users are not inclined to believe that a tile, like an icon, is clickable, tap-able, or (as programmers would say) hit-testable. In today’s modernized world – if you need to explain it, you’re doing it wrong.
What am I looking at?
This lovely layout of squares and rectangles [yes, the start screen] has its live tiles so closely laid-out, so large, and so square that they are completely distinct from the icons they would replace. Naturally – one would touch a tile if the start screen was on a tablet or any other touchscreen surface, but for most users (mouse users) – clicking a tile feels like an experiment. If not for the Internet Explorer tile, there would be little indication to a technophobe that these tiles represent actual applications.
Where is my desktop?
For years we were greeted by a taskbar, icons, and a wallpaper some people insist remain unchanged. The sight of the desktop was your computer’s gesture of “May I take your order?”. The start screen takes this gesture away, then hides it subtly behind a tile and demands you request it with a click, tap or the Win+D shortcut key combination most users don’t know that they don’t know. The non-visibility of the desktop at start-up, and interaction needed to access it, is like seating at your favourite restaurant and raising your hand first before a waitron may serve you.
Both Windows Vista and Windows 7 invited users to search for any file, right from the start menu. The Start Screen doesn’t extend this visual invitation – and visual is important for those learning (an inescapable reality with Windows 8’s Modern UI). We cannot expect users to transition from an environment where a search box was neatly provided in a menu – to an environment where users should either type their search query abruptly, use Win+Q to bring up a search box, or use a gesture and a tap combination to bring up that search box. This is all before the user must interact with the new categories of search results.
Shut Down and Restart
Trivial. That’s the best way I could describe my own first experience with shutting down Windows 8. Eventually I figured it out on my own, but if it puzzled me – then what of the other users who are not as apt, or who would not witness a demonstration of this basic function? A simple power button, that looks like a power button, and is conveniently located would appease many. If users have to call a friend, search the web, or storm back to the retailer… again, you’re doing it wrong.
Its concerning when my phone rings and I have to guide someone on where and how to find Windows Media Player. Its concerning when my phone rings and I have to instruct someone to type “calc” in order to find the in-built calculator. Its concerning that the list of all programs is inaccessible, and non-power users have to ask how to get to “Computer” or “Control Panel” or “Devices and Printers”. These are programs and places they could previously get to – unassisted.
It was an ambitious move. The aim was to replace the old start menu we all grew up with or into, with something more practical, more usable, and flexible. The Windows Team must have envisioned this a long time ago – but a long time should have been enough time to irk out some of our current issues. Windows 8.1 promises to address some of these issues with a boot-to-desktop option that would reintroduce the desktop immediately at start-up, and a button that would bring up a categorical list of all programs. These are just some of the changes in response to critical (and very public) feedback Microsoft has received since 26 October 2012.