Microsoft: Windows 8's learning curve needs addressing

Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Tami Reller has been speaking to The New York Times in relation to Windows Blue (Windows 8.1), the next big update to Windows 8 that will be released later this year. According to Reller, Microsoft acknowledge that Windows 8's learning curve is an issue, saying that it's "real and needs to be addressed," while she mentioned that some aspects of Windows 8 will be made easier to learn in Windows 8.1.

Reller didn't specify exactly what will be changed in Windows Blue – she mentioned more details will be unveiled during and in the lead up to BUILD 2013 – although she hinted the tutorial will be adjusted. "We need to help [users] learn faster,” and that's not being accomplished by the poor tutorial in Windows 8 that only shows new users how to open the Charms menu.

One aspect of Windows 8.1, which at this stage is only rumored to be coming back in the update, that should abate the steep learning curve is the Start button. Although the accompanying Start menu will likely not be returning, the visual familiarity of the Start button will make it easier for people to make the jump without getting lost, as currently Windows 8 doesn't feature any visual clues about how to return to the Start screen from the desktop.

Despite the learning curve of Windows 8, it continues to sell relatively well; Microsoft announced several days ago that they've sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses. Expect to see more information in relation to Windows Blue in the coming weeks, as Microsoft has promised to reveal more info ahead of BUILD including pricing and packaging specifics.

Source: New York Times | Image via ZDNet

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The problem with Windows is NOT Windows 8 itself, it's how Microsoft executed the task.

They didn't make it easy for people to make the switch from 7 to 8. Imagine if they did the same thing 17 years ago.

I've said it once, and I'll say it again & again: If a company changes a new product, then they need to educate their users on what's new and how to use it.

Odd how people are whining about a new interface. I don't recall any articles reflecting the same level of confusion with Android devices.

Don't change the UI unless it's critical; no need for a new learning curve.

Too hard for most companies to understand this unfortunately.

8 should've never been released on desktops.

It's not learning curves that are the problem, bad UI design is. If they had listened to people who tested the prereleases and provided feedback, MS would've gone back to the drawing board and fixed the most glaring UI flaws, Win 8 might've been much better.

While there are things that need to be adjusted too, a steep learning curve it is not.

New things need new thinking, otherwise we'd never have moved forward from the caves.

Careful guys, the fans will come in here and say, "there is no learning curve, it's just a new start screen, my 127 year old grandma can use it."

JHBrown said,
Careful guys, the fans will come in here and say, "there is no learning curve, it's just a new start screen, my 127 year old grandma can use it."

Just "fans"? Nah, let's be impartial here and acknowledge facts. There's zealots on both sides. And there's certainly no need to be careful around either.

JHBrown said,
Careful guys, the fans will come in here and say, "there is no learning curve, it's just a new start screen, my 127 year old grandma can use it."

There is a learning curve... but it's just a new fullscreen start menu and 1 corner that still does the same thing it always did.

Start with not hiding controls in invisible corners and hotspots, at least not on desktops. People don't want to play Where's Waldo with their UI. Controls should always be intuitive and in plain sight.

TRC said,
Start with not hiding controls in invisible corners and hotspots, at least not on desktops. People don't want to play Where's Waldo with their UI. Controls should always be intuitive and in plain sight.

You realize it only takes a few minutes to learn what the 4 corners do (and the right corners do the same thing). They always work the same. There are a LOT of things in the desktop UI which aren't inherently intuitive but you've learned and know how they work. For instance the minimize/maximize/close buttons really don't make much sense. Someone who has never used a desktop UI before wouldn't know what they do. They also woudn't know that clicking on the icon in the top left corner of a window brings the context menu (or that there is a hidden icon in WIndows 7 explorer windows in the top left which is visible in Windows 8).

Don't know about you. But when I am fixing my wife's computer, I keep trying to get to the charms bar. Even for my wife, every time she is using her computer with Windows 7, I don't see her going into the start button. All her software are either on the desktop or the taskbar. When she is on the Surface, she doesn't have any problem getting to the app that she wants. So I have no idea why so many techy having problems without the start button.

How is an understatement? If anything, it's an overstatement. It's just a better version of Windows 7 with an additional layer of Modern elements. Care to explain why it's an understatement?

j2006 said,
How is an understatement? If anything, it's an overstatement. It's just a better version of Windows 7 with an additional layer of Modern elements. Care to explain why it's an understatement?

This is warwagon you're replying to.

remember, the original preview of Windows 8--the Developer Preview--included a Start button on the desktop. it was removed because it could not be replicated for Metro style applications. so, even if Microsoft were to add the Start button back to the desktop, there still won't be any visual cue for returning to the Start screen from a Metro style application. ultimately, people will need to learn a new way to use Windows. the Windows key is now the equivalent of the Home key in iOS. another example, Julie Larson Green spoke about how people are frustrated by the Shut Down process, even though you can Shut Down just by pressing the power button(!) Change will be required, but MS can meet folks "half way."

I don't mind the Start button returning, so long as I can remove it. It's useful for others in their setups, be they multi-monitor, or otherwise, but for me, utterly useless.

Kyang said,
I don't mind the Start button returning, so long as I can remove it. It's useful for others in their setups, be they multi-monitor, or otherwise, but for me, utterly useless.

Same here. I'd rather not waste the pixels on displaying the Windows logo in the corner of my screen. Pixels are valuable on my 1366x768 X230T screen.

Heck I'd even disable it on my 2560x1600 screen. No reason why I need to constantly see the Windows logo.

Kyang said,
I don't mind the Start button returning, so long as I can remove it. It's useful for others in their setups, be they multi-monitor, or otherwise, but for me, utterly useless.

Actually, It would be funny if you couldn't remove it. Then i'd ask how it feels not to have a choice!

warwagon said,

Actually, It would be funny if you couldn't remove it. Then i'd ask how it feels not to have a choice!

Haven't we sort of known since 1995? . (Aside from that Alt bug.)

warwagon said,

Actually, It would be funny if you couldn't remove it. Then i'd ask how it feels not to have a choice!

If there is a simple mod to remove it I'll apply it. If not, I'll live with it and won't complain online every single time Windows 8.1 is mentioned.

mrp04 said,

If there is a simple mod to remove it I'll apply it. If not, I'll live with it and won't complain online every single time Windows 8.1 is mentioned.

Spot on. People currently have the option yet they still bloody moan! haha

Perfectly valid experience, but it doesn't need to take several months and not everyone is going to be willing to give an OS that much time. When designing Windows OS you don't just think about experienced users like us, you have to design for the average person. Simple changes like visual cues to menus that can optionally be clicked on to activate the menu would make an enormous difference to the average computer user.

The average user forgets where the charms are and that they can be used in every app. The average user doesn't always think of swiping to activate menus inside of an app. And the average user can easily get confused by the task switcher in Windows 8. Small visual cues to these menus would have helped a lot.

Athernar said,
Learning curve in a UI equals bad design, period.

Learning curves are for video games, not operating systems.

All software has learning curves. All operating systems have learning curves.

People mistake familiarity with intuitiveness. That's not the case. A very un-intuitive system may seem intuitive to you because of familiarity with a previous version. A very intuitive system may feel less familiar and may be called 'less intuitive' because it differs significantly from the familiar. It really depends on how you define your performance measures and for what audience.

rfirth said,
All software has learning curves. All operating systems have learning curves.

Congratulations on stating the obvious I guess? Relativity should need not be explained.

rfirth said,
People mistake familiarity with intuitiveness. That's not the case. A very un-intuitive system may seem intuitive to you because of familiarity with a previous version. A very intuitive system may feel less familiar and may be called 'less intuitive' because it differs significantly from the familiar. It really depends on how you define your performance measures and for what audience.

This really has zero relevance to the point.

Agreed but the solution is so simple. Follow the design principles of Windows Phone. Requiring gestures and hot corner activation of menus isn't what Windows Phone does. WP8 gives you the option to either tap/click open a menu or slide a menu in. There is always a visual cue in Windows Phone of where menus are hidden (arrow pointing right on start screen, menu bar in every app).

This is not rocket science. Give a visual cue for every menu available and let the user choose whether to use a gesture or to tap/click to open the hidden menu.

It seems that reality may have trumped corporate arrogance. Gee, Microsoft is finally admitting that their new UI "needs work." Of course, if non tablet users had had the choice of sticking with the familiar and much more sensible Windows-7 UI, this problem would have been much less serious.

There is a learning curve, but to call it steep is an exaggeration.
I do agree they should have done more then the little intro they did.

There wouldn't be such a steep learning curve or a need to address it if they listened to what customers want. I'm not saying the start menu should come back because that would add redundancy, but at least the start button back

wv@gt said,
There wouldn't be such a steep learning curve or a need to address it if they listened to what customers want.

They were told and told and told (even before the world saw the first alpha/beta/preview) that they needed visual cues for all the INVISIBLE GUI elements, but they didn't listen.

wv@gt said,
There wouldn't be such a steep learning curve or a need to address it if they listened to what customers want. I'm not saying the start menu should come back because that would add redundancy, but at least the start button back

There is a start button, its one of the charms. But its hidden and easily accessible if people knew about it. They either need visual cues or a better tutorial. Or best yet they need to unhide them for those with large enough screens (as explained in my other comment).

It is unbelievable that they thought that intro animation at first boot was going to be adequate to teach people how to use Windows 8.

They had the start button in the original Developer Preview version of Windows 8. It seemed like a last minute decision to remove the start button.

My problem with Windows 8 is useability is the decision to go 100% chromeless. That is a power user configuration, it shouldn't be the default configuration. You can set your desktop web browser to full screen mode and make your Windows taskbar autohide, but those aren't default configurations and even auto-hide on the taskbar gives you a slight visual cue of where to move your mouse. In Windows Phone OS which shares the same Metro design language none of the interface is chromeless. Every app has a menu bar at the bottom with icons or a "..." leading to more menu items. The start screen on Windows Phone gives you a visual cue of where your applist is hidden with an arrow icon pointing to the right.

Windows 8 unlike Windows Phone is completely devoid of visual cues. Users of Windows 8 are expected to figure out gestures and hot corners to activate menus. This is very poor design and BlackBerry 10 suffers from it as well. Hidden gestures and hot corners are POWER USER interactions, they should not be expected to be used by the average Windows user.

There should be some kind of small visual cue in every app and screen on Windows 8 indicating where the menus are located. Just like in Windows Phone where you have the choice to tap the right facing arrow or slide the screen with a gesture to get to the app list, just like in Windows Phone where you can tap the "..." menu bar or grab the bar and slide it up there should be the option to tap the menu open or slide it open with a gesture.

If the Windows Phone team understands the need to have BOTH gesture to open AND tap to open, then why doesn't the Windows 8 team understand this fundamental concept?

Sinofsky and company made a big mistake by not following the Metro design guidelines more closely. Metro design is supposed to always give visual cues of where the user should go, whether it be text that spills over into the next section or small monochromatic icons that lead you in the right direction. The Windows 8 team got metro design mostly wrong in my opinion. Shame that everyone thinks of Windows 8 as "metro" when even the Windows 8 team admits that they did not stick to "metro" design.

That's because Windows 8 wasn't really intended to be "Metro", at least during most of its development. Originally the Modern style in Windows 8 was conceived as a new design language that took inspiration from Windows Phone but was mostly its own thing, and the Metro term would continue to refer only to the WP design. Over the course of development it gradually took on more WP-like elements (at least visually), and eventually they decided to more heavily promote the idea of a unified Microsoft ecosystem and use "Metro" as a kind of quasi-brand to tie the products together, but that's not where the project started.

You can see this visually in some of the early designs for Windows 8 that have been shown publically, see http://arstechnica.com/informa...eveal-windows-8s-evolution/ - notice that these adopted WP's concept of live tiles but don't fully adopt the Metro visual aesthetic. There are no "transportation sign" style icons and still plenty of drop shadows, gradients, rounded corners and such.

The argument is that the reason those things have been power user features up till now is that they haven't been consistent across the system and the system hasn't been designed around them. If you implement them consistently, people only have to learn them once and the benefits (of more focused presentation) apply to every single app you use. Additionally, having a system designed around being used that way means you don't get some of the modal awkwardness associated with full screen or UI hiding features, e.g. having to take desktop IE out of fullscreen mode to look at the clock or whatever, then go back in.

If you think about things like video apps where the benefits of being truly fullscreen are pretty compelling, you're probably going to have to learn some kind of show/hide feature at some point anyway, so if you use it everywhere does the learning cost really increase?

Avatar Roku said,
It is unbelievable that they thought that intro animation at first boot was going to be adequate to teach people how to use Windows 8.

They had the start button in the original Developer Preview version of Windows 8. It seemed like a last minute decision to remove the start button.

My problem with Windows 8 is useability is the decision to go 100% chromeless. That is a power user configuration, it shouldn't be the default configuration. You can set your desktop web browser to full screen mode and make your Windows taskbar autohide, but those aren't default configurations and even auto-hide on the taskbar gives you a slight visual cue of where to move your mouse. In Windows Phone OS which shares the same Metro design language none of the interface is chromeless. Every app has a menu bar at the bottom with icons or a "..." leading to more menu items. The start screen on Windows Phone gives you a visual cue of where your applist is hidden with an arrow icon pointing to the right.

Windows 8 unlike Windows Phone is completely devoid of visual cues. Users of Windows 8 are expected to figure out gestures and hot corners to activate menus. This is very poor design and BlackBerry 10 suffers from it as well. Hidden gestures and hot corners are POWER USER interactions, they should not be expected to be used by the average Windows user.

There should be some kind of small visual cue in every app and screen on Windows 8 indicating where the menus are located. Just like in Windows Phone where you have the choice to tap the right facing arrow or slide the screen with a gesture to get to the app list, just like in Windows Phone where you can tap the "..." menu bar or grab the bar and slide it up there should be the option to tap the menu open or slide it open with a gesture.

If the Windows Phone team understands the need to have BOTH gesture to open AND tap to open, then why doesn't the Windows 8 team understand this fundamental concept?

But since Windows 8 is so easy to use when you do understand 5 different gestures they probably figured they didnt need visual cues (which isnt the same as chromeless because WP is more chromeless then W8).

The problem is that they didnt provide enough training for people to understand each gesture. A 5 minute turorial would have made a huge difference. Explain simply things like app-specific options are right click or swipe from top/bottom, this works for each app. Etc.

But even then you dont need to hide options if you have a large screen. So I feel Microsoft needs to add a switch that allows users to Always see the app-options, app-switcher and charms. Because one of the charms is actually the start button put that followed by the other 4 charms in the lower left corner and people got their familiarity back. Follow it by the app switcher and the app commands and you got a new taskbar that works with modern apps. When in desktop mode the taskbar could disappear and the old desktop taskbar could come up in a nice transition. Of course the desktop taskbar should also include a start button as its a quick way to go back to the modern environment.