Microsoft’s Marmite – Part 2

Back in March, I wrote a post called “Microsoft’s Marmite”, which likened the reactions of people to Marmite to their reactions to Windows 8 – they either love it or hate it.

Now that Windows 8 has been released, I continue to be amazed at the amount of vitriol being poured upon it. I really can’t see what all the fuss is about. Yes, there are some radical changes in the user interface, but I certainly don’t find them a problem at all.

In that light, I was somewhat amused to read Jakob Nielsen’s condemnation of the design of Windows 8. After all, he’s the design guru who jointly set up the Nielsen Norman Group along with Don Norman, another design guru, who has written:

Windows 8 is brilliant, and its principles have been extended to phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop machines (and larger — for example, Surface), whether operated by gesture, mouse and keyboard, or stylus, but with appropriately changed interaction styles for the different sizes of devices and different input devices.

(note: the Surface device that Norman refers to is Microsoft’s table top device, now renamed as Microsoft PixelSense – he wrote this piece before Microsoft announced their Surface tablets)

As well as being amused, I confess to also being more than a little irritated by Nielsen’s review, because it seemed to me that he was often deliberately misrepresenting what Windows 8 is, and how it behaves in practice.

For example, he writes:

“Windows” no longer supports multiple windows on the screen. Win8 does have an option to temporarily show a second area in a small part of the screen, but none of our test users were able to make this work. Also, the main UI restricts users to a single window, so the product ought to be renamed “Microsoft Window.”

Er, sorry, the Windows desktop is just as it always has been, supporting multiple overlapping windows. The Modern UI view, designed for tablets and similar devices, does indeed show only two Modern UI apps simultaneously, but the traditional desktop hasn’t gone away, it’s still there. I find it hilarious that Nielsen states that “none of our test users were able to make this [the Modern UI view] work”, when he has just proudly stated

we invited 12 experienced PC users to test Windows 8 on both regular computers and Microsoft’s new Surface RT tablets

“Experienced”? They don’t seem particularly savvy to me. I cottoned on to this facility very early on, and use it to share my Desktop with Modern UI Apps.

The other example that I’ll give where it seems to me that Nielsen is not playing fair is the section where he claims that Windows 8’s “Flat style Reduces Discoverability”. He uses the example of the Settings Charm to illustrate this:

W8 001

I find it odd that none of his “experienced PC users” noticed that as they moused over the icons and text in this panel, they would be highlighted to indicate that they were buttons, e.g.:

W8 002   or   W8 003

Frankly, I think Mr. Nielsen has not done a very good job in reviewing Windows 8 here. Scott Barnes also thinks that, and goes into far more detail. His critique of the Nielsen review is worth reading.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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2 Responses to Microsoft’s Marmite – Part 2

  1. Mark says:

    My guess is that Mr. Nielsen used an early prerelease candidate for the review. As an experienced computer professional I have had little trouble adjusting to Windows 8…however I basically ignore the ModernUI portion of it other than to rigorously remove things from the start screen to keep it manageable.

    Remember that the ModernUI versions of everything is the default. Double-click on a picture and the photos app comes up, now you have a whole different experience. You can download all new apps and change all the defaults to desktop versions to stay in the desktop world but how many people will do that? 90% of everyone will simply have to memorize exactly what to do..”after I run a video I close the video window so I can run the next one” and they will just have to learn which pieces of the OS do which things… want to be able to switch between apps? can’t use the upper left swipe because it doesn’t have desktop apps.. Cant use Win-tab like Win7 because it won’t show desktop apps…but I can use the alt-tab because it shows them all.

    I think that is the biggest problem. Only part of the OS is in each half. Like living in the ModernUI world? Try mapping a network drive from there, try checking your printer from there.. you have to right-click in the start-screen corner and select “Control Panel” then “View Devices and Printers” to see if a document is stuck in the print queue. For the vast majority of users who have never used a control panel and may not even know it exists, how would they ever find the information out?

    • Geoff Coupe says:


      Good points, and you are right that for some things the traditional world is best (if not required), and for others, the Modern UI world will suffice. However, I suspect that for the vast majority of users who never used the control panel in the first place, things are continuing much as normal, just with a completely new look.

      We are at the beginning of the journey, so I’m curious as to where it will lead – but I feel a good deal more confident than many. I don’t believe that we are in the same place as the person in the old joke who asked “What’s the best way to Tipperary?”.

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