Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Windows 8...on a Desktop...for the average user

I really like Windows 8.  I've been running it on my main workstation for a couple months now with the release preview.  I haven't yet installed the RTM that came out a couple weeks ago, so I suspect there are some notable improvements.  A few of the things I like:

  • It's quick.  Great performance.
  • Nice UX for a number of preview apps targeting the WinRT (although they have limited functionality to some degree)
  • The ability to download apps from the store
  • The task manager
There are some things that are annoying, too, but I'll save my comments on those until after I install the RTM in hopes that they have been addressed.

I installed the release preview a few weeks ago on my wife's new HP Touchsmart all-in-one.  (BTW - it is soooo nice to have a clean desk without any cables except for the power cord. All-in-ones might carry additional risks if anything internal breaks, but it was definitely a good choice for us.)  We don't use the touch interaction that much since it is kind of awkward reaching across the desk to the screen, but it is neat to see Windows 8 shine there.

One thing has me concerned that has come to light during the times when I'm helping my wife navigate the changes in Win 8.  Here's an example of a recent exchange on the matter:
[she opens the WinRT browser and goes to a site with flash content and the site doesn't function properly]
My Wife:  what's wrong with this?
Me:  Oh, you're in the metro* browser and that site has a flash plug-in. You need to open the desktop browser instead.
The reality is - she doesn't know what a plug-in is, or understand why they're not allowed on the WinRT side, and she really doesn't care why they won't run.  For that matter, she doesn't know what the "WinRT" is and she doesn't care, either.  She just wants it to work.

(* the "metro" term has been dropped by Microsoft in favor of "Windows 8"...but it's just easier to say)

I'm fine with all that when I'm using it.  I know ahead of time if I'm going to a site where I expect to interact with Flash or Silverlight content, and therefore I'll choose the desktop browser.  But the average user?  The average user will get used to that on a tablet...they've done fine on the iPad.  But when you mix the two on a desktop, the user is going to have to think a lot more about what they're doing.  Perhaps there's a setting for the scenario I describe above, where the user can flag certain sites to always open the desktop browser, even if the user started out in the WinRT browser.  I may just be unaware of other ways Win 8 already helps users deal with this.  But so far this has me a little worried about the frustrations the average user will experience.  That said, the user experience with Win 8 apps is fresh and compelling.  I don't have an iPad, but having used one a few times I really think the iOS interface is going to look stale next to Win 8.