Nielsen Studies Windows 8 Usability – A Tough Verdict.

There’s an interesting study of Windows 8 usability by the well known Nielsen Norman Group that may give businesses (and consumers) insights into how the new OS might affect productivity.

Jakob Nielsen points out that the dual nature of the desktop means there is more for the user to learn. The traditional desktop UI must be understood along with the new Metro interface.  This can lead to cognitive overload in his view.

This is intuitive as there is a “cognitive setup time” that is required when switching between environments.  In addition Nielson notes that the user has to carry around more commands in their memory for the two interfaces instead of one.

Windows 8, he adds, restricts the user to a single window in the main UI – which is fine for tablets, but more problematic with larger displays where many applications are running concurrently.

He also critiques ‘flat’ style where shadows or raised type that can convey subtle cues have been eliminated, detracting from usability.

The next issue Nielsen raises is one I have heard repeated quite frequently, namely the low information density of the tiled interface.  Many Windows 8 screens actually convince you that a new phenomenon exists – “display underuse”.

For the enterprise, this is extremely problematic, as workers in many settings need information-rich interfaces to handle complex tasks.  So it will be interesting to see what the enterprise feedback is over time.

So much image, so little information

Another issue Nielson highlights is the ambiguity of tiles.  Very often, you have no idea what a pretty picture in a tile means.  You have to guess at it. Obviously, this depends on the tile creator, but too often, tiles can lead to quizzical expressions as to function.

Hidden charms are another issue that Nielsen’s 12 test subjects – experienced Windows users by the way – found problematic. “Out of sight is out of mind” was the problem.

The last issue highlighted was that many gestures were error-prone. Swiping or ending a swipe in just the wrong place could lead to dramatically different results.

Nielsen goes on to say he thinks that in trying to be a jack of all (in this case, 2) trades, Windows 8 ends up being a master of neither the traditional desktop UI or the “Modern UI” as the Metro-style interface is now called.

More to the point of the enterprise, he views Windows 8 as a productivity-sapping software program.  Microsoft must hope this is not true, as it is one of its major target markets.

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