Windows 8pril Fool’s Update
Okay, I just can’t stand it. I know by now that everybody reading my blog should be sick of me talking about this by now. I know, I apologize, but it’s going to drive me nuts if I don’t do this ahead of a million media idiots who are going to come out babbling in a few days about how BRILLIANT and VISIONARY this new Start Menu is. I’m going to show you exactly how cynical and bizarrely structured it is BEFORE the media idiots get their hands on it and start claiming that this is another example of Microsoft’s MIRACULOUS Nadella led transformation. Before we do this I’m going to tell you the conclusion I expect you to draw in advance. Metro has NOTHING to do with trying be good UI. Microsoft doesn’t care about that, Metro is about taking control of the desktop as a web home page and imposing Bing as the default search solution on the Internet by deeply integrating it with the desktop experience. So all the yo-yo’s out there who breathlessly proclaim it’s brilliance are dupes… it’s purpose was never to be good UI, it’s a desperate diving attempt to take control of Internet search after all of their attempts to make better products than Google and better portals than Yahoo FAILED. They knew everybody hated it months before they shipped it… they KNEW it would result in a backlash and they shipped it anyway because they are desperate NOT because they really believe or care that its great UI.
Now since most people are not professional UI designers, I’m going to provide everybody with a few simple thought tools that you can easily employ to judge the new Start Menu objectively for yourselves. Let’s take a close look at what they unveiled at Build.
So the first question is that given the wholesale market rejection of Metro UI… why do EXTRA-WORK to jam it into a restored Start Menu? For some reason doing this EXTRA-WORK was very important to Microsoft. Consider if you will a simple alternative to doing this work… they could have simply opened the old Start Menu directly over the existing Metro desktop and it would look functionally equivalent… Why make ANOTHER Metro desktop and bolt it onto the Start Menu? Take a look at the Metro desktop as it is…
Plenty of empty space on the left side of the screen right? The lower left hand corner is completely empty right? Trivial to just pop a Start Button down there and have it open an ordinary Start Menu to the left of the Metro desktop… Why the extra work to integrate it with the menu? Anybody? What’s that? Oh, because they’re going to let the OEM’s make the old Windows desktop the default… so the UNPOPULAR Metro desktop will vanish on new PC’s… Now why would it be UNACCEPTABLE to Microsoft for an unpopular UI to vanish from the desktop? Why would Microsoft feel compelled to JAM it back into the Start Menu of people who are demanding NOT to have the Metro experience? Think people! Why? Here’s a hint. Recall that Microsoft FORCED Metro to be the default in Windows 8.1… and I keep pointing out that if the UI is so great, why FORCE it? Here’s a hint… Microsoft has done Metro several times in the past… they made it an option and nobody wanted it so it failed every time they tried to introduce it as a VOLUNTARY option. Take a look…
Say, what’s that over there on the right hand side of the VISTA desktop? Does anybody remember that popular widely adopted feature of VISTA? I was running WildTangent Inc at the time that Microsoft was trying to push the PC OEM’s to ship VISTA configured this way. At the time, and to this day, WildTangent ran the desktop game app markets for every major PC OEM. The OEM’s wanted nothing to do with having Microsoft take control of their desktop relationship with their customers. Google paid the OEM’s to make Google search their default browser search engines. They also rejected Microsoft forcing them to promote the Microsoft Store in VISTA. The PC OEM’s wanted to provide their own desktop markets from non-Microsoft partners… they obviously weren’t going to get a cut of all that desktop app and search revenue from Microsoft. HP and Dell used the terms of the Microsoft anti-trust agreement with the government to protect themselves from Microsoft FORCING them to make Microsoft search and Microsoft app markets the default on Windows PC’s. Microsoft was furious about this and even launched a PR campaign to brand any software or services the PC OEM’s shipped that didn’t originate from Microsoft as “crapware”. (Ironic aye?)
This was Microsoft’s revenge for the OEM’s refusing to ship Microsoft’s “Crapware” instead of theirs. Recall that in the VISTA era Microsoft was even trying to sell it’s own anti-virus service while claiming that VISTA was the most secure OS they’d ever made.
Of course they were quickly called out for the hypocrisy of doing this and the service was rejected by the OEM’s who were making great money providing paid alternatives from Symantec and McAfee. Having lost the battle to grab a chunk of this revenue for themselves, Microsoft salted the Earth for everybody in the space by making their service free. ( Which overall was a GOOD thing for consumers, the expense of anti-virus software was of course a consequence of Windows XP incredible security vulnerabilities and a rampant malware market. ) The short of it was that Microsoft couldn’t force the OEM’s to turn over all of their secondary desktop revenue and search revenue to them because of the government anti-trust agreement. So what became of that anti-trust agreement?
“Microsoft’s obligations under the settlement, as originally drafted, expired on November 12, 2007. However, Microsoft later “agreed to consent to a two-year extension of part of the Final Judgments” dealing with communications protocol licensing, and that if the plaintiffs later wished to extend those aspects of the settlement even as far as 2012, it would not object. The plaintiffs made clear that the extension was intended to serve only to give the relevant part of the settlement “the opportunity to succeed for the period of time it was intended to cover”, rather than being due to any “pattern of willful and systematic violations”.”
It ended in 2012, the release year of Windows 8. Microsoft may not have acted on it with Windows 7 to avoid future government extensions to the agreement… but with Windows 8, they flat out took over control of the desktop, the app markets and search in one swift move and forced it on the PC OEMs in the guise of introducing a new revolutionary UI. The only flaw with the plan was that the new UI was inconveniently unpopular. Now your only source of desktop “crapware” is from Microsoft. 🙂
How do I know all of this? Well.. let’s go back a ways further… In addition to running WildTangent Inc. and consulting for the PC OEM’s on how to counter Microsoft’s efforts to force them to carry Microsoft services on the desktop, I worked for Microsoft’s strategy group that was focused on KILLING the Netscape browser. There’s a book about it…
As I’ve previously recounted in this blog the former DirectX team went on to being responsible for developing Microsoft’s ultimate weapon the ChromeEffect’s browser. One of the founding DirectX team members, Eric Engstrom was even a witness for Microsoft at the DOJ trial.
One of the stratagem’s we employed was to embed the IE browser directly into the Windows Desktop so that the desktop itself could deliver a live surfable browser experience as a technology called Active Desktop. The idea was of course to enable Microsoft to turn every Windows desktop into a Microsoft homepage.
The problem with the Active Desktop solution is that it was very heavy and dragged down the OS. Microsoft needed to find a “lighter” solution but Active Desktop can still be found working in all existing Windows XP installations. Prior to that initiative Microsoft tried to partner with a company called PointCast which was succeeding wildly during the earliest days of the Internet with what was then called “push technology” to deliver news and media actively to Windows desktops.
In short, this is a VERY ANCIENT Microsoft strategy. Sure, it’s an interesting story but how do we KNOW it’s alive and well in Metro? Let’s take another look at the screen shot Microsoft demonstrated at the Build conference.
Now you would think that after all the grief Microsoft got for Metro, they would have done this integration with a great deal of careful thought and usability testing right? Now look closely at this image. Look at the Outlook 2013 icon in the menu on the left and at the Mail icon in the Metrofied UI on the right. Different icons… different labels. There are TWO mail icons and label’s in the menu and one in the Metro UI. Careless… There is a Skype Icon in the Metrofied UI with NO label and NO Skype icon or label in the menu… careless… Some Metro apps have icons, some have labels, some are pictures of something, no consistency or visual predictability The choice to use multicolor background tiles forces the text and icons to be white reducing an artists freedom to make each icon clear and visually distinctive.
There is a list of 17 applications in the menu and only three corresponding Metro icons to those applications in the Metrofied UI… inconsistent… 17 seems like a lot doesn’t it? Why so many if Metro thinks that exposing 11 apps some different and some the same is sufficient? Notice all the empty white space to the right of each menu item. Couldn’t they have just made 10 larger menu icons with labels and dispensed with the Metro bolt-on? Why do some Metro apps have NO labels while others do? Why is the dominant background color for most of the Metro apps shades of the same tone of blue as the background or green. Any amateur UI designer knows that 6% of the worlds male population is color-blind to these tones. In any event, it would have popped out as a serious issue under even the most trivial usability testing effort.
What this illustrates from a professional UI designers point of view is that ZERO consideration went into usability when this was done to the Start menu. The integration is sloppy and haphazard. The excuse for this when Metro came out was that it’s new and revolutionary and every great UI undergoes a period of refinement. It’s been two years and they just did this… what’s their excuse now? Why would Microsoft SLOP out another terrible UI idea in the wake of such a huge on-going Metro disaster? They could be incompetent which is a factor… clearly they could have been engaging in nefarious strategy and ALSO done a great job of covering their tracks… but they didn’t which leaves only nefarious strategy as an explanation. So you people and media who are about to write all manner of raving reviews about how great this update will be are DUPES… it’s obviously a cynical half-hearted feature, a way to cling to control of the ability to serve Microsoft content, apps and search into the desktop even after conceding that if they don’t give up the Metro desktop they risk ultimately losing all of their market.
Now speaking as a former evil-Microsoft-platform-strategist I applaud the ambition but the execution is TERRIBLE. There were many BETTER ways to accomplish this goal, primarily and most easily forgotten among all of them is just making products and services people actually WANT. That was the heart of the DirectX gaming strategy… Hey, let’s beat Apple out of existence by flooding Windows with FANTASTIC GAMES everybody wants that aren’t available on Macs because Apple can’t play games (circa 1994). Let’s do such a GREAT JOB of making developers love us and making them money that Windows is always their first target platform of choice! Of course that crazy line of reasoning was constantly at odds with Microsoft’s Talisman like stratagems that involved forcing the market to adopt products they didn’t want through the use of market leverage. Did Microsoft have to FORCE anybody to buy XBOX’s? No! Everybody wanted Halo! Is Google’s Search engine really that impossible to improve on? It’s a white web page the displays a TEXT LIST of items… Microsoft really couldn’t think of any way to improve on that experience other than emulating Google’s UI years after Google pioneered it?
How could they LOSE market share to Yahoo with MSN? Yahoo, as we all know, was disastrously managed for YEARS. Microsoft owned the desktop and the browser for YEARs… MSN has been the default portal on IE for ages… People have to go out of their way to find a way in IE to set their default browser to Yahoo or Google and MSN is so HATED that they do it in droves. In many respects Metro was a huge act of desperation for Microsoft. They knew it was hated before they ever shipped it, they knew they might be betting the entire future of the Windows desktop and mobile market on it and not only did they ship it but they forced it on the market with NO alternative to going back because the KNEW that the services they were trying to get people to use by imposing Metro were so reviled that their customers would go way out of their way to change them back to the services they loved if was an option for them at all.
So in a week or so when the Windows 8.1 Update is released and the glowing press reviews and sycophantic bloggers rave about how brilliant it is, you’ll know the truth.
*Update: Since we’re debating the alleged “merits” of Metro UI style on another thread I thought I would make this point here as a “teachable moment” in UI design. Here is a classic Metro UI screenshot.
So 6% of the worlds men are color blind, they can’t visually distinguish between the blues on this screen and the greens. Another 1% can’t differentiate between the orange-red’s and the greens. So first off, for a mass-market UI, you’d never put these colors together especially in the same color saturation range because millions of users won’t be able to see the boundaries between the tiles. That in itself isn’t insurmountable… you could get-away with this color scheme by using a little “Chrome” to provide other visual cues as to where the tile boundaries are. This is where the use of “chrome” provides a secondary visual cue to people who may struggle to see only one type.
These chromed buttons have some visual depth so that even if they were placed on a blue background of the same color saturation, a color blind person could visually identify them. Drop shadows further separate clickable elements like tiles from the background providing a third contrast based visual clue to elderly people whose vision may not be able to differentiate subtle color graduations anymore. The metro designers REJECTED all of these familiar proven visual cuing techniques in favor of reductionism… then chose BAD colors to blend on the screen and by virtue of choosing a mixed color scheme forced themselves to have to use WHITE text, another visual disaster for readability. Notice that the BLACK text you are reading on this page is about the same size as the WHITE text in the screenshot.
Which one is easier to read? So when I read the Metro style guide which is laced with all kinds of soaring authoritative rhetoric on the brilliant elegance of the Metro UI style and then see it implemented like this… I KNOW that I’ve just read the work of a bunch of pretentious UI IDIOTS who don’t know the first most basic principles of UI design. The madness of it boggles the mind. These clowns should be getting LAUGHED out of UI meetings not getting listened to by anybody!
*If you want to learn another fun exercise in evaluating a UI, try this experiment. Look at a UI and try to focus your eyes about a foot beyond the image you’re looking at. Doing this causes your brain to inadvertently attempt to evaluate the flat image as though it is two different images arriving from different angles on the eyes to produce a 3D picture in the mind. The brain “fills in” 3D detail that isn’t there based on its best “experience” with interpreting visual data. You’ll be able to “see” the visual depth in the UI that the brain imagines is there when you look at it. The brain takes the colors in the images and assigns imaginary depth to them. A good UI designer tries to choose a depth and color scheme that looks visually consistent to the mind… that is objects in the UI look like they are consistently stacked on top of one another. If you do this with Metro the UI looks like an MC Escher drawing where in-front and behind are all jumbled together. This is an indication that your brain is confused about how to evaluate the image it’s looking at.
Here’s a test pattern you can use to know if you’re focusing your eyes correctly. A 3D picture of a molecule should pop out.