Windows 8 Start Screen Interface Analyzed By Nielsen Norman Group

Windows 8’s Start Screen user interface is the Jekyll and Hyde of computing if the Nielsen Norman Group is to be believed. The Nielsen Norman Group recently tore apart Windows 8 and found that it provides “disappointing usability for both novice and power users.” This report comes amid news that, according to Avast, the majority of users do not plan to upgrade to Windows 8. Microsoft is also saying Windows 8 sales are well below Microsoft’s projections at this point, even though Microsoft offers a limited-time Windows 8 Pro upgrade for only $40.

Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group voiced his an opinion based on a recent case study conducted by the company. The Nielsen Norman Group invited 12 experienced PC users to try out Windows 8 on the new Surface RT tablet as well as a traditional desktop computer. The results were compiled from monitoring the users and analyzing the users’ feedback.

Nielsen compares the Windows 8 user interface to dual personalities like the Roman god Janus, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and even Batman’s arch-foe Two-Face. He is of course referring to the desktop environment designed for mouse and keyboard being forcibly melded to the the smartphone and tablet-minded Start Screen interface.

Specifically, he said “Windows 8 on mobile devices and tablets is akin to Dr. Jekyll: a tortured soul hoping for redemption. On a regular PC, Windows 8 is Mr. Hyde: a monster that terrorizes poor office workers and strangles their productivity.”

Having two environments on one device can lead to a number of problems, including having to remember where to go for which features. Long-time Windows users have been trained to look for the Start Menu and it is completely missing (unless you install 3rd party software like Stardock’s Start8). Nielsen also points out that switching between two environments will increase the interaction cost of using multiple features and because the two environments work differently, it will make for an inconsistent user experience. He says that because the Start Screen only allows one window at a time on the screen that Windows 8 could be more accurately called “Microsoft Window.”

In summary, Jakob Nielsen says Windows 8 has too many hidden features, reduced discoverability, has cognitive overhead from dual environments and has reduced power from a single-window user interface and low information density. He plans to “stay with Win7 the next few years and hope for better times with Windows 9. One great thing about Microsoft is that they do have a history of correcting their mistakes.”