Not Dead…Just Smells Funny: Usability Ponderings for Thursday, March 7, 2013

When Microsoft first proposed Windows 8, I was skeptical about the interface redesign.  Is an interface that is seemingly geared to appeal to a touchscreen oriented market really going to go over well with the traditional desktop GUI interfacers such as myself?  Are we, as many of the “new media” are suggesting, seeing the end of the desktop as we know it?  Perhaps, some recent evidence, granted personal and very circumstantial, might suggest otherwise.

My friend posted the question on Facebook earlier this week, “Is anybody using Windows 8?  Would it be something that you would recommend using?”  The last time I checked…there were 0 “comments” and 0 “likes”.  But I rarely see a post by any of my Facebook friends that does not generate at least one response of some kind.  Granted, this is a personal observation, perhaps isolated.  It is not a random sample, or approaches anything resembling that of scientific rigor.

Then there was there was this article in “ReadWriteWeb” today: Microsoft Cuts Windows, Office Prices For Manufacturers – Is Windows 8 In Trouble? – ReadWriteWeb.  The article discusses how sales of Windows 8, after an initial surge upon release, are beginning to look disappointing.  The article also draws parallels to the level of sales for MS’s failed Vista OS around the same time in its product lifespan.

What does this mean or suggest?  Is it because of the slow economy?  Is it because, like Vista, Windows 8 is an inferior product?  Perhaps both are true, but allow me to suggest another possible explanation; maybe the desktop isn’t as ill as is being suggested.  I have found, for the most part, that tablets ,like my iPad and smart phones, like my Android, are great as portable information appliances, but are not very usable as heavy production tools.  I wonder to what extent, the prognosticators of the desktop’s demise, have to do series spreadsheet number crunching or create intensely formal reports and documents.  Even laptops, for any major, repetitive, daily, or continuous tend to be less usable than the interface and flexibility that a desktop unit offers.  Smaller devices are great for reading information, for getting information, or for sending messages like texts and email.  But even emails can be a pain on a smartphone or an iPad if the length is beyond a certain amount.  (I, for example, would not have been comfortable writing this 600+ word blog in either my Android, my iPad, or my laptop.)

There is still an absolute need for the usability that a traditional desktop interface has to offer for many cubicle and office denizens.  Maybe it is this population that is saying…well nothing…when someone asks for their opinion on Facebook about the new MS OS.  Maybe it is because this population not only does not see the value in the change, but they see it as a “downgrade” not an upgrade.  Perhaps this is being unfair to Microsoft.  Maybe if the skeptical consumer gave it a chance they would understand the value added that Windows 8 has to offer.  But that is not the consumer’s job.  Microsoft must be able, not to sell the “what” or even the “how”.  They must sell the “why”.  Maybe it is the “why” part of the sales pitch that is weak…or perhaps the “why” doesn’t exist.

Frank Zappa once mused, “Jazz is not dead…it just smells funny.”  Maybe my type of user is a dinosaur.  Maybe we are “getting smaller” and even fossils like myself will eventually catch on or perhaps the “small” will eventually improve their usability to the point where it is no longer an issue.  After all, I seem to remember feeling similarly the first time I played with Windows 95.  Maybe the PC is dying…or maybe it just smells a little funny.Image

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