I recently built a new PC that would serve primarily as a gaming computer that would have much more horsepower than my MacBook Pro. Aside from just being more powerful, it also allows me to play those Windows-only games that come around every so often. Plus, it gave me a chance to try out Windows 8. This is my out of box experience with Windows 8.
I did a clean installation of Windows 8 Pro on my new PC. The install process was fairly smooth, as far as Windows installations goes. After getting into the system to do updates and what not, I discovered it was not activated. When I went to activate it, I received an error that it could not be activated because it was an upgrade version and upgrade versions cannot be installed without upgrading from a previous version. I double-checked all the packaging and sure enough there is no mention that Windows 8 Pro is upgrade only. Nothing on the front nor on the back, nor under System Requirements. I won’t go into details about how I finally activated it, but there are details online for how to activate a clean install of Windows 8 Pro. Nonetheless, this felt like a total marketing scam and started my out of the box experience off on the wrong foot.
As far as the UI goes, Windows 8 utilizes every corner of the screen to provide some action. The lower left shows a shortcut to the Modern UI Start screen. The upper right and lower right both bring up the Charms sidebar. The upper left serves as a “previous app” shortcut that bridges the Modern UI and the Windows Desktop. If there is no open app in the Modern UI, then moving to the upper left will do nothing. The Modern UI has its own sort of taskbar that can be revealed by going to the upper left and then scrolling down the left edge of the screen. Meanwhile, the traditional Windows desktop still shows the taskbar at the bottom, always visible. So, there are two taskbars, with two different ways to view them. This is one of many examples of Windows 8’s bipolar nature.
Another example of wonky bipolar differences between the two UIs is in the settings for a PC. There is the traditional control panel, with all of its various items, such as Device Manager and User Accounts. Device Manager still opens the Device Manager–no surprise there. However, User Accounts brings up options for managing user accounts with some links that work inside the Control Panel and some which take you into the Users screen in the Modern UI. Every time you click a link or take an action which leads into the Modern UI, you have to sit through the same “window flipping” animation. With some links working inside their normal context and some links taking you into the Modern UI, it becomes impossible to guess what’s going to happen when you click something the first time. Not only is it bipolar, it lacks any sort of affordances to reveal how a link will act–you never know which UI you’ll be using based on the link itself.
On the topic of affordances, the login screen is severally lacking in that regard. It is simply a full screen image that requires a keyboard press or a click to make the image slide up to reveal the user login form. This is just one extra click, but it’s one extra click every single time you turn the computer on. That sort of inefficiency completely flies in the face of the ISO standard for usability (efficient, effective, and satisfactory).
Recoverability from errors is another area where Windows 8 is bipolar. In the traditional desktop UI, there are the normal minimize, restore, and close icons on each application window, in the upper right. In Modern UI apps, these icons do not exist and finding corresponding actions, especially “close”, is hard or sometimes impossible. For example, in the Mail app, when it opens it asks for your login information. You have to options: “Sign In” and “Cancel”. Clicking “Cancel” shows some text that seems like an error message that states you must login with your Microsoft account and “try again”, which is a link back to the sign in form. First, that’s the incorrect order (you “try again” to login). Second, “Cancel” implies I didn’t want to do it anyway.
I realize some of these gripes are with apps I’ll probably never use (Mail) and some settings can be changed (like the lock screen), but the overall out of the box experience with Windows 8 is frustrating to say the least. I would not recommend it to any Windows 7 user out there.