Windows 8 Needs Crucial Interface Tweaks to Win Over Users, Boost Sales

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-01-02

Windows 8 Needs Crucial Interface Tweaks to Win Over Users, Boost Sales

Let's get one thing out in the open right away. I really like Windows 8, and I've installed it on most of the computers in my lab where I do product reviews. And yes, I've gone out and spent my own money to do this.

The primary reason I've moved many of the test machines to Windows 8 is because I think it's important that other products work with the latest Windows edition.

But I haven't moved everything to Windows 8, despite the fact that I like it. The computer that I use for writing and the primary laptop I use when I travel still run Windows 7. The reason I haven't moved everything to Windows 8 has a lot to do with the reasons why Windows 8 isn't selling very well. The operating system certainly isn't meeting preliminary sales expectations.

When Fujitsu President Masami Yamamoto held a press conference in Tokyo on New Year's Day, he claimed that PC sales are slumping partly because of poor sales of Windows 8. According to a report by Bloomberg, Windows device sales have dropped 21 percent in the last year. Part of the problem is that there are more viable alternatives to standard Windows computers than there were a year ago. But another part of the problem is that Windows 8 is a mystery to most users.

Microsoft's primary design concept for Windows 8 bears much of the burden for the sales slump. Basically, the Windows 8 tiled interface is designed for a touch-screen device. And Windows 8 operates beautifully on a touch-screen. I like it better than I like iOS 6, especially on a tablet.

I've also gotten used to the tiled interface on a standard mouse-and-keyboard PC where my most commonly used functions and applications show up as tiles, which I can launch with a single click. But until you learn how to use this interface, it's a mystery. And when it comes to computers, most people don't like mysteries. Most people simply want to be able to use their computers without thinking too hard about it.

Keeping in mind the fact that most computer users don't want to be mystified by their operating system, nor do they want to change the way they've been using the computer they already own, here's what Microsoft needs to do if the company wants Windows 8 sales to pick up.

First make the standard Windows 7 desktop available as an option, complete with the start button. While it's probably true that the tiled interface is more efficient for applications that work with tiles, it's really a pain to run a program that doesn't.

Windows 8 Needs Crucial Interface Tweaks to Win Over Users, Boost Sales

To accomplish it, you have to hover your mouse over the bottom right corner of your screen, wait for the Charms to appear, navigate to the search Charm, click it so that all of the apps appear and then probably start typing the name. The problem with this approach is that it's not obvious to the gazillions of Windows users out there how you do this. Furthermore without a touch-screen, navigating the Charm Bar is problematic, since every time your mouse pointer slips a little, the Charms disappear and you have to start all over again. Yes, you can install Start8 to get the start button back, but how many users know this and how many administrators will allow it.

Next make it possible for users to boot directly into the desktop. Despite the fact that the tiled interface is really nice, especially for touch-screen users, people stuck with a mouse and keyboard seem to prefer the classic desktop. Yes, the desktop is always available by clicking on a tile on the lower left side of the tile collection, but again, not everyone knows this. They just know that they don't understand the tiles.

I realize that this may seem like a step backward to Microsoft, but there are some good reasons for the company to make these changes. First, nearly everyone out there with a Windows 7 or earlier computer has a mouse and keyboard. Touch-screen computers are very rare in the installed base. While you can retrofit an existing computer with a touch-screen monitor, it's expensive and the selection is limited.

I did an informal survey shortly before Christmas visiting stores that sell desktop, laptop and tablet computers just to see how easy it might be to buy a computer with Windows 8 and a touch-screen. What I discovered is that virtually none of the desktop machines I could find came with a touch-screen monitor. Neither did most laptop computers, although a few were available and many more had multi-touch pads—but some had neither. Tablets, as you would expect, had touch-screens. But Windows 8 tablets are fairly rare outside of Microsoft stores, and they're expensive.

Until Microsoft's marketing folks figure out that people aren't buying Windows 8 because they don't understand how to make it work on their computer, whether it's an existing device or a new one they're thinking about purchasing, then sales will be slow. And that's a shame, because Windows 8 really is a nice OS, once you learn how to use it, but you shouldn't have to work that hard to learn it.

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