NOTE: Wow! Microsoft is thinking about bringing back the Start Menu and Modern apps on the Desktop. This is perfect timing! Here you’ll see why it’s a good idea and how they should do it.
DISCLAMER: This is a non-functional concept prototype of Windows 8 built from scratch in Adobe Fireworks CS6 and rendered in Adobe After Effects CC. There is no download link or ways for you to use this right now.
UPDATE: Microsoft just showed a new Desktop focused Start Menu with Tiles. Some good friends at Microsoft confirms to me that this is the current design but it may not be final.
ANNOUNCEMENT: I worked with ReviverSoft to release a Start Menu solution!
Let me begin by saying that I love Windows 8. I have it on all of my computers and I find that is the best OS for productivity and awesomeness.
OS X is good looking and polished, especially with the Mavericks update (A.K.A. fake leather killer), but I find that it is lacking some productivity details that makes it less comfortable. That was my experience with OS X as my main OS for a year and a half on the amazing 2011 MacBook Air. Yes everything can also be done on OS X and you can take the time to learn all of that to switch, but so is the OS X to Windows transition; it’s just a matter of where you are more comfortable. Linux is a usability nightmare the second you get out of the fake easy-to-use illusion layer they added with the new GUIs. Unless you’re a coder, don’t even think about it.
Back to Windows 8 now! I love Windows 8 and it is my favorite OS to date, but that thing is filled with massive flaws. Some even said that W8 is a usability nightmare and even if I don’t really like that expression they are kinda right in a way.
Confusion. Here’s that magic word!
Microsoft has a lot of great ideas and they smashed them together to create Windows 8. They have some pretty amazing blocks, it’s just a matter of arranging them the right way.
This research project started September 24th 2013. I had access to Windows 8.1 thanks to my dear friends at Microsoft and my main on-the-go general computer was a Dell XPS 12, I replaced it for a Surface Pro 2 right at launch October 25th. My test computers were always high density convertible tablet/laptops; the perfect candidate for the Windows 8 vision.
My goal here is simple: Research and design an improved Windows 8 that doesn’t change the whole OS, something that could be easily pushed in a near update based on the feedback of the users and respects Microsoft’s strategy and vision.
Trust me on this, I would LOVE to do an awesome new Metro style, blend both environment together or simply reinvent the whole damn thing and form the next big change in user interface design. Unfortunately, I want to find solutions that are incremental to the current version of Windows; something that would be an easy update to please everyone first.
I talked to a lot of users, developers and even people at Microsoft for their feedback over W8 and what they like/dislike (special thanks to the Apple Core and Microsoft Tribe forum at The Verge for their feedback). From there I came up with 5 rules that needs to be respected at all time to insure that users are happy and their feedback is respected, but at the same time that Microsoft can go on with their planned strategy for their OS and the future of the company.
Let’s stop with all the history and background crap and jump right into the laws, notes and the designs.
When designing anything you need to lay a couple of rules that you need to refer to for every single decision. If there’s a problem with anyone of them, it’s a big fat no!
Here’s my 5 rules for my W8.2 prototype design.
1) Microsoft wants to create a coherent store experience and ecosystem for Windows with the Windows Store.
Let’s be honest here, when Apple showed the world how awesome a central managed application store is, everyone had to do it. Like the mouse, touchscreen and GUI interface, it’s something that can’t really be considered as a stolen idea or copying the other since it’s just an obvious thing that nobody got before. The Windows Store is here to stay and the design of those apps are to be structured for a coherent and unified experience. It doesn’t make sense anymore to scout the web through bad website and installers that want to fill your computer with crap by default when you can have a one button purchase/install/update/manage for your apps.
2) Microsoft is adopting a company-wide design language with Metro and the Live Tiles.
Screw you Metro AG! I don’t care come sue me if you want to and Microsoft I’m keeping that Metro name! We need a way to call that new design language and “modern” simply doesn’t cut it. So yes, I will be using the Metro name throughout this research project. The Metro design language is here to stay and people gotta live with it. On the other hand, it is Microsoft’s job to make sure that it is relevant and useful and not to just stuff it down users’ throats.
3) Windows 8 needs to work on both touch-input devices and pointer/keyboard based computers.
Look, there will be touch devices running Windows and no, splitting the OS into a separate Desktop and Tablet OS is not a solution. Windows needs to be flexible and work on all type of computers. You may be wondering why the OS on your Desktop computer needs to be tablet ready. Simple! Because we are evolving to convertible/hybrid devices. All-in-one desktops can transform into a big ass tablet and tablets into mobile workstations with their docks, flippy screens and keyboard covers. Having two OS for the same device under the same name is out of the question.
4) Users with mouse and keyboards do not want a touch-optimized experience.
You have a tiny pointer that can aim on 1x1 pixel elements. We are talking about your main workstation where a lot is happening at the same time. You optimize everything onscreen to maximize screen space organization and you resize your windows to a perfection level. Then, you open the Music app and it takes the whole 1080p display just for your song selection. You need weird gestures to access the Charms bar, mimicking a simple touchscreen swipe that you can’t do and of course if you try to multitask with any Metro app, the whole Desktop with all your apps opened are treated the same way as your Twitter app. Not very optimized. Learning all the keyboard shortcuts is not an option for the average user guys, forget it.
5) Users with touchscreens do not want to go through a Desktop interface.
You have an 8 inch tablet. You’re moving fast through the terminal and you need to get an information very fast. The last thing on your mind is to stop and try poking the tiny menu buttons of the Desktop. You should at all times stay inside of a touch-optimized interface and the fallback to Desktop should not even exist. Metro shouldn’t be on top of the Desktop; it should be your interface.
Yes there will be a lot of spelling mistakes, unfortunately you will have to leave with it. The goal was to put out the information of my research, not to write a perfectly checked novel.
Metro refers to the new design language from Microsoft and also the touch-optimized experience.
A lot of people will disagree and please share your disagreements with me, but don’t say “It sucks” or “Buy a Mac”. Tell me “It sucks because…” or “I prefer the way Apple does it because…”. Explain your opinion.
All screenshots shown here are designed with my Surface Pro 2 in mind, so with a 150% DPI. Everything will look scaled up if you don’t have a small screen with a high resolution.
This research project or I are not affiliated with Microsoft in any way.
All right, so here’s my big solution!
You separate the Desktop and Metro as completely different environment you can switch between. This way mouse/keyboard users won’t need to use weird mouse gestures, giant start screens and full screen apps and touch users will never have to see the Desktop ever in their life if they don’t want to.
Your files and apps sits in the middle and you choose which environment/interface you want to use to access them. At the end of the day, I want to see my pictures (HDD stored), work on my documents (Cloud/SkyDrive) use Fireworks (desktop app) and listen to my music on Xbox Music (Metro app). The thing is that I can now choose where and how I want to interact with all of them.
How? This is particularly difficult knowing the big app problem right now on Windows. Let’s analyze this.
From my research I see three big categories of applications. We’ll name them Classic, Modern and Hybrid.
Classic apps are your good ol’ Desktop apps that you’ve been using since, well Windows. The majority of them are a freely resizable quadrilateral with 1:1 pixel content that can be minimized to the Windows Taskbar, maximized to fit the screen or simply closed thanks to a standard three button on the top right. The standard navigation is a top menu bar and right-click contextual menu. The apps can be rearranged by moving and resizing the windows on top of an empty canvas zone called the Desktop.
Modern apps, commonly referred as Metro applications, are the full screen apps that everyone can download out of the Windows Store. Modern applications are flexible on pixel density, size allocated on screen and even some with screen resolution. The standard navigation is a scrollable horizontal panorama of content or a sidebar focused layout. The right click or border swipe gesture brings a hidden menu and options bar on the top and bottom of the app. The apps can be rearranged by sharing the screen space with a vertical separator that can be multiplied for more apps simultaneously. The separators can also be moved around so, one app could take 40% of the screen while the other two shares 30% of it.
Hybrid apps are the interesting ones. Skype for example exists as a Classic application and a Modern application. So as of now, you can load Skype on the Desktop and on Metro at the same time and access two very different apps simultaneously, each with their own notification system and design language. Same with Internet Explorer, you can actually open 2 tabs on the Classic app and the Metro app will be like a completely different app that has no idea that he exists with the same name and mission next door. This is a big problem, but a big opportunity!
Then we have two environments. We’ll call them the Desktop and Metro.
The Desktop environment is basically Windows 7. Take everything you know and love about Windows 7, make it a tad faster and better with improved file management, a more powerful Task Manager and some refined menus and complete it with a kill of the classic Start Menu and there you have the Windows 8 Desktop app. Yes I said Desktop app. You see the Desktop now isn’t the main interface of Windows anymore, they decided that our good ol’ Desktop is more of a place where you will go inside of a new Windows where you want to use all your pesky old ugly Classic applications.
The Metro environment is the raison d’être of Windows 8; the reason for this whole debacle and confusion. Metro is a modern looking touch-optimized experience that is taking over Windows. The design language with vivid flat colors, generous spacing and big typography doesn’t need to be limited to a touch interface, in fact it looks great in numerous Classic apps that are adopting it. Yet, the Metro environment is the only part of Windows that got the redesign memo and they built the whole thing on top of the existing Desktop. You’ll go through that environment with a lot of “finger” and gesture navigation like the Charms bar where you can access a lot of settings, search and interact with the OS and the app you are currently using. It’s a great idea… as long as you’re not on the Desktop or using a Classic app.
That’s where the whole experience breaks down: Metro is trying to be a superior entity on top of Windows.
Metro is treated like it’s the core of Windows; that everything is attached to and passes through it. The Desktop in Windows 7 gave you a single level where you could access all your files, apps and settings, but since Metro can’t really replace your Desktop yet, because Microsoft didn’t work out a way to use the Classic apps in it, you’re now stuck with two levels to access everything in your computer. The whole Desktop including your Classic apps is now considered an app inside of Metro; that is messed up!
When you’re multitasking inside your Desktop, you’re using a couple of floating windows as usual. When you’re multitasking with a Modern app though, well half of your screen is, let’s say, my Mint.com app and the other half is the whole Desktop environment with all your Classic apps inside of it.
The whole Desktop is a Modern app and treated equally as your Music or Calendar application... and all of the Classic apps are stuck inside of it.
Since Windows runs everywhere, mouse and keyboard users are stuck using weird click top-to-bottom gestures to close Modern apps the Metro way and tablet users needs to aim at a tiny icon to close a Classic app the Desktop way.
Adding insult to injury, Hybrid applications do not communicate in any way since they run in completely separate environments. So if you open a tab in IE Desktop and you use Skype Desktop, your tabs will be completely different on the Metro app and you will receive the calls in both environments at the same time because they’re completely independent.
Where are your files in all of that? Technically… they’re on the Desktop level because Metro does not have a File Explorer. Yes, Metro is the main environment on top of everything, the Desktop is an app inside of it that runs other apps and your files are on this level because the top level can only interact with them without any way to properly manage them…
DOS applications ran in a window to fit the new way Windows managed applications back then, they adapted and were treated as they really were: Different and older, yes, but another app on your machine nonetheless. Windows 8 is a blindfold to the past to move as quickly as possible to a new world and generation of computers. A brilliant idea and concept, simply poorly executed because they didn’t offer a smooth transition or simply took the time to find a way to integrate those apps with the new Windows. Imagine putting aside Windows 95 to use a full screen DOS interface to use your old important apps, that’s what they did here.
Look, I’m not revolutionizing the world here, in fact it’s quite an inelegant solution. But it works! And even if it’s not the nicest thing in the world, I think that it would work great because we’re respecting the 5 rules/laws established previously: Users are happy, Microsoft is still in their strategy and you can get there easily from the current version of Windows, 8.1.
If I’m using a mouse, I don’t want a touch interface, but as of now you need that touch interface for some of the apps. If I’m using a touchscreen, I don’t want to pass through a pointer interface, but you don’t have the choice to get through the pointer interface to use some of the apps. An app is an app. Modern apps are no better than Classic apps and by that same logic Metro is no better than the Desktop.
So why not separate the Metro and Desktop interface, put them on the same level and you choose how you want to interact with all of those apps. Yes some of them are not optimized for a touchscreen or a pointer, but do you need to be stuck in an unoptimized interface on top of that?
“That wouldn’t work because those apps are not designed to be used like that!”
I understand that point of view, but the basic requirements to adapt these apps for their opposite environment isn’t that big.
Modern apps need gestures. You can already use a Modern app with your mouse and keyboard, the problem is killing the Charms bar gesture. This is why you add all of the Charms on the top beside the Classic “Close, Maximize, Minimize” buttons. They are already resizable (just change your screen resolution you’ll see) and worst case you make them snap during the app resize between a set of different sizes (a balance between the different screen resolution the Modern app can run and adapt in and the different layouts from the snap multitasking resizing). There you go, you can now interact with a Modern app in a window in the Desktop.
Classic apps are even easier to adapt to the Metro environment. When using the snap multitasking, you will just maximize the Classic application inside its designated space either 20%, 40%, 50%, etc. of the screen. You don’t need to minimize the app, you don’t need to maximize the app and you already have a gesture in Metro to close applications.
Give Metro a File Explorer, let it interact with files, folders and devices its own way. Get rid of the Charms bar and Start Screen for Desktop users, give them that nice design and Live Tiles, but in an interface that suits their navigation devices and guide your users in the process to make sure they understand what’s happening and where they should be.
There you go, everyone is happy now. You can switch between both environments at any time and your apps will follow. So, I’m on my Surface Pro 2 using all my windows on a 1:1 scale when working, but when I need to move, I switch to the Metro tablet interface, everything gets scaled up and it’s easier to interact with them on-the-go or leaned back.
My mother is getting used to the Desktop now, she doesn’t need to know that Metro exists!
You want to sell tablets that can compete with Android and Apple, show consumers that they can use it as a tablet and only a tablet if they want to.
How will this solution look and feel like? Let me show you.
(Some screenshots might feel like Windows is a bit big for 1920x1080. Please remember that this is on a Surface Pro 2 with a 10.6 inch screen so scaling is an important factor here.)
WINDOWS 8.2 BY JAY MACHALANI
Let’s begin with the installation process!
So to be honest, I think the installation process of Windows 8 is wayyyyy better than any other versions of Windows. The steps are clean, simple and easy to go through. I just want to add two important steps.
First, an environment selection screen that actually explains both of them. It’s important for the users to understand that there’s two environments on their computer and which one is best for them. Simple examples, illustrations and put the best one by default if it’s a tablet or a laptop/PC. Also, add a simple list on the top to show users where they are in the setup process. Just a little recommendation to show the users what’s coming in the process and how many steps are remaining.
Second, a “don’t worry” screen. With Windows 8.1 you added a new Help and Tips section, great! But, in your head you though that the users who will have some troubles using your operating system will know by themselves that there is a help section between all those multicolored bright squares, the exact squares that are scaring them, not so great. Tell them that there’s a big nice orange rectangle filled with tips if they need help. If they look at the Start Screen and they’re lost, they’ll remember that orange rectangle and they’ll look for it. They won’t really need to do that since “Open the Help app after the installation” is checked by default. In case they uncheck it, they’ll know it’s still there.
Here it is! The Desktop we all love. Now I think that Windows 7 nailed the Desktop and since this project is about fixing Windows 8 and not refining/rethinking it, I did some simple obvious modifications to our beloved environment. The Desktop will now use the color from your personalization settings. In the future why not sync the color between your PC, tablet, phone and Xbox; that would be awesome! The time, date and icons got a little bigger and makes it easier for the users with a super small/dense screen like me with my Surface Pro 2 or even my Dell XPS 12. You can pin Classic, Modern and Hybrid apps on the Taskbar. If you’re wondering why there’s a padding or dead zone around the Taskbar you will see that this is an aesthetic choice first, but there’s a feature behind this. Of course, an option to disable it would be there and some shots even have the dead zone disabled to show it.
The File Explorer in Windows 8 looks like crap. You’re pushing flat digital design and I’m still seeing Vista-inspired 3D super icons from the WOW era of Windows (remember when you failed to deliver the awesome Longhorn concept with WinFS). Also, keep that ribbon closed by default, it works and looks great with just the titles. Every folder and detail will use your chosen color for a uniform design with the exception of the main folders, special folders and SkyDrive. I’m taking the same app colors you used in the Modern version of the corresponding app and making it standard across the OS. Your Videos folder and Xbox Video app now uses the same color for subtle reconnaissance. Otherwise, it’s the best File Explorer out there and one of the big reason I couldn’t live with OS X. Sorry guys, but when I save a file and I need bigger icon previews, there’s no way I go in a sub menu to change it, I want my CTRL+MOUSE WHEEL shortcut!
Here’s some more shots of the Desktop and File Explorer adapting to your wallpaper or chosen color.
Oh boy here we go: I brought the Start Menu back. If we want to separate the Desktop and Metro environment we need a way for each of them to access apps, files and basic features like search, notifications and settings. Since we need to kick out the Metro Start Screen and Charms bar from the Desktop, let’s just bring back the good ol’ Start menu that worked so good for all these years. If you hate it, who cares, you’ll be in the Metro environment anyways! This is not the old Start Menu, so please give me a chance to explain the idea here. You can make it bigger or smaller, pin your apps and live tiles, resize them, get a quick access to the Classic apps Jumplist (loved that feature from Windows 7), access the notification center, settings, power options and search. It makes sense. Give Windows 8 to any regular user that show him how to shut down his/her computer through a gesture to open a sidebar with three menus and his reaction will be my proof. Everything is there and easy to access and click, we’re following all of the rules and you still get that Modern/Metro touch. Everybody wins.
The new Start Menu would be very flexible. You want it smaller, no problem. You want it to take half of your screen to make sure you get all the information you need through Live Tiles goodness like a dozen of stock market Tiles, no problem. You want the thing to be horizontal and give you all the recent thing you used on Windows like apps, people or search queries, no problem. Microsoft killed the Start menu because it wasn’t flexible enough and didn’t play nice with the new Modern vision. Why kill it when you can adapt it!
Personally, I think that it looks awesome. A modern, clean and flexible interface for work and play. Here you can see that I plugged my Nokia Lumia 920 and I have a quick access to the different folders and battery/storage information. Again, keeping the colors for documents, music, videos, etc.
So that’s it for the Desktop. There’s a lot more that could be done, but remember the objective here is to bring Windows 8 to a workable level, to get a solid base to build on and improve. Let’s leave the Desktop and switch to the Metro environment shall we?
Here we are in the Metro environment! I highly recommend that you watch the video above to get a feel of both environments and see how you transition between them. Lots of little details, but in a quick and swift fashion. This is a pretty standard Metro environment with the exception of some apps redesigned here and there, better padding and alignment and a more defined look. On my Surface Pro 2, running in the “default” scaled version I only have 3 rows of medium sized tiles which I found too little. But, running in the “smaller” version which is native 1080p, the 5 rows of medium sized tiles makes everything super small on screen and unpleasant as a tablet. I use the “smaller” native 1080p because I like more information and space to place everything, but I honestly believe that 4 rows of icons like pictured above is the perfect balance/density for the Start Screen. Users should have more control over this. There’s a new File Explorer icon which opens a Metro File Explorer, because that’s an obvious thing to do if you don’t want to see the Desktop and access/manage files easily on your tablet. Compared to the current Start Screen all the tiles are flat and without gradients. If you push a new design language, make it uniform through all of your platforms and stick to it entirely.
If we scroll to the right side, we can see the new “Computer” section at the end of the Start Screen. From there you have a better view and access at your computer’s file structure and what is currently plugged on it. Remember, Metro must now be independent of the Desktop, so that’s needed! My super Lumia 920 is taking advantage of the Live Tiles and showing me information about my device.
Let’s open the Charms bar. First, let me ask who’s the guy at Microsoft who decided that’s it’s acceptable for tablet users to fall back to the Desktop to poke at the tiny battery icon in the Taskbar just to know the battery level. Get his UX/UI license NOW! Now you can tap on it to get the obviously required and important information right there in Metro from any app through the Charms bar. A new addition is the Notification Center. On the Desktop you can check your Notifications from an icon in the Start Menu and on Metro, right from the Charms bar. That is the same Notification icon used on the Xbox One and it should be a standard icon for all Microsoft devices now. Windows Phone, you’re next. You can rearrange them, flick them away or dismiss all of them. If you don’t have any notification, the whole panel disappears with an option in settings to go check the history.
The Metro environment, like the Desktop, would be very customizable. From the dead zones, titles, transparency of the back shading and of course, color.
The dead zones is mostly an aesthetic choice that can be deactivated in case you want a very dense experience over a more breathing one. On the Metro environment through it serves a little purpose. In the Desktop you can switch between apps with the ALT+TAB command and you can see which apps are open and active with the Taskbar. On Metro I added some little details to complete that experience for the finger world. The left sidebar, currently in Windows 8 and 8.1, is great for multitasking and switching between apps, but nothing really took the job of the Taskbar. Now in the left dead zone you can have a small preview of the number of apps running and their color as an indicator. Think of it like a Metro Taskbar. You can take a quick look at them with a small swipe and go to the app by throwing it towards the middle of the screen. To complete that experience, Tiles of running applications have a white bar on their right side to show that they are currently open and running.
So we now have a great Desktop and a great Metro environment that can work without any need of the other. The last aspect that needs to be taken care off is application behavior in and between those two environments.
Here we go!
Classic apps works as they always did in the Desktop, a simple window to move around and resize, controlled with the top right buttons.
On Metro though, they are maximized and they will take the space you will give them. If you’re multitasking with another app the Metro way, the application will be “resized” to the space you will allocate to that application. The top right buttons are now gone since there is no minimize or maximize feature in Metro and you do a downward swipe to close the app. The application might look blurry, but that is because in my settings I set that all apps by default run in 150% DPI scaling because of my Surface pixel density. Since the app does not support additional scaling it looks blurry, but on my Surface, it looks way better than an app running in 1:1 pixel with ridiculously tiny controls to poke with my finger. My Desktop is for work with full pixel density and I switch to Metro when I’m moving around so I want bigger controls and text.
Here’s a Modern app on the Desktop. Some apps could be a little bit taller to accommodate the new required buttons, others like games could simply fade the buttons in when you’re approaching your cursor. Since a Charms bar in the Desktop is out of the question, the 4 required buttons to access settings, search and sharing are added on top. If an app does not require one of those buttons, they can be removed for that app. ModernMix brought that functionality to the current users of Windows 8, but since you’re still stuck with all of the other problems, 2 environments and a weird Charms bar opening in the individual app window in the Desktop, it feels more like a bad hack than a workable solution. The minimize, maximize and close buttons are also added on the top right. You can resize the application by grabbing the bottom right corner and the app could be set to either freely resize or snap to certain sizes mimicking the way the app would change depending on the users screen resolution. If you resize the width of the app, it would behave the same as if you gave it less space in the Metro multitasking, thus changing its layout to adapt to the new size. I understand that modern apps are not designed to work in a Desktop, but this is far more acceptable that being stuck running it full screen and losing Desktop space for a single Modern app.
I don’t know what you think about this, but I personally think that it looks great and it would work great and from my research this is the best quick and elegant solution. The Steam app might feel a bit blurry, but this is because I wanted that app to be a bit bigger in my Desktop. Per-app scaling would be a blessing. 2 Modern apps and a Classic app living together in harmony on the Desktop. I would still recommend that Microsoft adds Classic applications in the Store and that the Store app itself becomes an Hybrid application with a design made for the Desktop and pointer interaction.
When switching between environments the transition is very smooth.
Apps will grow into the allocated space based on the active application on the Desktop; the active application will have more screen space. The multitasking separator now takes your OS color and will be closer to the active application.
P.S. I’d love an option where I can change the way background applications looks like. I find that it’s nicer when your active application is more visible. Again and again, give more control and options to the users, you can’t go wrong doing that!
Last but not least, Hybrid applications. Hybrids are awesome and Microsoft needs to open an API for this. Get ALL the apps in your Store including Classic apps and give developers the tools they need to easily push this kind of application. On the left we have the MetroTwit app running as a Classic version and on the right Classic Skype. Look where I am and what I’m doing in those apps. Let’s press the Start button for a couple of seconds and…
…voila! They are now running as Modern applications in Metro and I can continue what I was doing in an app better designed for the environment I’m now in.
Give the option for individual DPI (scaling) settings for every app.
I don’t care if Steam is bigger, but my designs apps needs to stay with 1:1 pixels. Same goes for some Metro apps that I want bigger for ease of use and some denser for more information on screen. On top of the general DPI setting with “smaller” and “bigger” add an individual option for all apps in their Settings menu. I like having 1080p worth of Live Tiles on my Start Screen with 5 rows, but it sucks to use the Metrotube app in 1080p that crams everything super small on the top left, same with Facebook (what’s wrong with your font guys?).
Don't be shy with information
I don’t know what the designers at Microsoft are thinking, but it’s better to give a lot more information about how to use your new OS (and make sure you can turn off the help tips if you don’t need them) than less. Windows 8.1 made it a tiny bit better with a great help section, but far far from acceptable since they don’t even guide the users there; they need to figure out that somewhere there’s help. At least, like shown on top, show them where they can find help. Help your users!
Fix Xbox Music
Xbox Music is awesome, yet flawed. There is no reason for the same song from the same album to be listed multiple times. And then -poof- one day it gives me an error when I want to play it from my collection and I have to delete it and go get that same song back from another “version” whatever that means. Also, there is no reason in this world why my Windows Phone shouldn’t download automatically every new song I add from the website or my computers. For me to manually download every song, be stuck with cloud play or to wait to sync with my computer is unacceptable. And please, when I download an album on my Windows Phone, add it to my Xbox Music collections! If you’re not sure how to please all users… give the option, you have a settings zone made just for that! And please fix all of the glitches, pauses between songs and frozen tracks on all your apps. P.S. Bring back the awesome Zune “Now Playing” cover art and visualizations!
Optimize Microsoft Office
Sorry, but I doesn’t make any sense that Word 2013 freezes on me for 30 seconds every time I open a document, on all my computers. Maybe it’s Adobe, maybe my HP Printer, I don’t care! Optimize your software on multiple computers because I tried all of your tips and tricks online and it still hangs and stops responding at every document I open and I have to wait in from on my screen like an idiot for Word to unfreeze to continue working. It doesn’t make sense for 3 different super computers including one of your own (Surface Pro 2) to freeze with your flagship software.
Simple productivity tips
When I have a notification on my desktop I have to aim for the little tiny “X” on the top right of the notification. Now, I understand that on a touchscreen it’s fairly easy to just toss it away on the side, but with a mouse and keyboard it’s frustrating. Right clicking on a notification does absolutely nothing right now, why can’t you map that to “close”. Same with the Start Screen, you have to aim the tiny little arrow to access the apps page, why can’t you do a simple shortcut like double clicking between the tiles (anywhere around) to go to the apps view. Or the picture password screen where typing doesn’t change anything, but I still have to get out and switch to PIN or password input if I want to use those...why not let me just use my PIN when I’m in front of the picture password if the keys aren’t being used anyways. Simple tricks like that enhance the experience because they’re quick little productivity shortcuts that help the everyday and does no harm since these shortcut does not affect regular operation.
Give more options.
If you’re unsure about a feature, functionality, look or anything else about Windows, give the users a switch for it. You learned this the hard way with the default boot to Start Screen Metro, just give all users an option for it, NEVER force something down users’ throats. It isn’t failure if a user falls back to an old way that does no harm, in fact it’s a win since you can please a broader audience at the same time. Facebook should learn from this!
Check the Sleep/Wake button behavior.
My Surface Pro 2 has this weird thing where I have no idea what’s happening. I press the sleep/wake button to wake up the device, but it stays black for like 5 seconds. So, I press back on the button because I think that it didn’t get it the first time, but now nothing happens like if it was actually waking up, but now I sent it back to sleep. Sometimes I play that wake/sleep/wake game for a good minute! Make it faster or at least light up the screen immediately to tell the user that the Surface is waking up. I had the same problem with my Dell XPS 12. Turning on and off my Surface Pro 2 is sometimes faster than getting in and out of sleep mode.
Check for weird application behavior.
I open the Facebook app and sometimes I will click on comments on a post to see them and the little box will just stay white. If I click on my messages to chat, they will simply not load. Closing and reopening the app doesn’t fix the problem and I have to restart the whole computer. Now I don’t care if the issue isn’t from your side (I’m sure it is since apps gets weird when coming back from sleep mode from time to time), but find a way to fix or optimize it. People will still blame you on the lacking experience, especially when the majority of consumers have a list of apps in their head and not the general greatness of your device. Your own apps are having problems too! When a webpage does not load on Metro IE always searching, but it loads in a heartbeat on Desktop Chrome, that’s an issue and your whole OS something feels unreliable.
Explore the Xbox One/Windows 8 link.
I want to plug my computer through the Xbox One. I could be writing this and then shout “Xbox, play Battlefield 4” and switch between my work and play in seconds. I’m sure there’s a LOT that could be done if your Windows 8 PC is plugged in the HDMI IN of the Xbox. That’s an idea to explore because it could bring some huge amazing features!
Check your Surface Covers “reset”.
The Type Cover 2 on my Surface Pro 2 is amazing, too bad since I loved the feel of the Touch Cover especially when I’m flipping it for tablet use. Great stuff, but why is my touchpad unresponsive sometimes… for no reason. It really breaks the magic to unclick and click back the cover.
…but you already know all the problems and you’re fixing it, so keep going!
Call Windows RT, Windows Lite.
I know you will hate that because Lite means cheaper or less… but that’s what Windows RT is. By changing the name to Windows Lite at least it will explain what the OS on your tablet is just with the name and it fits nicely too with the rest!
Windows 8 Lite
Windows 8 Pro
Windows 8 Enterprise
It’s super easy to say “Windows 8 Lite is the Windows you love with thousands of your favorite apps in the Windows Store”. Of course the “Lite” moniker says that’s it’s a version with less features, but you’re still WAYYY ahead of iOS in terms of function so you’re good!
Kill the forced update restart.
If there’s an update I want Windows to tell me, but I don’t want to be annoyed by it. Limit your alerts (that blocks the whole damn screen on top of that) to once per session and use the regular notification format too. Also, it does not make any sense for me to “Restart to update”. When you’re asking a user to restart for an update it means that he’s actually using the computer and you want him to close and stop everything for Windows to apply the update. Why do you wait to the point that it’s critical in order to offer the “Update and Shut Down” option… this is the time where you’re done with the computer and you don’t really care if it updates. And please, kill the forced update alert with the countdown sequence where I clearly say LATER (because there’s no other option) and that you take it as an “All right then, in 15 minutes in the middle of your work, close everything and update! Got it!” Whoever decided that this is a good idea should be revoked from his UX Designer license. I know that doesn’t exist, but idiotic decisions/mistakes like that calls for a big push with this idea.
I really hate conclusions. They’re supposed to close perfectly everything you described, wrote and showed on top of it, but I don’t think that one is necessary for this research project slash design exercise. Microsoft needs a separate group of designers testing the product and getting all of the inconsistencies. That same group could also focus on advanced UX research and product development. Think of Pioneer Studios… but this time make sure that they work with Microsoft products, services and plans. You have a lot of talented people, but when I point out some simple problems in the OS like completely different looking dialog menus between the Search bar and the sorting options in the “All Apps” view and that can’t even be fixed, you have a big problem. Your competitor is charging more for a childish looking OS that can’t even run two things at the same time or even give any kind of useful information through the stretch iPod Touch interface. The day they will use all of their great Apple powers to design amazing things and not iterate to generate more cash, you need to be prepared. Consummers are getting more intelligent and more informed and they’re buying less and less Apple products. The day Apple will demonstrate their superiority again, it’s not with the current version of Windows that you’ll be convincing. iOS has all the apps so at least compensate with a flawless interface. It works for me, but I am not the majority nor the target. And of course let’s not talk about Google, they have Matias Duarte and the Android ecosystem is growing excessively fast: you’ll get in big trouble pretty soon if you don’t move your asses!
By the way… If you’re an Apple user/fan and you’re reading all of my rant and you’re saying to yourself “Whew! That’s why I use iOS and OS X”, trust me, I find those two way worse and annoying and this is why I went back to Microsoft’s world. I know where my place is now, but if I can do anything to improve my place even if it’s a single little detail, then this is all worth it. To all users always whining about Microsoft’s decisions, just think about it for a second. If they try to innovate and do things differently, you whine. When they listen to your feedback and revert the changes you say that they don’t know what they’re doing. So please, say something constructive or be quiet. It will sound funny, but the Apple forum at The Verge actually helped me a LOT. Whining gets nowhere, explaining your opinion actually does something.
I use Office, Xbox Music, Xbox Live, Skype Premium, Windows 8, a Surface Pro 2, even Azure, Windows Phone and soon getting an Xbox One on top of my 360, so I want to improve the stuff I use and help the people who’s trying to innovate. Microsoft this is all yours, please take all of it. In case the whole world hates my ideas and designs, please ignore all of this. If they do like it though, I will accept a nice big check with my name on it or you know Microsoft money… I really want to get the new Xbox One with a nice collection of digital games!
Now what will be my on-the-side project? Fixing Windows Phone? Fixing iOS? Designing Windows 9? For now it’ll be sleeping…
You can download all of the JPEGs in better quality right here.
You can also check the links on the side (or top for mobile) for my Twitter, Facebook page and YouTube channel!
UX/UI & Branding Architect
Thanks to Tom Warren from The Verge, users of The Verge forums,
My friend Carl Caron for some good ideas,
The wallpaper featured is from the great Jan Thoma called "Blue Mountains". It can be found on InterfaceLIFT.
Go check out MetroTwit of an amazingly designed Classic and Modern app,
Andrew Howell from Microsoft helping me with some very useful research material
...and eventually Rami Sayar from Microsoft the day you will have 5 minutes to respond to my emails.