Microsoft Re-Updates: The Start Button in Windows 8.1

Chris Sams, April 23, 2013

Many of us voiced our displeasure with the unfriendly and awkward interface in Windows 8.  Our voices have certainly been heard.  Microsoft’s most recent operating system brought with it myriad navigation changes that many described (lightly, I might add) as having “a steep learning curve.”  The lack of a start bar was enough to keep myself and all my Windows-wielding cohorts from installing the new OS.  A Google search for the phrase “Windows 8 is terrible” yields 254,000,000 results, and that is a long-tail keyword.  Now, Microsoft is seeing their mistake and assuring users that the historically ubiquitous Start Bar will be returning in the next round of Windows 8 updates.  Hooray.

Honestly, from the moment I saw it, I knew Windows 8 would never grace my hard drive.  I am sensibly opposed to fixing anything that is not broken.  There was no reason for Microsoft to completely re-brand themselves during the development of Windows 8.  Of course, I do not mean to stifle innovation, but the Windows 8 interface is not remotely ‘next-gen.’  It looks like the Zune interface (which is simply a modified Xbox 360 interface) more than anything.  I would never describe it as revolutionary.  Just look at a side-by-side comparison of each navigation panel:

The Zune, Windows 8 and Xbox 360 GUIs, respectively.

The Zune, Windows 8 and Xbox 360 GUIs, respectively.

Each GUI is a simple handful of boxes laid out in a grid with labels; frankly, they look like they’ve been designed for children, considering the simplicity and geometric orientation.  The negative public outcry has prompted Microsoft to bring back our beloved and familiar Start Bar.

The question many are asking is: “How could Microsoft repeat a blunder of this scale after all of the mistakes they’ve had the opportunity to learn from?”  My best guess: Microsoft misinterpreted customer data from console gamers and touch device users as applicable to the PC user; the end result was an interface designed for touchscreens and consoles being implemented on non-touch, non-console devices (PCs).

Window 8’s interface is clearly designed to be touchscreen-friendly, despite most PCs lacking touchscreen functionality.  The result: users are unable to efficiently navigate the system because there is no touchscreen.  Those users become quickly frustrated; they revert to their old operating system or switch to a different OS, or simply return their device for a different one.  Why would Microsoft let such an incredible error in judgment pass through their testing phases?  They claim they had positive customer feedback to back up their decision.  This is where we see Microsoft become victims of their subjective interpretation of data.

I believe Microsoft had excellent customer feedback from users on touchscreen-enabled PCs using Windows 8.  I also believe there was a failure in properly testing and collecting feedback on Windows 8 for non-touchscreen systems. The end result of those two suppositions (if true) would absolutely skew the data in favor of Windows 8, and lead directly to the current dilemma of unhappy users who want their traditional functionality restored.

Conclusively, I think that Windows 8 developers are bringing back the start bar in their next round of updates because their product testing team made an astounding error and are cleaning up the mess.  It would not be the first time an operating system escaped the Microsoft offices ill-equipped for widespread implementation.

Microsoft’s developers got lazy and used a touch-friendly interface as the primary navigation system for an operating system intended for non-touch devices.  After the positive feedback they received on the interfaces for the Xbox 360 and the Zune, they mistakenly assumed that it was the interface, not the high-quality devices and excellent third-party developers, that were responsible for their success.

They thought they could reclaim their slipping market share by copying their console and touch-device successes to the PC.  To their dismay, those successes were dependent on the design of the device and the extensive third-party development and support.  They mistakenly removed a part of the trademark functionality of Windows from the new OS, which led to widespread confusion in the PC world for users who bought a Windows 8 device expecting familiarity

With all that, at least they have realized their error and are making strides to repair the situation before it falls apart irreparably like a balsa-wood kite in a hurricane.  You can never do anything great without making a few mistakes, Microsoft has proven that hundreds of times over.  It is always their loss (and our gain) that the microscope of the internet will find and publicize their every misstep.  It forces them to bow to their clients or risk fading into obscurity in the face of Google and Apple’s next-generation technology and shiny marketing campaigns.

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