Windows 8 wasn’t Made for the Power User (and that’s OK)

A few days ago I read a great article  called “Screw the Power Users” that stressed the importance of catering to the majority of your potential customers. My first thoughts when I read this article were of Apple’s recent changes to Final Cut Pro, where they simplified the popular professional video editing software and enraged its loyal base of “Pro” users. Even software so blatantly targeted towards the higher end market had been dumbed down to allow a larger audience to enjoy its benefits.

But Final Cut Pro was not the main comparison I drew; Windows 8 was. Microsoft’s bold reimagining of the prized software is causing an uproar among tech enthusiasts. Windows has been accused of betraying the power user, forcing a Metro-styled Start Screen on those that only wished to dwell in the Desktop app. Despite the myth of lost productivity being refuted, users still claim that Metro is a downgrade and serious PC users should skip Windows 8. If you believe the OS will become a burden and wish to skip this release… that’s ok.

You’re a power user. You know every keyboard shortcut in the book. Navigating Windows 7 is a cake walk and changing up the UI is a step backwards…for you. Windows 8 was not reimagined for you. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of delightful additions to the OS you will enjoy (the new task manager is sexy amirite?) but the majority of it was made with casual users in mind. Windows 8 as an operating system is not optimized for a desktop setup. Windows 8’s Desktop app is however. It’s only a piece of an operating system that needed to make the shift to the next inevitable form of computing: touch.

But I’m not here to argue that a touch UI is necessary for Windows to continue to thrive, Microsoft has already done a fantastic job making that point. I’m here to argue that the drastic changes Microsoft has made are necessary for this transition to work successfully. Let’s examine the two big accusations/recommendations that have come from those who feel they’re being pushed in to the Metro environment unwillingly:

  1. Bring back the old Start menu and let me boot directly to Desktop.
  2. Sell Windows RT separately from Windows 8, only using the Metro UI on tablets and having a separate version of Windows for desktop/laptop usage

These suggestions won’t work. Not because they’re technically or logistically impossible (we all know Microsoft is quite capable of releasing a plethora of versions for Windows) but because it reduces the importance of Metro applications. When all is said and done Microsoft needs to convince developers to go all in with the new Windows Store.

Windows Phone has a gorgeous UI. I constantly consider using an upgrade to ditch my iPhone 4S and snag whatever phone Nokia cooks up as the successor for the Lumia 900. But I won’t. Why? I need a phone with apps like Instagram. I need a phone with apps like Venmo. It’s all….about…the apps.  Everyone knows that’s why Windows Phone has failed to gain traction; I’m not stating anything brilliant or revolutionary. The simple fact is that Microsoft cannot afford to have developers as lukewarm about Windows Store as they are about Windows Phone Marketplace.

Tablets are going to overtake laptops/desktops sooner or later. For the VAST majority of people, their computer’s main use is for casually consuming content (email, books, video, music, news, etc.) and tablets are simply a more enjoyable experience. But right now there is no tablet market, just an iPad market. Every now and then someone will buy an Asus Transformer because Best Buy is having a sale on them but realistically, Apple has a monopoly in this product category. The reviews are in and Windows 8 is fantastic on a tablet. Any negativity I’ve read is directed towards using it with a keyboard and mouse (which I personally have found to be quite intuitive) or the jarring transitions between the Desktop app and the Start Screen. They just need apps.

I own an iPad. The applications are incredible. I couldn’t dream of living without Instapaper, HackerNode, or Simplenote. But as far as the actual system UI, it’s kinda….boring. There’s no multitasking. There’s no live app updates. Notification Center is more of an annoyance at this point than anything. I’m constantly trying to figure out if an application’s setting are located in-app or in iOS’ settings. I can only “Search Web” or “Search Wikipedia” when I need to query something using the homescreen’s search functionality. All these problems, and more, are solved within Windows 8. For me personally, Metro is a far superior experience to iOS 5. I believe it has a shot at taking a large chunk of market share from Apple but they need developers to commit to the new platform.

Microsoft has an amazing UI/UX experience lined up for consumers. They’ve got brilliant Charms that developers can tap in to, creating a constant experience across all applications. They just need those developers to take the bait and build up the platform. By “screwing the power users” Microsoft is promoting this new framework in the most aggressive way possible. They’ve taken the most popular piece of software on the planet and done something completely different. Is it bold? Yes. Is it a drastic enough change that it’s almost guaranteed to upset a vocal dedicated user base? Absolutely. Is it the right move? Only time will tell but I’m optimistic about its success.