Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen: Windows 8's "bimodal user experience" is "puzzling" and "confusing," but still a winner

If you find yourself confused by Windows 8's dueling interfaces, you're not alone. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen says that he finds its "bimodal user experience" "puzzling" and "confusing," although he ultimately thinks the operating system is a winner.

In his blog, Allen praises Windows 8's new tablet features, which he calls "particularly bold and innovative." He also finds it "snappier and more responsive than Windows 7."

But he's not quite so happy with the design of Windows 8 for both tablets and traditional PCs, what he calls a "bimodal user experience." He writes:

"I did encounter some puzzling aspects of Windows 8. The bimodal user experience can introduce confusion, especially when two versions of the same application -- such as Internet Explorer -- can be opened and run simultaneously."

He later adds that the changes in Windows 8 -- especially the dueling Start screen and Desktops, and the way that Windows 8 native apps work -- is "confusing." He points to a major issue with the apps written specifically for Windows 8 -- that there are no obvious menus for using them. He writes:

"There are no visual cues available to let the user know what features, if any, are available aside from obvious gesture-based scrolling and panning...Personally, I think it would have been nice to provide some sort of a visual cue indicating that commands are available, and how to invoke them."

Allen devotes a substantial section of his blog to what he calls the "Puzzling aspects of the Windows 8 UI," and lists many issues, such as difficulties dealing with multiple monitors, the lack of any features like the Start menu that lets you build hiearchies of apps, the difficulty of scrolling in the Desktop view on a tablet, and the general confusion between working with Windows 8 native apps and Desktop apps.

He gives solid advice on dealing with some of these issues, such as digging into the guts of Windows to modify program associations, and to change Internet Explorer's default behavior. He concludes:

"Desktop PC users, with only minor tweaks and adjustments, should be able to pick things up without much trouble. I am sure most the minor issues I pointed out will be addressed in the next release of the operating system...

"Touch seems a natural progression in the evolution of operating systems, and I'm confident that Windows 8 offers the best of legacy Windows features with an eye toward a very promising future."

Allen is on-target in detailing how Windows 8's dueling interfaces will be confusing and puzzling to users. And some of his suggestions are useful. But keep in mind that average users aren't going to be willing to dig deep into the operating system to do things like change file associations, so his advice won't be particularly useful to the average user. 

And I also disagree with his conclusion that combining the two interfaces in a single operating system was a good idea. Windows 8 on tablets is a clear winner; Windows 8 on traditional computers is not only confusing, but less useful than Windows 7. Microsoft would have been better off to follow Apple's lead and design two related operating systems: One for tablets, and one for traditional computers.

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