Is Microsoft's Metro UI the real problem?

Microsoft's phone and tablet market shares remain stuck in single digits, which suggests Windows 8's difficulties go beyond the mishmash of Metro and Desktop UIs

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Simply put, gestures are a problem with the Metro UI. Here's how the UI expert Jakob Nielsen put it in a post last November:

The tablet version of Windows 8 introduces a bunch of complicated gestures that are easy to get wrong and thus dramatically reduce the UI's learnability. If something doesn't work, users don't know whether they did the gesture wrong, the gesture doesn't work in the current context, or they need to do a different gesture entirely. This makes it hard to learn and remember the gestures. And it makes actual use highly error-prone and more time-consuming than necessary.

As an extreme example, Nielsen mentions the gesture to reveal the list of currently running applications, which requires a sort of finger pirouette. Me, I find creating a new group of tiles a little taxing. The first step -- dragging a tile all the way to the right until a gray bar appears -- can be tricky. Nor would I have randomly guessed that zooming out and swiping down would serve up an option to name that group.

I could go on. Few users seem to like the Metro version of IE10 and its minimalist UI with URLs arbitrarily on the bottom. Fewer still like the Metro Xbox Music app. Plus, Bing gets pushed in your face a lot, and as CITEworld's Matt Rosoff pointed out recently, Bing still can't hold a candle to Google search.

There's more, but it's not necessary to the obvious conclusion: Metro itself is an inhibitor to Windows 8 adoption, not just the mashup of Metro and desktop.

Tweaks and promises

Windows 8.1 (aka Windows "Blue") addresses some of the drawbacks -- for example, 8.1 adds the ability to sort tiles by most used, date, and category. Of course IE11 is on its way, along with improvements to other fundamental Metro apps, including the Xbox Music app.

To be fair, I have little doubt that some of the resistance to Metro is simply because the UI is truly new. Microsoft partisans shriek loudly that those who refuse to spend time learning their way around Metro are simply Luddites who are too blind to see the beauty of a fabulously fresh UI.

Perhaps. But to get users to climb any learning curve, you need a reward at the end of the rainbow. Today, Metro apps do not exactly amount to a pot of gold -- and as yet we've seen little sign that third-partly developers will flock to a platform that has yet to prove itself in the marketplace.

This article, "Is Microsoft's Modern UI the real problem?," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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