To the usability critics, CNET has an answer:
Microsoft, a company often tarred for its lack of innovation, wasn't shooting for incremental improvements with Windows 8. The software giant embraced its new tile-based user interface for Windows to leverage its operating system hegemony to compete in new world of tablet computing where Apple's iPad is dominant.
"For Microsoft to support incremental change around a new paradigm would be suicide," Hobbs said.
For its part, Microsoft said it conducted usability tests in more than 127 countries, refining the operating system to one where users can find the information most relevant to them. And in a recent video reported by longtime Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott, Jensen Harris, director of program management for the Windows User Experience Team, acknowledged the need for a significant shift.
"Resting on familiar is the way to mediocrity," Harris said in an August presentation to user experience designers.
Nielsen told me he's not advocating modest product evolution. That has its own set of problems.
"Every time you do incremental change, you acquire crud," Nielsen said.
Former Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy famously labeled Windows as a "hairball" for all the code it amassed over the years in the name of modest improvement.
"At some point in time, you've got to make a break from the past," Nielsen said. "But you can't do it very often. That's why it's so important to make sure you get it right."
His research and analysis tells him that Microsoft didn't get it right this time, and that Microsoft should have put out one operating system for tablets and a separate one for PCs. Then again, Nielsen's research and analysis led him to pan the iPad's usability when it debuted two years ago, noting inconsistencies in the way different apps work. Of course, that didn't stop consumers from snapping up the device in eye-popping numbers.
None of this is to say that Microsoft has created the perfect operating system. Windows 8 has its flaws. Teague's Hobbs agrees with Nielsen's criticism of the potential for errors when using gestures with the tablet version of the operating system. And he thinks that the animation that announces new information, such as a news story in a specific app, can be overly distracting. Indeed, some analysts have already soured on Windows 8's prospects.
"I don't think they've got it all right by any sense," Hobbs said. "But I'd argue that Microsoft is doing some of the most interesting user interface work on the planet."
First the big, clean break--then the refinement.
Win95 --> Win98
Win2000 --> WinXP
Give it time guys.
It'll take time to absorb the big changes and distinguish between things they really got wrong and things that are merely unfamiliar.