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Microsoft addresses Windows 8 UX feedback

In an incredibly in-depth blog post Microsoft has responded to feedback from users of its Windows 8 Developer Preview and describes changes made to the next-generation operating system's user interface as a direct result.

Windows 8 is a major departure for Microsoft: ignoring back-end changes, including the landmark addition of support for devices based on British chip giant ARM's processor architecture, it has some major changes to the user interface.

While previous releases of Windows have been more or less iterative since Windows 95 - the first consumer-level operating system to introduce the now-iconic 'Start' menu - with minor changes such as the addition of transparency or general layout, Windows 8 brings with it an entirely new user interface: Metro.

Designed as the primary interface for the OS, Metro is based on the user interface developed for the Windows Phone smartphone platform. When the Windows 8 Developer Preview dropped - for many, the first chance to actually try the new user interface out - Microsoft was hit by a flood of complaints, with users claiming that the new interface slows things down and is too focused on touch-screen devices to the detriment to users still relying on an old-fashioned mouse.

In what is possibly the longest post in the history of the MSDN Blog network, Windows 8 UX engineer Marina Dukhon has addressed many of the issues raised and explains some of the changes being made to the operating system's user interface based on the feedback.

"Based on your feedback, one of the things that we’re doing to make it faster to get to All Programs is to take you directly to the Apps screen when you click Search in the desktop," Dukhon writes. "This potentially removes another step from this task, making it even more efficient in Windows 8 to launch an app from the desktop relative to Windows 7. Another thing that we’re doing is increasing the number of rows of tiles that you can see on large monitors so that you can fit even more of your favorite apps closer to your mouse and make it faster to launch apps than before."

To back up the points made, Dukhon provides a wealth of information used in the development of Windows 8's new UI: heatmaps provide an at-a-glimpse view of roughly how quickly applications can be accessed, Fitts' Law is invoked along with the Shannon formulation, and a diagram explains the thinking behind the slightly odd layout of the Windows 8's new Start Screen.

Some of the feedback - such as how difficult it is to find a particular application in an alphabetical list when you can't quite remember its name - has already resulted in direct changes, while other feedback is being discussed internally.

"Our intention is to build on the unprecedented transparency we provide in building Windows and to bring you inside the development of the product," writes Dukhon in explanation of the in-depth post. "By now you can see that building Windows 8 is a complex endeavor with tons of variables and choices to be made, lots of data, and in considering all that, we go through a great deal of work when making even the smallest change.

"We simply love the dialogue we're having with you, and the opportunity to describe the depth of the work we do to bring you Windows. All of us on the Windows team are devoting our professional careers to building a great product, and so the opportunity to talk with passionate and informed people about the details of what we do is itself an added bonus," Dukhon concludes.

The full post - along with the even longer list of comments it has gathered from developers and other Windows-watchers - can be found over on the Building Windows 8 Blog.

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