The Days of Microsoft Lives.

I was talking to a friend last night about the whole Microsoft fall out. It was a good laugh and the more we discussed it the more a script inside my imagination began to form. I always find myself thinking of Steve Ballmer as this bad CEO played by John Cleese who at times appears coherent and then out of nowhere the mad Ballmer shines through. The below is how I foresee the whole Sinfosky/Balmer fall out and it also touches on the absolute amazing incompetence Microsoft is currently showing around launching two flagship products – Surface & Windows Phone 8.

In all honesty if you had of asked me to come up with a script like below to sabotage the launch of these two products, even on my best day I’d not match the level of brilliance if f**king up the launch that they have done to date (hats off to that amount of failure, that requires skill).

Probably not a good idea to fire most of your Product Management team(s) prior to release though (300 or so got the boot).

 

TITLE:  The Days of Microsoft Lives

The door opens and in walks the CEO, he looks determined but still has the look of the 1980’s car salesman buried deep within.

CEO:
Alright, listen up as we have a lot to get through today. Thank you all for all the hard work you have put into the work so far, it’s been super duper exciting and I want to thank you all for the brilliance you’ve shown. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are going to be the baseline markers for our future successes.

Sinofsky:
If I may sir…

CEO:
Grab some pine Sinofsky and shut your hole.

An awkward chill flows around the room as Sinofsky slowly sits down with an expression of both embarrassment and murderous intent leveled at the CEO.

CEO:
Ok.. firstly given the huge pressure we have at making this release the biggest the will likely produce for some time I need to have our entire marketing and sales pipelines at full steam. With that, I need your resignation Sinofsky.

Sinofsky:
What the f….

CEO:
Basically not a lot of people like you and I asked you nicely awhile back to launch Windows 7 on the tablet and you wanted to play games. Well, you played and lost so with that, resign and clear your shit out by this afternoon. I also need to use you as a way to soften the upcoming failures with the board, so you may hear some things about what you did in the future, best you go along with whatever is said.

CEO:
Now, I need to split his role into two as I never want to see an executive with that much power again. It frightened me a little.

CEO points at two executives either side of Sinofsky.

CEO:
You two, yes you two you’re both in charge but in reality you’re not in charge. Speaking of executives with power, has anyone seen Scott Guthrie? … no?… Good, keep it that way as if he climbs out of that Azure hole we buried him in I want to be the first to know.

Sinofsky:
Actually, he’s doing an amazing job with it and is likely to turn that turd around into a success. I mean it has come a long way since he took over the re…

CEO:
Seriously you’re still here? … Is not there a box you should be filling…

Sinofsky:
Shouldn’t we first figure out what we are going to say to the press? I mean my leaving will create an issue for both the PR for Windows and potentially the stock price.

CEO:
You’re not that noticeable. Get packing, I will talk to the press later about it.

Sinofsky slowly gets up out of his chair and begins to walk out. Giving the CEO a glance as if to say “..this will be your undoing…”

CEO:
Next, I want marketing to blitz the entire globe with ads about Surface and Windows 8, if you can also not separate the two products I think it will help cement that Windows 8 is a tablet and OS without saying that out loud.

Marketing Guy:
Sir, wouldn’t it be prudent to ensure we keep the two separate and we also probably should discuss with supply & logistics about how we are going to supply the demand?

CEO:
What’s your name? ..Does not matter…You are fired.

Marketing Guy leaves the room crying chanting, “I knew I should keep my ideas to myself, damn it, my wife is going to kill me…” as he sobs running into a glass door.

CEO:
Market it  my way people. Next I want to also limit our purchases of Surface online and via our retail stores. It is important we look like Apple In order to beat them at their own game.

RetailStoreExec:
About that.. You know all of Apple stores are designed to reflect the environment they are housed within. In that, they really do go out of their way to work with the existing and surrounding architecture. We should really consider doing that as well as just copy their internal furn…

CEO:
You want to join the others that got fired this morning? Pick one style and keep repeating them we don’t have time to be design focused.. more stores.. supply.. make it happen.

CEO:
Can someone get in contact with Stephen Elop over at Nokia. It is time to move our timetable forward a little on Project Nokia Acquire. I want him to hold off on the Lumia 920 outside the US, if he can shorten stock orders worldwide that will surely lower the share price further for our takeover bid. Also, tell him that we got rid of Sinofsky, as he will be happy with that given Sinofsky used to always undermine him in during his Office days (builds favor you see).

OEMPartnerCVP:
Won’t that also hurt our Windows Phone 8 adoption chances? As wont most hold out for that phone given it seems to be the one with the most features?

CEO:
Yes. You are right but here is the thing: that was Sinofsky’s fault. If we can also bring moral and hearts/minds lower over the Christmas quarter I can then turn the ship around post Sinofsky leaving and make it look like I am a competent CEO and saved the day.

OEMPartnerCVP:
Sir, you realized you said that out loud right. In that, it was not your internal voice.

CEO:
I need your resignation by the end of the day. You know too much.

The camera begins to drift away from the scene with the CEO’s voice getting harder to hear but one last order is heard before the Microsoft logo fades into view.

CEO:
Has anyone seen Guthrie? .. Make sure he his kept on the back bench do not let him out of that Azure cage. He has to many people adoring his abilities and he reminds me too much of Bill… Someone call Bill and make sure he knows that he cannot fire me or I show those Polaroid’s with him & two dead hookers.

Wait…

You are all fired, you know too much now.

 

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Its time to get off the shoulders of UI giants.

In my usual daily grind, I am constantly called into variety of different projects to help out with some of the UX puzzles the teams face. All too often, it is a case of a project is already underway and the person doing the asking has this panic look of “please help us unlock this perceived usability issue”.

I take a deep breath, I think about the problem in front of me, I tap into all the years of experience I have around how one could solve this and last but the most important of all – I wait for an idea to kick in (science, experience and luck). That system has proved to be quite beneficial for me and others I’ve worked with for years until recently.

The change has occurred the day I noticed a Tablet for the first time. I’ve seen tablets for years but recently I sat down and focused my energy on one single thought – “what if Tablets replaced 100% of all PC’s / Laptops”. I am now obsessed with this thought, as while it is not going to come true in the next few years, it does force my skills into an area of unchartered and uncomfortable thinking.

Today most user interfaces have tree controls and datagrids much more often than I am comfortable with. They also have menu(s) that typically drive via the mouse and not touch as with a mouse you have more precision (perception) and a finger you don’t (along with visual black spots due to hand being in the way). This all is fine if you keep the two inputs apart and design for both individually as in the end you are solving two problems right?

Well.. I do not know if that’s a fair call to make (especially given how the desktop vs. tablet could have this transition period). I mean why can’t you build the same UI for both? The datagrid and tree control for example are holding you back but in the end if you can build a UI for touch why can’t that hold true for mouse? (ergonomics and form factors aside, just shut up and work with me here on this stream of thought).

I am thinking that we should probably start tackling the problem of solving the same UX issues we face when wanting to present users with a visual hierarchy and large data sets. I do not think the datagrid and tree controls ever solved this problem but in a way we declared a truce on it via their creation.

Tablets in my view create a unique opportunity for us all to start asking more questions like “Why do you use a Datagrid?, Why do you use Ribbon Menu? Why does Blend work on a 2D top-down design surface instead of a vanishing point perspective?. Why…why…why..”

Start challenging the stuff you assume works, as I don’t recall ever seeing a whitepaper where they outlined “We tried 115 different ways to present data and datagrids came up with a higher score?” as well, they suck and they don’t really help the user as much as say an infographic would?

Imho it’s time to get off the shoulders of our UI/UX elder giants and start doing this differently as with tablets our canvas has been somewhat wiped clean – my fear is we’ll see datagrid/tree/ribbons making an appearance on these devices (metro be damned, you’ll eventually revert back once the metro boredom kicks in).

P.S

If you find the grammar/spelling annoying use the Fix-It.  I’ve typed this on a plane and right now motion sickness is settling in from staring at the computer – must figure out why that happens.

 

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Jakob Nielsen is not your Windows 8 Guru heres why.

I can’t believe i’m about to defend Microsoft Design outloud like this. It’s not something I would normally do, however when it comes to the Jakob Nielsen Windows 8 review I just can’t stand to let it slide. Personally I think that entire company is still stuck in the past and has consistently failed to navigate change with a degree of accurate prediction since they declared Flash a fail (Oct 2000) (which translates to in principle to JavaScript based websites a fail).

Furthermore I think they rely on the idea that the end users are all collective virgin users who have never had to navigate or use bad UI in todays software environments. The fact that we as a human race can navigate even dumb solutions such as Sharepoint, Lotus Notes, SAP and a whole host of other really badly design UI indicates that we aren’t as dumb as useit.com would have us believe. Furthermore there is a huge generational change underway whereby the concept of “experienced windows users” would be fair to say my 8yr old son fits that category.

The clue is in the audience sampled as if you get that wrong the rest of the responses are just opinions based around a skewed bias (bad baseline to draw from on their part).  Here is my notes from an internal email I sent around when I was asked “what do you think of the article” from my co-workers.

NOTE: This is a raw / unedited email-centric dump. There is no grammar/ spelling so if you piss and moan about in the comments you really should step away from the computer more.

In case you suffer from TLDR – here’s the short extranous cognitive load friendly version

What the hell was that

 

My remarks:

  •  Novice and Power Users.  “Invited 12 experienced Windows users” is a weak / broad sweeping remark to make that XYZ demographic doesn’t like N-Product. Keep in mind I’m a tough critic of Windows 8’s design, but even I can concede it’s still usable whether the incentive is to use though is entirely different matter (Cognitive Dissonance measures Behavior vs. Incentive).  I would have taken him more serious if he had of used a variety of audience(s) for this (OSX users, Seniors, GenY, IT Professionals, Sales force etc) .. everyone’s experienced In Windows is my point.


Cognitive Overhead.

  • Prospective Memory – I think he’s building up to “learn where to go” and associating it as a bad thing. The concept of a desktop works in favor of prospective memory, meaning “I’ll put x here so I can come back to it later” works in the same fashion as the start overlay. Its not ideal, but to declare this a cognitive overload is an over-reach given over time (behavior) users will settle on a rhythm that suites them. If I press START and start typing my context will adjust to the text I’m typing and so on.
  •  Dual Environments –  The two environments in which he speaks of are WinRT and WinRT Pro, now the clue is in the word “Pro” firstly and it has to do with legacy support than actual user experience (context is annoying when you leave it out huh?). Tablet users won’t interact with the said duality he’s nominated so it kind of is a weak point to rest on and those that opt for the Surface Pro edition are doing so more as a finger in both pies approach to the problem at hand. If I pitched the problem that needed to be solved in that I need the user(s) to have both Windows Now and Windows vNext it shifts the results differently as if I said I need the users to solely focus on vNext only … Again, It feels more about airbrushing the facts without context (Ironic given the guy’s a usability “guru” and how context is important in ux as content).
  • Added Memory.  I see this a lot and I wonder if UX Practitioners suffer from this concept that we all suffer from sudden memory loss at any given point. I understand interruption etc plays into this but in reality we don’t multi task and phones today for example don’t have this issue – if anything given the complexity between switching from apps via navigation routines (ie iPhone double hitting the rectangle and using a slider style switch). I am baffled as to what moment of brilliance the author assumes he/she is uncovering here – I’m kind of lost between whether I dislike his point or the actual website itself’s design.

Multi Window

  •  Responsive & Adaptive Design– I think the author again (they really should sit down and study some basic design principles to articulate the points) probably wanted to say that the design of the solution isn’t responsive and/or adaptive depending on screen real estate. The said applications again don’t make full use of the screen(s) they are being deployed or used upon. I concede that this could be an issue for usage of LOB solutions but at the same time I also reject it. Having window support in today’s UI world is an absolute engineering challenge at the best of times and furthermore buy having to adhere and cater to this we in turn limit our future potential by sticking to the ye olde side by side window usage. As it now begs the question, why are two applications side by side if they are related?  If we have a forcing function which puts emphasis on a single screen visualization would this not cut down on fragmented software delivery? What if the snap screen concept could be more broader in its execution where you allow users to have more than one window at a time but the designs themselves can be responsive to the state in which they are housed? This works better imho than just given floating cascade windows with dynamic border resize + maximize + minimize. It fixes and creates an interesting solution to much bigger problem.Again, the author is kind of saying “it’s changed, I don’t like it”. I didn’t like the day I gave up a tactical keyboard for a touch screen, but I got over it and can type just as fast now. Humans evolve.

Discoverability

  •  Flat styles. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving along the highway and seen the turn arrow being flat and thought to myself “I wish that had a sense of depth, as that would give me contrast to make an informative decision”. The whole idea that we need depth in order to associate action is a kind of “drawing from a long bow”. If you’re a virgin user and never seen something for the first time, yes, you have that moment of initial “wtf” but you explore, because now it’s a puzzle and you have an incentive to figure it out.  Take into account marketing and real-world surroundings it’s fair to assume that the learnability of a solid icon is considered both touchable and untouchable.  You will discover this fairly easily but the learnability is probably shallow but discoverability isn’t – Key differentiation there.  I don’t agree with Metro’s content over chrome metaphor and in the visual he provided it’s an easy fight to pick (grouping is all wrong) but the failures here are easily misleading given he left out the constancy of the design (in that it’s not isolated to one area, it’s throughout and again, surprisingly we all seem to navigate over time without issue – behavior vs incentive again).
  •  Symbology. Probably the only thing I would agree here is that there is way too much of a strong reliance on symbology to convey the context of what the said solution does. There’s no personality attached to apps and functions, meaning I think there still needs to be a balance between core operating and in-app functions and said Applications (one thing iPhone does well as the apps entry icons are able to retain a differentiation whereas Win8 it doesn’t). I don’t think the author articulated this very well but I sense that’s the direction they were heading

Information Density

I won’t bother remarking too much on these areas, suffice to say it’s like I grabbed Angry Birds app, declared iPhone a fail due to lack of 3D support. Probably helps to separate third party applications from the actual said operating system. You can grade an OS based on its actual abilities or inbuilt functions, not by what the ecosystem does with them as that’s a slippery slope.

Desktop computers and horizontal control hasn’t been a failure. I don’t subscribe to the “well on websites it failed” it actually hasn’t, its more to do with screen size, frequency of use and does the UI tease the user to carry out the action. It’s not a complete failure it’s more to do with context and case by case. Now the current win8 mode relies on the horizontal scroll bar or mouse wheel to navigate between the screen and yes I think the missing element here is for the mouse to do the flicking between left/right (kinetic scrolling etc).

Live Tiles.

Agreed. Probably the one area of this article he nailed well. Yeah, the live Tiles for me is like a room full of screaming kids all asking for ice cream and one asking to go to the toilet. Pray you get the later right early.

Charms.

  • Progressive Disclosure has always been a double edged sword. On one hand you free up user from distraction by giving them a chunk of information to process act upon whilst on the other hand you’re easily forgotten and totally rely on muscle memory / learnability to be your UX crutch. I don’t think the author framed this correctly in this case by asserting that the users will “forget” the charm icons etc. I think it’s got poor amount of UX friction associated to it but the idea that Novice/Power users will be absent minded users here is really again an over reach. I find the whole persona attachment in this authors writing to be disconnected and fluctuates between a virgin user and a veteran of 15 years+ user? (settle on them and grouping here clearly needs to indicate the level of friction associated to each point).Had the user stated “I sampled a user with only 6month usage of a computer” then yes, Charms would be hazardous to one’s health. The reality is that’s a generational issue firstly (ie they are deprecating) and secondly there is such a wash of bad UI in software today that the users in general are what I’d call “defensive” in that they have been trained over and over that UI today isn’t always a case of “everything is in front of you where you need it”.  Furthermore if you take a step back in time and look at the green-screen terminals and how data entry operators would fly through the various fields etc one can see that a human and pattern recognition have remarkable abilities.

Gestures.

I’ve not used Win8 Gestures to comment. I want to take the author at his/her word but so far I’m inclined to favor Microsoft here. That being said, Microsoft and Touch have never really been that good together (even Surface Table had issues here). Suffice to say they really need to tidy up NUI in general here and its still the wild west, so in reality anything that all brands put on the table is open to this set of arguments.

Windows 8 Weak on Tablets, Terrible on PC’s.

Yeah this is where the true bias shows through and why my UX spidey senses tingled. It’s in this part you see the opinion shine through which can distill down to that they wanted Win8 to be tablet only UI and desktop to continue the Win7 as-is approach.  It shows lack of foresight for how the mobility and desktop market’s are starting to eat away into the tablet focused approach. How well we handle the ergonomics of going between a laptop to a tablet is still undecided but that’s the direction ones heading. Microsoft are trying to get out ahead of this early and if that means along the way they will fumble some of the UX by giving a duality in both old and new then so be it. In my view if you are given the problem of retaining the old while moving the user base over to the new in an aggressive manner then Microsoft may actually have a winning idea (yes I just praised Microsoft). I would however say that there Metro design style is going to come back and bite them the most and from what I can tell the Author has been cherry picking the negatives in order to build up to a point of how unusable it is. No balanced proposition here other than I don’t like Windows 8 and here’s why (hence the whole paragraph of “I don’t hate Microsoft but..” which translates to “I’m not racist, but..” …there is no “but” ..as everything you just said before it gets lost in cognitive overload (grin).

How the author then goes onto praise Ribbon Menu after spending a paragraph or two downsizing the charm bar “out of sight out of mind” makes me confused

Lastly by asserting that Win7 needs to be replaced with Windows 8 is probably the final conclusion that Microsoft marketing still sucks at its job (ie it’s not an upgrade, its an additive product) and lastly the user should stick more to the UI principles and less to OS Market analysis.

 

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The fall of Sinofsky ..where’s the gold plated AK47?

Yesterday I read a tweet that Sinofsky was leaving Microsoft and my immediate thoughts were along the lines of most – oh, it is early but not unexpected.

As I read countless more news articles about the event and listen to others give their assertion as to what is happen and how it was not as bad as it looks and so on I simply come to a single conclusion.

Worst retirement party ever.

If you read Sinofsky’s parting letter mixed with Steve Ballmer’s as expected carefully polished internal email one would assume it was a parting of positivity not negativity.

The reality is you do not take a high powered executive like Sinofsky and have him resign effective immediately you setup what they did with Bill Gates – a long goodbye. You temper both your internal staff and external shareholders with a 3month transition at the very least (maybe 6 month). You want to make it feel as if it is Steve Sinofsky’s choice and he now wants to leave Microsoft and go paint in Italy or something mundane like that.
Bring a sense of calm because if you don’t, well you have his name trending in twitter and conspiracy theories that make Microsoft look like they have zero control over the PR beast.

The latter is what actually has happened, Microsoft lost control over this entire thing and that is the part that I think is the most interesting. I personally do not think this was a calm exit, from everything I know about this company this entire issue has been simmering for some time and I think it came down to a titanic power play which seemingly backfired on Steve Sinofsky.

I wonder how the whole thing played out though; I mean you had Steve Ballmer on stage at the Build keynote giving a technical demo that actually did not do any harm – which to be clear in all the years of Microsoft I have never seen before.

That sent some mixed signals early on, as to say “hmm.. Steve Sinofsky is a vain person who likes to soak up his victories, why on earth would he be sidelined at the crowning moment?”

It could very well have been a planned departure – I doubt it – but if that were to be true then first thing Microsoft Board needs to do is figure out why they are paying their various PR firms money as quite frankly this was a disaster beyond most normal marketing/PR fails the company is used to.

As a friend said once “Microsoft takes every opportunity to fail and then comes back asking for more” in this case he was correct – again.

Lastly, I went to Sweden last week and gave a presentation on decoding the Microsoft roadmap where I talk about the rise of Sinofsky and you can view it here.

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