Magazine article Information Today

Windows Metro: User Experience over Findability

Magazine article Information Today

Windows Metro: User Experience over Findability

Article excerpt

There was an important shift in Microsoft's rollout of Windows 8 at the company's Build conference in September. The interface that developers previewed abandoned the Start button, a list of programs, and icons that provided one-click access to search. They were replaced with the tiled interface that first appeared in Windows Media Center and the Zune MP3 player, Metro.

Any interface change triggers strong reactions. Live tweets from the conference as well as longer analyses written after the event displayed a spectrum of subjective reactions. In the Windows 8 Forums, Sunyekerry wrote, "Briefly, my headache is that my search function is missing from the start menu. Then I tried looking for the 'Windows search' function in the services.msc panel, but no luck."

What struck me was that search will not be having dinner at the captain's table on this operating system cruise. Search was important in 2008 when Microsoft spent $1.2 billion for Fast Search & Transfer. Then, Microsoft bought Powerset for $100 million and poured more cash into Bing.com, its web search system. But that was then, and Windows 8 is now.

Another search-related shift has taken place, this time in the Microsoft SharePoint Server. On a recent trip to Europe, I met with Microsoft-certified developers in Austria, France, and Hungary. One senior manager at a well-known Microsoft Gold partner firm asked, "Have you seen some action on the part of Microsoft to give certain customers a very good deal on the Fast Search technology? We have heard this. We think that Fast Search is becoming part of SharePoint, which will have significant implications for some third-party vendors who sell SharePoint search, metatagging, and related software."

If this statement is true, then Microsoft may be taking steps to "bake in" its most sophisticated search-and-retrieval system. In the 1990s, Microsoft integrated compression technology into Windows. Another example was including defragmentation in the operating system. In 1994, Stac Electronics objected to this extend-and-embrace approach. Now, search may be in the running to become just another utility within Windows 8 and Microsoft SharePoint, which is one of Microsoft's money balls in its enterprise products.

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A Key Shift

I see Metro as marking an important shift. Interface design is getting some Apple polishing. What is happening with the Windows 8 Metro interface, shell, desktop, or UX (user experience)? The terminology for me is uncertain because the Zune-like tiles are not yet in a shipping product. With an app-centric interface, search is part of the plumbing, and I think the shift is an important one in the information-retrieval market.

My view is that from a features-and-function angle, the computing and search industries have been living in flatland. The new Metro interface borrows from the iPhone designs. Both are shifting from older interfaces, which were usually one-dimensional or, at best, two-dimensional, and trying to add a richer, more interesting and intuitive landscape. With today's focus on interface, control is shifting from the user to the programmer/designer. For designers without programming expertise, developers are gaining the upper hand in the rush to enhanced interfaces or UX.

I will return to the control issue in a moment. But I want to share my view of four changes that the shift in interface brings to the enterprise search and content processing market. (I am not talking about consumer products here; I am narrowing the aperture to what happens in an organization.) I am not confident there will be a sharp uptick in the present business climate. In the past few months, I have talked with finance-savvy professionals who told me that cost control is at the top of many minds in many organizations. I think the concepts of cost reduction, ROI, efficiency, and related M.B.A.-infused ideas are acting like Kingsford charcoal lighter fluid on charcoal briquettes. …

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