The change in taskbar buttons was absolutely massive. Never make the mistake of confusing your ability to learn interfaces with what the general consumer knows. The general consumer doesn't find computers intuitive -- full stop. Everything they know is learned; everything.
Getting rid of the labels was, I think, a change of minimal impact. I agree that grouping them was a pretty significant change, though, so that's a good example.
I don't think any of the examples so far justify the claim that users have to "re-learn the OS" every version, though. It's a sensationalist claim with pretty much no backing. Most of the changes have been very incremental. Users have moved straight from XP to Win 7 in droves, and few people have complained about having to "re-learn the OS", despite it being a jump of not just one by two major versions.
I think you are speaking from the position of a person who understands metaphors such as the task bar. Most users do not.
Users only understand the most primitive of abstractions; they understand that a button is a button, but what the button does is only learned from experience (good labels help, of course). The change to the grouping-based icons on the taskbar absolutely forced users to relearn.
See to you the fact that the buttons are in the same place as the old ones is an indicator that they have similar functionality; the typical user does not make these connections at all. They only know that the old task buttons are gone, and replaced with something they don't know how to use (yet).
Now the level of change for this is much smaller than some other changes. Most users figured it out, many on their own (but many did not). I only used this example to demonstrate how things that are obvious and simple to you are massive barriers to common consumers.
There's a large area between "power user" and "computer illiterate". I have no doubt that there were some users who were so confused by the taskbar grouping that they never learned the new behavior, but I cannot believe that this was a common response. (Wouldn't those people actually return their PCs to the store?)
Sorry, but just I can't accept that the vast majority of computer users are morons who can't understand it at all when interfaces change and have to start at square one every time. This is too cynical.
The taskbar grouping was not that big of a change. Users look for icons in the taskbar, so dropping the labels was pretty minor. The grouping behavior itself was quite discoverable. If you ask an XP user who's just switched to Win7 to open a couple of word documents, and a web browser, and a few more things (enough to trigger grouping), and then ask them to go back to the word document, they'll be able to do it. They'll look in the task bar, click on the icon for Word, and then when the window thumbnails pop up, they's say "what's this?" and then click on one of the thumbnails. Functionality discovered. Yes, there's some initial confusion, but I'd hardly call it a "re-learning" of the entire OS.
I also can't believe that Microsoft would have added the grouping if focus groups showed that average users were so lost that it was like using a new OS. There's not enough value added by grouping to ship it if it significantly hurt typical users' experiences.
No, users look for documents and text labels in the taskbar, not icons. At least most of the users I've been familiar with. Stacking loses n00bs altogether and slows down "power switchers" (I won't call them "power users"; they aren't interested in the machine/OS itself, but they have more than one doc open and for reference/cut-n-paste, etc.). XP needed a preference setting to get back to something useful; 7 won't allow it at all. And don't try to tell anybody that thumbnails of sustantially-similar looking text documents are a substitute for taskbar labels.
> No, users look for documents and text labels in the taskbar, not icons
I think you're wrong. Before the grouping was added, I watched people click through half a dozen different windows trying to find their document. The labels were never useful once you had multiple documents, because they got truncated so short.
Moreover, I don't believe that the entire UI world just randomly decided to add icons to everything. It seems more likely that all indications are that people use the icons.
> 7 won't allow it at all.
I don't know what you're talking about. The "never combine" setting is still there.
> And don't try to tell anybody that thumbnails of sustantially-similar looking text documents are a substitute for taskbar labels.
Actually, they're much more useful, because the thumbnail often reveals a lot about the document, and also because the title is right above the thumbnail.
> I can't accept that the vast majority of computer users are morons who can't understand it at all when interfaces change and have to start at square one every time.
You're right, that rather hyperbolic interpretation of what's being described isn't quite true.
But it sounds like those kinds of users are quite a bit more common than you realize. And when it comes to driving the PC market, those users are powerful. The reason why most companies in my industry are still standardized on XP is precisely because there are a lot of people like that, and the potential benefits of switching to Windows 7 are minuscule compared to the productivity (read: $$$$) losses that would result from getting these users back up to speed on the new OS.
The hyperbole is not mine. I simply rephrased what MatthewPhilips said.
> See to you the fact that the buttons are in the same place as the old ones is an indicator that they have similar functionality; the typical user does not make these connections at all. They only know that the old task buttons are gone, and replaced with something they don't know how to use (yet).
>Sorry, but just I can't accept that the vast majority of computer users are morons who can't understand it at all when interfaces change and have to start at square one every time.
You're right, they tend not to change. Hence, Windows XP.
Your company's problem isn't that people will use XP forever, its that when they do buy a new computer, they may not buy a Windows PC, since they understand that they have nothing to relate to from Windows XP.
Are you under the impression that Apple (or Ubuntu or whatever) generally changes their interfaces less that Microsoft? I'm not clear how Microsoft's changes are inherently an issue while, say, Apple's are not. Or are you of the opinion that no one would ever choose Windows except for the sake of familiarity (which if true would mean Windows is doomed anyway).
My point (which I stand by) is that normal users struggle with small changes that power users quickly work around / accept. Being the existing way that (most) people "get things done", Microsoft has an obvious advantage. But as the changes grow, and obviously Windows 8 is a massive one, the incentive to stick with what you know shrinks; it is no longer what you know.
Really from an interface perspective Windows 8 is a completely new beast. The only advantage you have is that you still have Word. Otherwise you'd be at major risk of losing higher end customers to Apple, but you're probably still at risk of losing customers to the iPad on the lower end.
Honestly, can you explain why Microsoft chose to all but abandon the desktop market? The only explanation that makes sense to me is infighting; the Windows division successfully killed the courier and got to be the ones that made the tablet, and it made sense (to them) to not break the team into 2 separate groups (as is more logical) so they simply picked what seemed like a more future-proof bet.
> My point (which I stand by) is that normal users struggle with small changes that power users quickly work around / accept.
Absolutely. I think we just disagree on how catastrophic that is. I think most Windows XP users would find that Windows 7 is much less of a change than OS X Lion.
Windows 8 is a different beast altogether and it is indeed a huge bet.
> Honestly, can you explain why Microsoft chose to all but abandon the desktop market? The only explanation that makes sense to me is infighting; the Windows division successfully killed the courier and got to be the ones that made the tablet, and it made sense (to them) to not break the team into 2 separate groups (as is more logical) so they simply picked what seemed like a more future-proof bet.
[What's below are purely my thoughts and guesses. I have zero actual insight into the Windows team or its non-public history or plans.]
I don't think infighting is a factor. I think a fairly unified vision is driving Windows 8. But I personally think that it's for the best that Courier was killed off. After using modern tablets, it becomes obvious that two smaller screens is simply less compelling. It's worse for media consumption, and it is also more awkward to use when not placed on a flat surface. Gate's original vision for tablet computing was close to what users want. However, touch first and pen second is what was missing (and obviously users will give up the pen entirely if they have to). Of course shoehorning the desktop OS onto tablets was not the right approach, any more than it was the right approach for phones.
I also don't believe that Microsoft is abandoning the desktop market. They've got a different vision for it now, though. The Metro world is much different from Windows 7, but it's not worse. I would say that in many ways it is much better. I even think that Metro with a mouse and keyboard will be an improvement over Windows 7. What's jarring is the marriage between the legacy desktop and the modern style. I think the legacy desktop is intended to become less and less important over time, though, and eventually typical users will never see it at all (though I could be wrong). At that point, the only interface they will use will be Metro, and the transitions to and from the legacy desktop will be gone. I expect that the various other differences will eventually either become moot as people adjust or they will be addressed in a future release.
I disagree that splitting the team into separate groups would be more logical. There's no reason that a compelling tablet OS can't be a compelling desktop OS. It does require changing some interaction paradigms, though.
In my opinion (I support Macs, PCs, iOS devices, etc.), it's especially hard to intuitively grasp a metaphor from taskbar buttons if, as is the case in Windows, the taskbar buttons are so tiny and poorly-designed that it's nearly impossible for people with average vision to discern what the icon is supposed to be.
The question at hand seems less about how quickly or readily people can adopt Metro than how often they need to leave it. It seems the context switch is actually the hard bit. Metro Office will go a long way to fixing this.