'This is the most ambitious thing we've done since Windows 95'

25th Oct 2012 | 15:30

'This is the most ambitious thing we've done since Windows 95'

Tami Reller and Gabriel Aul talk Windows 8 and usability

"We have 65 centuries of telemetry data on Windows 8," says Microsoft's Windows 8 program manager Gabriel Aul.

He makes the statement in an almost throwaway fashion, knowing that the stat will speak for itself. Microsoft really thinks it has done its homework with this one.

"Yep, just absorb that statement. Quite mind-blowing," chimes Windows 8 marketing head Tami Reller.

Despite many fears about people getting used to the new OS, Microsoft knows – or thinks it knows – that Windows 8 will go down well with users when they start to use it from tomorrow.

"The 65 centuries is across all the different telemetry from all the different versions (previews and RTM). We've been able to see over time how people are using the Windows 8-style apps," says Aul. "As the apps have got more prolific and more rich, we're seeing more and more people using those apps more and going into the desktop less and less."

"We do also see a tremendous amount of desktop usage as well for people that need that and for heavy multi-tasking. It's been fascinating to watch the shift as we introduce more apps. Customers are liking it more."

Microsoft is clearly pumped about the new OS and understandably so as it prepares to launch its first Windows tablet alongside the new OS – Microsoft Surface. To mark the launch, TechRadar met with Aul and Reller for an extended interview and demo in London last week.

"We're very excited at reaching [this point], it's a pretty significant milestone for us," says Reller. "As we look at this project, as we look at this product, we think it's the most ambitious thing since Windows 95.

"I know you've heard us say this before, but Windows 8 is Windows 7 but even better. And it is, whether its boot time, whether it's security, performance, whatever. There is a fairly stunning difference between Windows 7 – which was great – and the performance of Windows 8.

"October 26 means a lot of things – it means that upgrades are going to be available for customers. And it's obvious from the price points that we're really trying to be as aggressive as ever and open up the upgrade to everyone.

"So whether it's the Windows upgrade offer which was hopefully easy to understand – one price, any PC, available through January 31 or [other offers] the upgrades are available and of course PCs are on shelves including tablets, convertibles touchscreen Ultrabooks which we're pretty excited about and of course Windows RT devices."

Will you be used to it after 24 hours?

Getting used to Windows 8 will be a challenge for new users. That's clear. But Microsoft believes that users should get used to Windows 8 around after 24 hours of use. Aul again:

"When we crunched the numbers we found that people that had the best success of learning the new things and the most enjoyable experience was when they just got a few hints about where to start, like the hot corners, the edges for touch and then they explored and found the rest.

"There's something fun they found about just finding things and new features, but knowing where the starting point was enabled them to do the discovery in a very natural way.

"From the telemetry we've seen and the data we've got from usability studies we've found that 80 per cent of customers are fully proficient after 24 hours. They can do all the navigation, charms, window management, Start Screen rearranging…the vast majority of people get there in 24 hours. It is new, there are some new things but we think that it's discoverable if you approach it with the right mindset.

The mindset challenge

That latter point is the key, users need to have the right mindset to take advantage of what Windows 8 offers. Those put off by pictures of the new Start Screen will be harder to adopt. Aul says the company has worked hard to give users just the right amount of education on how Windows 8 works.

"So you get a video, it's a short animated – it's elegant in the background, it's not in your face. There's a great story behind that video where we did a lot of usability testing with customers where we tested out different videos. So we went from just [letting people just use it] to intensive training where we pointed out every feature. "

Windows 8

"It's meant to be consumer friendly. I fact, the customers that got heavy training, it felt like they were at school, it was [a bit much]. "

Reller says she has been impressed at how quickly users have become used to the new UI, saying people get used to it "in rapid fashion actually. You become more immersed in the new UI, that's where you spend your time.

That's what we're finding with Windows 8 [users], they can always go back to what they're familiar with, with the desktop, but as they become used to more apps, as they become more familiar they spend more and more time on the Start Screen (using Windows 8-style apps). Our telemetry tells us that."

Personalisation is the key

"Where we see people first start to 'get it' and enjoy it is with hat first bit of personalisation, which happens fast," adds Reller. "Whether it's a photo you put in the lock screen or you do picture password or you see your Facebook pictures flow into the People app, that makes it come alive. And so that's the enjoyment side of it. That's a big deal. There's always that 'a-ha' moment when you go to another PC and everything appears – it's a magical moment for people."

Aul believes Windows 8 touch devices will take off simply because people are just used to touch devices now. "Yeah, you start touching everything when you use a touch device for any length of time, you touch big monitors, everything. There were a lot of questions about would a touch laptop work. When you're hands are here [gestures as if using a keyboard], would you touch the screen, was it something you would do and enjoy?

"We really kind of had to build one, make it up, because there wasn't one in existence, but when we ran people through using it, they enjoyed it, there's just something basic about touching something.

"But it's about making everything work with mouse and keyboard as well. We're expecting a great many traditional laptops [to launch with Windows 8] as well and as you said the hot corners and charms are designed to work with both."

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