Windows 8 Requires Microsoft's Instruction, But Also a Willingness to Accept Change

PHOTO: A instructional screen that appears before you start using Windows 8.

A couple of weeks ago, one of our talented designers was playing around with a Windows 8 tablet I had lying around the office. At 32 years old, she is no computerphobe. Indeed, she is quite the opposite, spending her days and nights in Photoshop and InDesign.

After an hour or so with the tablet, I stopped by to see what she thought of Microsoft's brand-new operating system that was designed for tablets, laptops and all kinds of computers.

She said she loved the colorful design and thought it was a really bold step for Microsoft. Somewhere during the conversation, I took a hold of the tablet and started messing around with it. I began swiping apps in from the left side and then placing apps side by side. I also pinched the homescreen to see a bird's eye view of all the apps on the Start Screen.

She was even more impressed after my quick demo. But despite being incredibly computer savvy, she didn't know about those features just by poking around herself. She needed someone to point them out.

I've seen the same reaction from lots of people in the past few weeks as I have been testing different Windows 8 tablets and laptops. While it's simple for most to get the hang of opening apps and scrolling through the Start Screen (the new home screen with square-shaped applications that replaces the Desktop), other features need to be pointed out and explicitly taught.

That's the reality of Windows 8, which will be finally released to the world Friday. It's the biggest change to happen to Windows since, well, Windows itself. It requires a new set of learned behaviors and it certainly requires effort on the part of Microsoft to educate buyers. But it's not just Microsoft that has to make an effort.

Microsoft's Part

Microsoft is well aware that it has released an operating system that requires users to learn new things.

"We have a different view of product design and usability than I think other companies do," Steve Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division, said last week when I asked him about what Microsoft was doing to help people learn the new software. "We have optimized the design language of this product to be approachable, fast and fluid, but there are a few things you need to learn."

It's clear that Microsoft actually knows its new software isn't as easy to use as an iPad. "Once you invest a short amount of time in learning those, the system becomes way more powerful than the opposite end of the spectrum, where anyone can walk up and touch it and do something because it is easy," Sinofsky said.

So what is Microsoft doing to help people learn its new software? A few things.

Every new Windows 8 PC, including Microsoft's own Surface, will come with a small card inside the box that explains the basics of Windows 8: Use the mouse in the corners and use touch on the edges.

Also, when you first turn on a Windows 8 PC or even right after you have installed it on an older system, you will get a series of animations, which explain some of the new features, including the Charms, which are the set of shortcuts you can always get to by swiping from the right side.

Microsoft is also launching a full-on advertising campaign, which will show off some of the new features in video. There will be other videos you can watch on, as well.

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