Unlike a lot of people, I’m looking forward to the launch of Windows 8, with its ‘the artist that used to be called Metro’ changes. Like Paul Thurott, I see Metro/whatever as being the main event, with the desktop bolted on for compatibility and not the other way around.
So I spend as much time as I can in Metro when working on my Win 8 laptop, though it’s hobbled by the fact that a lot of apps won’t be available until the official launch in October. I want to emphasize that most of the awkwardness in Win 8 is not Metro, it’s the switching back and forth between Metro and the traditional desktop.
All that said, the Metro version of IE10 remains seriously broken, almost unusable, and I see no sign of a fix on the way. I’ve written about IE10’s problems before, but with launch less than a month away, those problems grow more urgent. Win 8 will cause trouble for a lot of people to begin with; throw in a terrible browser experience and you are on your way to making Win 7 even more popular than it is.
And the more I contemplate IE10, the more I am forced to consider that Microsoft may not be very serious about Metro as a design language, as opposed to simply a ‘look.’
What’s wrong with 10? In a word, bookmarks. In every other web browser, there’s an obvious, intuitive way to get to websites you use frequently – you go to ‘favorites’ or ‘bookmarks’ on the bar at the top or side of the screen, click it and select from the drop down menu. With IE10, which has no bar across the top of the screen, you right click within the browser window, which brings up the address bar across the bottom of the screen. You then click in the address bar to get tiles of your favorites, essentially, little rectangles you can click on to go to a web site.
But…what shows first are ‘frequent’ sites, which appear to be a list of places you’ve just been, but which can be strangely arbitrary. For instance, I saved this note a few paragraphs earlier, closed WordPress and went looking for other criticisms of IE10 on the web. When I got ready to reopen WordPress, the ‘frequent’ area did not show any sign I’d been there just a few minutes earlier. Also, ‘frequent’ showed some, but not all, of the articles I read on my New York Times account this morning.
Now, set aside the fact that ‘frequent’ isn’t a terribly useful category anyway; unless I’m doing what I did in writing this – close a site to go look elsewhere, something I ordinarily wouldn’t bother with – chances are no more than 50/50 I’m going to return to where I just was. On a regular browser, ‘history’ serves the function of recall just right. It’s available, but unlike IE10, it isn’t throwing itself at you. In IE10, ‘frequent’ crowds out most of your saved favorites. You have to scroll over to them to find what you’re looking for. And because saved favorites are tiles, not names, you do a whole lot of scrolling.
This is so brain-dead stupid as to beggar belief. Plus, you can’t even group your favorites into categories to save yourself a little effort. It’s as if Microsoft had taken the 80/20 rule and injected it with steroids, so that only the five or 10 top favorites are easy to find at all.
More generally, IE10 feels random. Want to go back? Move your cursor to the middle of the page on the left side, or…bring up the address bar and click the left arrow. Sometimes one, but not both, methods are available. (Most frequently, I can’t get the ‘middle of the page’ arrow to appear.) Want to see another page you have open? Right click and your open pages appear at the top of the screen. Unless, of course, you have focus on, say, the WordPress writing field, in which case a little ‘cut/copy’ box appears.
Of course you can argue that what’s going on here is slavish devotion to the idea of Metro – simplify at all costs, hide options until the user needs them. The problem with that is, there are times when you have to be comfortable enough with the rules to creatively break them. IE10 feels like the designers are massively insecure about Metro, terrified that something is going to mar the look, so they have gone to silly extremes.
What’s the answer? I can think of a reasonably simple one. Recreate most of the standard browser bar at the top – or if you must, the bottom – of the screen, and auto-hide it. You access it by moving your cursor to the area where the bar is. Does this break with Metro design? I guess, but the payback is enormous. Do this one thing and you make IE10 Metro very usable. What about the thumbnails of open pages? Not sure, but I think I’d have them appear just below (or above if the bar is screen bottom) the bar. That has its own problem – what do you do when you click on a drop down menu? Does it go ‘through’ a thumbnail and maybe is rendered unreadable, or does the thumbnail dim or move out of the way? – but I’d trade what I’ve got now for that.
(Note – Yes, Chrome does bookmarks differently, and not well, IMHO. But you can still get a drop-down list of favorites.)