Breaking Muscle Memory

Cognitive dissonance.  That’s one of those terms that you pick up to use at cocktail parties.  Basically meaning it’s hard to hold two differing mental models in your head at the same time.

I’ve been a Windows user since before the rise of the CD-ROM.  Was that the Chicago release?  At any rate, there has been a steady march in terms of ‘improvements’ to the UI.  Adding a splash of color, rounding corners, adding some ‘depth’ adding transparency.  Each time, the additions have been incremental, subtly building upon the previous model in model ways, that typically enhanced my experience, never detracted.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to use Windows 8.  I’m not an OS basher because it’s pointless.  I’m using windows because I find it to be the easiest for me to use, for what I do, and that’s that.  With Windows 8, there have been some not so subtle UI element changes that have caused me some pain.  The first is the absence of the ‘transparency of the Windows Chrome (title bar, sides).  You don’t realize it until it’s gone, but that small amount of transparency was aiding my eyes with visual queues.  I could easily identify which window was on top, and easily click on others in a crowded desktop.  With Windows 8, everything is flat.  The borders are flat, and the transparency is gone.

With Windows 8, I have found it to be harder to find windows on my desktop.  It’s harder to distinguish between something that might be a part of an open ‘document’, like Excel spreadsheets, vs some completely different app altogether.

I haven’t tried the latest Visual Studio as yet, but with it’s new “gray is the new ‘color'” theme, I suspect I might experience the same sort of confusion.  I’m sure after a while I’ll get over it and be as productive as ever.  Most of my time is spent between only a handful of apps anyway, and I typically spend long stretches of time in single apps.

Is the change worth it?  I don’t know.  I don’t really understand the motivation.  I actually liked the transparency stuff, and the state of current GPU technology is such that it’s a relatively free feature to have.  I can see that desktop composition becomes easier though.  So who knows, perhaps a performance boost, or stability came out of this.

One lesson I do take away from this though.  As a developer, I don’t want to introduce cognitive dissonance.  I want my users to have a nice pleasant experience, from release to release.  I will pay the price to absorb the discomfort, as the developer, rather than pass it along to my customers.


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