Windows 8.1 forces the user to interact in a way that doesn’t work

Problem

Wacom is world famous for digital pens and its professional Intuos series are used by millions of artists all around the world. It looks something like this and connects to the computer through a USB port:

Wacom Intuos 3

Wacom Intuos 3

After connecting a Wacom Intous 3 pen Windows took a couple of minutes to download and install some drivers. But the absolute positioning system which is one of the main features of digital pens didn’t work so I headed to Wacom’s support site and installed the latest drivers for Windows 8. So far so good. Now Windows 8.1 behaves like it’s a tablet PC with Touch interface. This is smart. It even shows this little keyboard on the taskbar that allows me to type with the pen:

Windows 8.1 touch keyboard

Windows 8.1 touch keyboard

However apparently Windows 8.1 fails to detect the touch gestures with this pen (I can live with that). The problem is when Windows tries to teach me touch gestures and the only way to get rid of this “compulsory education” is to do the gesture which is impossible with this device! Windows shows this black popover at the left side of the screen asking the user to swipe from the edge:

Windows 8.1 teaches the user to swipe the edge to switch between applications

Windows 8.1 teaches the user to swipe the edge to switch between applications

It reads like this: “Swipe in from the edge to go back to the last app you were using. Tip: begin with your finger outside of your screen”. So I tried swiping left, right, top, bottom, clicking, double clicking with pen and mouse. But nothing helped. I guess the key message is to use my “finger”. This is not OK. If the user was forgiving for the misdetection of the device, this annoying education makes them regret it. As I’m writing this, the popover is still there and there’s no way to get rid of it. So after finishing this post I’m going to try the old time Windows recipe: restart.

Solution

PS. This section is about interaction design solutions but if you are a user having this issue, the quickest solution is to move your mouse cursor to the top left of the screen.

  1. Don’t force the user into any sort of education. Sometimes they can’t do it. Sometimes they have other important things to do and want to skip it. Sometimes they already know how it works. There are tons of reasons why people don’t want to be forced into learning something so don’t force them if you want them to like your products.
  2. Do more usability testing with popular devices like Wacom. This device is being used professionally all around the world and when things don’t work out smoothly companies loose money. I would expect Windows to download the original driver or give equally well functionality. The new Windows is behaving like how Linux was behaving a few years ago: many devices didn’t have good support in Linux and when they did, often some of their features didn’t work. I haven’t used Linux lately but Mac OS X installed my Wacom automatically upon connecting it and it worked like a charm. Windows should catch up if it wants to reclaim its dominant position in the market.
  3. As one dear reader mentioned, it is possible to disable these “mandatory educations” altogether. However, that may need a little extra search. Here is a good explanation how to turn them off (Note: Group Policy only exists in Windows 8 pro). As of writing this post, that question is viewed 3704 times. This post has been visited 2541 times in less than 3 hours. So I assume this is a quite hot topic. I wonder if Windows designers will fix it. I’ll contact Microsoft and share their insight on this page. Meanwhile you can head to Hacker news and see what other people say about this issue.
  4. Add a close button to the popover to let the users close this modal, persistent, sticky popover:
Windows 8.1 educational popover with close button

Windows 8.1 educational popover with close button

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22 thoughts on “Windows 8.1 forces the user to interact in a way that doesn’t work

  1. Can’t you terminate the process affiliated with the “compulsory” education? Your mouse doesn’t work?

    1. It doesn’t show up in the task manager. I don’t know what it’s called. It would be great if Windows had a command like Linux’s “xkill” that would terminate the program when you click on it.

    1. Yeah back in the day they were quite an inspiration. I don’t know what happened that they decided to give up and even go down.

  2. I noticed these stupid things the other day when I was forcibly updated to Win8.1… (Hello Microsoft, download does not mean forcibly install while I’m doing stuff on my computer!)

    I had to do several things in the “Modern” Metro Crappy UI to get things back to normal (i.e., Win7 functionality) and noticed these silly popups that wouldn’t go away even in Mouse-mode.

    I don’t have a touch screen (nor do I want a touch screen on a laptop, heck I don’t even use touchpads on laptops), but moving the mouse to the corner or whatever didn’t trigger anything and the stupid pop-up wouldn’t go away. Luckily, I was done with that stupid crap after a few seconds and back to normal desktop mode (Thank you StartIsBack for giving Win8 a usable interface).

    They really need a Close button just like every other pop-up in the history of computing has had.

    1. Well said.

      I was also forced into upgrading. I see upgrades more as a “sorry we couldn’t deliver right the firs time so be kind and let us fix our mistake”. However, as you mentioned it’s very rude when they interrupt me in the middle of my work. Mac updates are rather polite and quick and preferably don’t restart the system and can be done in the background while you’re working.

      Microsoft has had a good reputation in the past but after the IE issues followed by weak interaction design in Windows, it is starting to be associated with bad products. Hopefully the new CEO will tackle this issue. The very fact that Apple is selling more computers than Microsoft is quite alarming about how important is UX in sale.

  3. I just made the switch to 8.1 from 7 myself, although I dont have this issue as I dont use the pens. I think the system itself is stable enough. I am a gamer so it works surprisingly pleasant. But I always knew that MS would force the user to adapt to its new infrastructure with crap like this, and it saddens me because its a pretty nice OS. BTW use startisback+ in case you want that classic start menu.

    1. this is interesting. So you’re saying that it doesn’t even surprise you that MS is forcing the user to this crap. That should be some hint to Microsoft to know how they have lowered the user’s expectations.

      1. If you think MS cares about what the consumer wants, then thats foolish. Windows 8 was a money grab because 7 was basically the best OS since XP. I see it like this:

        Windows XP – Excellent
        Windows Vista – Horrible
        Windows 7 – Excellent
        Windows 8 – Horrible
        Windows 8.1 – Good

        I assume since they have announced that windows 9 will be coming later this year or next you can assume with the track record I cant determine what will happen.

  4. How does the Surface and Surface 2 work then? They come with a Watcom touch screen and drivers. Maybe those drivers install.

  5. I have the Wacom DTU-2231 and I had this same problem when I used it on my Win8 machine at home..I now use it at work on my Win7 machine

    Wacom pen devices are nice, but the problem is programs aren’t designed at all with this type of interface in mind at all. Only the mouse and keyboard.

    I think this is a combination of wacom not updating their drivers to be used properly with Win8 yet.
    I think Wacom need to update ALL their drivers to allow us to do swipe gestures. It would make it alot easier to use windows8, and newer programs that utlise this method as this is common method used when thinking of touch interface.

    The pen should mimic the finger, but also have the provisional input required for CAD, and art programs.

    I wish they would release new updated drivers that did allow this to happen.

    Alas for old screens like the one I use, I am guessing Wacom will not support us and tell us to buy the Intuos 24hd instead..

    1. Maybe I should contact Wacom about this issue as well. These pens are very good as you mentioned. Just like finger it has pressure sensor, so it shouldn’t be hard to simulate” finger gestures.

  6. I´m also having the same problem with windows 8.1 and wacom device…
    Is it that hard to provide a “no hints” option on the control panel or, as you said, a close button on the hint?
    Something that works for me is unplugging the tablet, then the “hint” go away, then you plug again and it won´t come back… SInce you open the app again.
    Hope that soon Wacom or MS fix it.

    1. Thanks for sharing your workaround with this UX bug. The first two days that this post was published, it received around 25000 views most of which from USA. Let’s hope that the guys in Redmond figure out a way to fix that and in the long run be more careful with user experience of what used to be one of the most popular operating systems.

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