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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