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I’ve been using Windows 8 for a couple of weeks and am certain the new operating system will work great on tablet (i.e. Microsoft Surface). On PC some say the best tile is the desktop tile, where you get the look of Windows 7 desktop but with one important difference – the start button is missing.

Hitting the start button on the keyboard, you get the start screen of Windows 8 with all the live tiles available. And soon you learn that you can just start typing to search for you installed applications, which is a nice feature. But when you want to power off your PC, there are no clues what to do. Typing for Power Off or Turn Off won’t do unless you switch view in search results from Apps to Settings.

Settings > Power Off on Windows 8 images

So you turn to Google to see if there is a solution to the problem – and there are. Some are more creative than others adding a shortcut icon executing a shutdown script. The action is also listed in Microsoft FAQ web site, saying “When you finish using your PC, it's a good idea to turn it off properly—not only to save energy, but also to help keep it secure and make sure your work is saved.” There is instructions how to Power Off, but still no answer to why the power off is located under the settings menu.

Microsoft FAQ on Windows 8

It puzzles me why Microsoft made Windows 8 Power Off hard to do. Is it because Tablets aren’t meant to be turned off (even though they say so on their FAQ), and that way you can move the action to an almost hidden settings menu? Or is there any other reason why Microsoft made Power Off hard?

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What I find most interesting here...is no one thinks to hit the Power button to turn their PC off. You do the same with your TV, your phone, your blender, why is your PC the only one you turn on and off using two different ways! –  Ben Brocka Sep 12 '12 at 13:54
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@PhillipW Why did Microsoft use that 'logic'? Simple - user testing. blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/archive/2003/07/22/54559.aspx It used to be called the 'System' button, but nobody knew what to do with it, so they named it 'Start' and people could then use the OS fine. –  JonW Sep 12 '12 at 14:06
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@BenBrocka It's almost certainly either (1) a hold-over from having been taught always to shut down and never to directly power off your computer, despite the fact that most modern machines implement an APCI shutdown signal with the power button; or (2) due to the fact that the button is configurable, and PC hardware varies quite immensely, people are never sure exactly what pressing the power button will do. –  msanford Sep 12 '12 at 14:15
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@BenBrocka My development machine (laptop running Windows 7 Pro) comes with a default of three 'power profiles', which each treat the power button differently. It's not immediately apparent which power profile is currently active, either. As a result, I never use the power button. Sure, I could reconfigure them, but I'm lazy (and have habituated myself to Kristof Claes' suggestion). –  msanford Sep 12 '12 at 14:52
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@BenBrocka: My particular model of bad laptop crashes when you use the power button to turn it off. (Which is actually just a really fast way to turn it off, I suppose.) –  minitech Sep 12 '12 at 15:07
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5 Answers

up vote 65 down vote accepted

Take a step away from classic Windows processes. That was a huge part of Windows 8 and should help you understand this.

Think about how you turn your phone on or off. There's a physical button that does this. Android/iOS? Power is a physical button. If you think about it, the power on function has to be a physical button somewhere or somehow, since the software isn't started. Android and iOS both present a menu when holding the Power button asking if you're sure you really want to power off.

It's interesting to note that PCs are pretty much the one place where power on and power off are extremely different actions; off/on is the same button/switch (possibly in reverse) for almost all other powered objects. Lights, blenders, phones, cars. What's really puzzling is how we've grown accustomed to PCs not working like this! A big point of Windows 8 is breaking this hard-set convention in a way that makes sense in the long run, even if usability sins of the past trip you up your first time.

I actually think it's a good idea to get people used to using the physical control in this case; aside from minimalism (one button for each control), isn't it a bit odd to turn the device on with a physical button but off only via a software button? Further, many people seem to think turning their PC off with the physical button is dangerous, mistakenly thinking it's a hard power-off (which typically only happens if you hold the power button). Anecdotally, I've told many people you can just tap their power button to turn it off and it won't hurt anything.

For PCs, this design makes more sense if you consider that they're pushing for you to turn the device off, not put it to sleep, after all that's the power button's default action. The Vista power button fiasco made it pretty apparent a lot of people don't understand/want their computer to "Sleep", especially not when they press (what appears to be) a power button.

Personally I always liked Sleep and I find it odd to see Microsoft moving away from it; mobile devices in particular generally don't get turned off. The only times my Android phone or iPad are turned off are because they crashed, updated their OS or their batteries ran out. Microsoft might be hoping more people turn their PC off, but leave their tablets on "sleep", because these are the default actions of PC/tablet power buttons in most cases. It may be they're pushing for turning your PC off because of Windows' notorious "just reboot it" style bugs; the longer you put your PC to sleep instead of turning it off/on the more likely you are to start collecting those weird system state issues.

By mapping the default action to the physical button, Windows 8 takes away the "what way should I turn off my device" problem, you just hit the power button. If you're most users, you don't really care or know what the difference is between your PC starting up and your tablet "waking" up.

Power management is complicated. One thing that Windows 8 has clearly done in many areas is to "hide" more complicated power user functions behind menus. The value of this decision is debatable, but I think it was made more for the average user who doesn't really need to know about this stuff.

The problem Windows 8 will have here, as with many other issues, is retraining these people. For over a decade of Windows, they've taught users (novice users and power users) to look for the Off switch in the Start menu. A change there is disruptive, but I think they're going for the long-term change which makes sense (power is a physical button!) even if the change is a shock at first. This is an operating system after all, easy first time use isn't always wanted if it complicates long-term usability.

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True that. However pushing the physical button on a Sony Vaio or HP laptop makes the PC hibernate. It's not turned off as one would expect. In Sony Vaio the button is badly placed that I hit it every once in a while and the PC goes hibernating. So I'd really love the idea to actually use the power button to power off, but I can't. So I used the above mentioned guide to get a real power off to my PC. It's a work around, I know, but what to do when in need? –  Benny Skogberg Sep 12 '12 at 14:05
    
I don't necessarily put power control into a separate category than any other interface control. Volume, as a converse example, is a (redundant) physical button on most phones because it allows you to control the device (most of which are touch) while the screen is off, not because volume is intrinsically linked to a notion of physicality. –  msanford Sep 12 '12 at 14:19
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Microsoft still recommend shutting down the PC using the OS shutdown option, even on Windows 8. From their own Win8 FAQ site: "When you finish using your PC, it's a good idea to turn it off properly—not only to save energy, but also to help keep it secure and make sure your work is saved." –  JonW Sep 12 '12 at 16:05
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What if you want to restart your machine (not just power if off)? Sure, you can turn it completely off, wait several seconds, and turn it back on - but it's much easier to click a button once. Especially since this is a frequent task for any Microsoft Windows user. –  JDB Sep 12 '12 at 19:43
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When the whole computer (tablet, phone) is in your hands it makes sense to have a physical power button. When your computer is tucked away under a desk, and you're already in the middle of using input devices (mouse, keyboard) it makes sense to have an easy and obvious software power button. –  Kayo Apr 9 '13 at 12:50
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I guess because there isn't really a reason to have it easily available. Laptops and tablets are usually sleeping or hibernating when not in use. To power off a desktop computer, you can just press the physical power button on the computer itself. This will signal Windows to close all active applications and shut down.

Actually, the power off function is easily accessible, just not documented very well. For the reason I state above I believe.

  • Ctrl-Alt-Delete: Press the power button in the lower right corner
  • WindowsKey-I: Press the power button
  • Alt-F4 (when in desktop mode): Select 'Shut down'
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Yes, WE consider those easily accessible, but ask your parents if they know what Alt-F4 or WindowsKey-l do. –  thatuxguy Sep 12 '12 at 14:27
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That's why I said they're not documented very well. Once you know about them, they're very accessible. –  Kristof Claes Sep 12 '12 at 17:32
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It's a compound problem. I think MS is moving in the right direction, it's just they don't always get every step right along the way.

The biggest problem with Windows has always been the mess vendors have been allowed to make from it. All computers have a power button, but it's impossible to learn what it does. A Sony might act differently than a Dell. And it might act differently if your laptop is plugged in or not. There is no way to know what it will do. The only thing that works as it should is the 'Shutdown' button MS put in the start menu. Thank god they didn't let vendors customize that. User's dependance on that software button, and the question we're discussing here, only illustrate and confirm the mess it's become.

I don't believe @Luc's argument that the hardware button is too far away because 'performance' is not an issue here. It's not important to be able to quickly power off your computer. What's important is that you can find a button that does so and that its behavior is predictable. You know how to find the hardware power button because you used it to turn it on in the first place. This corresponds with the idea that there should be a clear relation and even symmetry between an action (power on) and its reversal (power off) and the interfaces that support those actions.

What I find strange though, is putting it in Settings and labeling it Power. That button doesn't take you to Power Settings. Whether your computer is on or off is hardly a Setting or Configuration. You can't 'tweak' it.

So, to answer the question, MS is moving towards a tighter integration between hardware and software, making it appear less like a box from vendor A that runs software from vendor B but more like a single product (and experience). As part of that strategy Windows moves away from duplicating functionality that can also (and usually better) be handled by hardware. Laptops and tablets are much more important than beige boxes if you look at the development of sales numbers. And those all already have (and have had for ages) backlight, volume and power buttons right at your finger tips. Windows can't make them easier to reach than that. While hoping (and I bet pushing) for vendors to implement these features properly, they move the software buttons out of the way.

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+1 for great reasoning! –  Benny Skogberg Apr 6 '13 at 10:22
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@BennySkogberg - Can't see the use of having this question on UX SE. Trying to guess the motivation for Microsoft's decisions without asking Microsoft's designers is an exercise in futility. Maybe they fussed this feature up, maybe this was a well-thought out decision backed by a decade of testing - unless you have a reliable source (the horse's mouth) all answers are basically worthless. –  Deer Hunter Apr 6 '13 at 18:50
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Maybe the placement of this button was not driven by user experience but rather more of a business nature.... MSFT does not want you to turn off Windows 8 completely, Windows 7 boots much quicker after a sleep cycle then a full on/off cycle. While it is not a valid comparison, to the user it feels like it boots quicker and ergo "it must be a quicker system".

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That's not really it, "off" will still initiate the fast-wake cycle in Windows 8. Plus the sleep/restart buttons are similarly hidden. –  Ben Brocka Apr 9 '13 at 19:56
    
Hi Kenton, welcome to to UX.se! Your answer though it contains your opinions about sleep/power states, is not directly related to the question. Can you please modify it to make it so? –  rk. Apr 9 '13 at 20:30
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I'm not a Windows 8 user, but I'll try my best on this...
Like everyone else said, usually it's best to use the power button. That might work for you. I don't usually do that because the next time I turn my computer on, it will have a startup error. But listen to the public opinion--try the power button turn-off...
I think the reason Microsoft wanted people to do this was because, well, it's actually inconvenient, even on Windows 7, to have to go into Start, click Shut down, etc. (lol). But their thinking was, "Well, it's inconvenient, and people use the power button, so yeah! We'll do it that way!"
Another reason (or two) are the troubleshooting-style ones: Maybe your computer is glitching? Maybe the Microsoft people are just stupid!
Hope this answer helps... :) I really would love 100 reputation!

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yup it was a bad answer :( –  pythonlover Apr 8 '13 at 8:50
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