Microsoft's picture-password ad: Intriguing or confusing?

Microsoft uses the World Series to pump Windows 8 and its picture-password feature. But will real human beings find it fascinating or just plain odd?

Microsoft/YouTube Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I was watching the San Francisco Giants bring art and joy to Detroit's huddled masses last night, when Microsoft ran an ad before my eyes.

It showed, well, people touching the screens of their laptops and drawing strange circles and lines all over what seemed like family pictures.

Why were they doing this? Was this some code? Was Microsoft declaring its artistic credentials? Was that cat being targeted by a sniper?

But no. For a caption informed me that this was Windows 8's picture password.

And yet, because I am less than attentive when waiting for the Giants to daintily mow down another cold-weather pretender, I wondered whether anyone might think these people were taking chunks of their pictures and somehow turning them into passwords.

I also wondered whether someone might think these shapes being drawn would cause the pieces of image to be dragged to another place.

Yes, we circle these ears here. We draw a line from this diver there. And no one can hack that, right?

The reality, naturally, is that the picture password works by getting you to perform touching gestures over an image -- which is far more amusing than trying to remember the word-number combination that involved some old lover and her birth date or head size.

I found myself, not for the first time, confronting two opposing impulses.

For a real human being, would this be fascinating or deeply confusing?

Would people want to find out more about this revolutionary method of checking in to your machine? Or would they screw up their eyes, reach for the gin and tonic and wish for a Xmas to remember?

Real people want things technological to be things simple. They want them to be obvious. They don't want to be taught in some heavy-handed way, as Instapaper creator Marco Arment complained when he went to a Microsoft store.

The ad, you see, doesn't explain much at all -- other than asking you to picture your password, which some might find is not what you actually have to do.

I decided I rather enjoyed the intrigue. I also decided that not everyone would.

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