Some Things Microsoft Can't Fix in Windows 7: Catch 22

March 11, 2009 | 10:31

Tags: #beta #rc1 #windows-7

Having used the Windows 7 beta for our first look article, I was reading about a few of the tweaks last week on MSDN Blogs. Most are all good, logical choices, however I found one in particular unappealing:

Another nice little tweak is to make "needy windows" -- windows demanding your attention, such as an IM program with new messages -- more visible. Many users complained that the taskbar button flashing was too subtle and they were missing events. [my emphasis] Microsoft has changed the flashing to a "bolder orange color" and the flash pattern to a more jarring saw tooth wave, as well as increasing the flash rate -- all of which should help get your attention when a window needs it.

The obsessive compulsive in me hates the flashing taskbar - I notice it instantly and must click it to go away. I already find it too intrusive and easily visible, yet, people are complaining they don't notice it?? My instant reaction was "ARE THEY BLIND?! IT'S ALREADY A BRIGHT ORANGE!!"

Then I realised I was just the same as everyone else and we reached a point long ago where for every feature Microsoft changes, there will be a lot more people that hate that change.
So unless Microsoft becomes *nix makes everything customisable, rather than taking a one-size fits all approach, we'll still end up with a super-size OS with double the memory footprint! Thanks! Personally, I'd favour an approach where you can install only what you need, how you want it to be. Unfortunately, because there's a) the corporate mentality and bureaucracy still in place b) only so many hours in the day and c) a deadline to hit, this seems unlikely.

Still, kudos to Microsoft for getting people's opinions and listening. It also exonerates their own design team as it enables them to say "well, customers wanted it this way".

Another pertinent question raised is: are people willing to learn about new features? Or will Win7 just be another WinXP, where lots of people spend the first year bleating "I like it how it was" all over again, regardless of the performance differences over previous versions? Inevitably, the first comments in the MSDN blog are "I like the old way for the XP start bar!", which means Microsoft has to make an inevitably futile attempt to balance the "I don't install that much and lose things easily" versus "I multi-task like I've got more arms than a Hindu God and need a million things to my fingertips" - again, Catch 22.

Win7 has some positive feedback already but new features like libraries... will people use them, or learn to use them properly?

Take this comment for example, by Mr. Mike Williams:

"Windows 7 makes gadgets far easier to manage, view and access by building them directly into the desktop. "

It's not easier to view because now my gadgets are either covered by a maximized (or right half-window sized) application, or have to sit on top of other apps and get in the way.

My screen is 1,920 pixels wide, which gives me room for two side by side portrait pages and a sidebar. Having sidebar space for me to look up my calendar, weather, sticky notes, run a media player etc is a huge win ... but now it's gone in W7.

While he may make a valid point to his own work style - many (like myself) originally criticised the sidebar feature for not being movable and taking up a fixed amount of screen space (as well as 50MB of memory). Not everyone uses a pair of portrait windows on a 1,920 screen, it depends what I'm doing: writing, Photoshop, web, video.., and in Win7 being able to flick the mouse at the bottom right hand corner to glass-up all the windows in order to see the desktop and gadgets underneath is just better. Unanimously so for everyone in the office. Although, clearly not to others.

At the other end of the scale there's this:

The old start menu was first debuted in Windows 95 almost 13 years ago. The original Windows Codename "Chicago" which is the basis for Windows 95 goes all the way back to 1993. That would make this concept now 15 years old. Don't you think its time for a change after this long of the old model?

Get rid of it entirely? I can see that going down well? Maybe he was in the initial Vista design meeting...

It's just time for users to grow and adapt to necessary changes in Windows.

No matter how stubborn and hard nosed you want Microsoft to be - to deal with the legacy of Windows - it has to (or feels it has to) appear to pander to customers while also maintaining its own interests and passing all the opinions it gathers through the bureaucracy filter before being tentatively dealt with by developers. There's simply no right answer and despite good press for Win7, I doubt Microsoft will ever find a winning formula.
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