Saturday, December 26, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Instead of letting users configure how to group connection icons, all types of connection icons are now grouped under a single icon in the notification area. Wired (ethernet), wireless, dial up, PPPoE, incoming and outgoing VPN connections, connections through UPnP internet gateways - everything is represented by that single Network icon without the choice being available to the user as to what connection icons he wishes to show so he can check their status, and which ones he does not wish to be displayed. Ethernet connections especially, are poorly represented or should I say, not given any direct way to interact with at all!
Windows XP gives 2 click access to an ethernet connection's settings (Properties) should any IP addresses be required to be changed, as well as 1 click access to an ethernet connection's status, firewall settings, the Repair action and disabling/enabling its adapter. The Status dialog is important as it shows several important details such as duration of the connection, bytes/packets sent and received, IP addresses of the client, the gateway, DHCP and DNS servers as well as the MAC address. Neither Windows Vista nor Windows 7 offer quick access to this information although Windows 7 improves slightly upon Windows Vista by treating wireless, dial-up, PPPoE and VPN connections in a manner similar to Windows XP. It still takes 3 clicks to access their properties, status or connect/disconnect them. Windows XP also introduced a nifty single click Repair action which merely automates a series of steps that reset the network connection (which can also be performed using the command line -> ipconfig /renew, /release and disabling/enabling the adapter). Most of the times, this was handy but unfortunately Windows Vista replaces it with new Network Diagnostics and Troubleshooting capabilities which although far more sophisticated, are not necessary most of the time.
Windows XP also showed an icon in the notification area and in Network Connections for connections set up through UPnP Internet Gateway Devices (IGDs), as long as the IGD Discovery and Control client was installed. Double clicking the icon in Network Connections initiated a connection to the Internet via the gateway device (such as a home router or an ICS enabled computer) eliminating the need to manually connect (should be need arise) through the router's HTML-based administration interface. The notification area icon showed status information similar to an Ethernet connection icon but additionally offered a Settings button to set up or view NAT port mappings established by the gateway device using UPnP or manually. This is true eXPerience of UPnP NAT traversal. Thankfully, the NAT port mappings can still be set up, although, from the gateway device's Properties -> Settings in Network Explorer, a dialog hard to discover.
The Network and Sharing Center introduced in Windows Vista tries to confuse the networking-shy average user by mixing up similar sounding links:
1. Connect to a network - which brings up a separate
2. Manage wireless connections - which brings up the wireless connections
3. Set up a connection - which brings up the usual New connection wizard, with some stages of the wizard requiring clicking on an action and then clicking Next while other parts featuring command links.
4. Manage network connections - which opens the familiar Network Connections folder again in a new window. Windows 7 opens this in the same window.
The hyperlink style
The Network Map feature is genuinely useful and the Windows Vista Network and Sharing Center does have a useful area at the very bottom which shows all the files and folders users at sharing at any instant. Sadly, this feature is relegated back to Fsmgmt.msc in Windows 7. The Network Explorer (formerly Network Neighborhood and then My Network Places) displays a unified list of all computers on the network, no longer housed under an organized tree view of workgroups or domains. This also slows down the process of populating computers which we may need to access right away.
The Start menu appears to be deliberately crippled to not allow expanding "Connect To" as a menu (like Windows XP) but instead bringing it up as the weird
Windows 7 comes with its own set of evils such as removing the useful network activity animation in the notification area. It also attempts to revolutionize sharing with the introduction of HomeGroup - now that is a different story that HomeGroup is broken by design and has a huge security/privacy flaw because it shares the entire user folder using SMB sharing on downlevel operating systems and doesn't get its permissions right. Plus without real downlevel operating system support in spite of countless users requests, HomeGroup is not exactly getting the love it deserved.
As much as we would like networks to be always operable and stable, they aren't. Networks connections are fragile which is why the administrator needs quick access to advanced settings. The above UI redesigns make setting up and repeatedly reconfiguring networks so annoying that users and administrators alike are left cursing the UI for slowing down their workflow.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
It was all fine and sensible up to Windows XP where newly created files (files pasted, downloaded or extracted from an archive) and newly created folders appeared at the end of the list of icons in any view, be it list view, details view or icon view. It was only after refreshing the view that they got logically sorted by the user-chosen sort criteria in Windows Explorer. The same behavior was in effect when renaming items. It is also why we have a Refresh button on the toolbar and in the View menu in Windows Explorer. But in Windows Vista and Windows 7 Explorer, all items are continuously sorted whether we would like it or not; we simply have no choice.
This creates several horrible issues when working with large numbers of files and folders, for example, in scenarios such as extracting/pasting several items into a folder already containing several items, it scatters them all over. This behavior also presents a problem when serially renaming items listed one after the other or simply if we wish to select multiple items after they have been pasted or created and we are not done working with them yet. In Windows 7, the "New folder" is sorted even before the user has given it a name and quite a number of times I have ended up with this error message:
As I said before, not many users are happy about this particular annoyance but instead of fixing it, what does Windows 7 do? It removes the Sort bar which debuted in Windows Vista except for Details view. The Sort bar allowed sorting items 1-click by any criteria merely by clicking on the header in any view. It was one of the few good enhancements made in Windows Vista (Windows 95 and all versions prior to Windows Vista have always had the Sort bar only in Details view) and now they managed to ruin that as well. Plus you can no longer freely arrange items by dragging, in any folder in Windows Explorer; you can only do so on the desktop. Items are now always aligned to grid and always auto arranged. To top it all, a catastrophic bug further wrecks this by de-selecting any selected item when sorting. Really Microsoft? Is this all the testing you could do when introducing a new view control?
Another mis-feature that I wish to highlight is from the Wikipedia article: "The Arrange By/Stack By options are only available for libraries and folders included in libraries. Plus, users can only stack by predefined categories depending on the library type. For example, users can only stack by Folder, Album, Artist, Song, Genre, and Rating for the Music library, whereas in Windows Vista, users could stack by any properties that exist for a file (common examples would be bit rate, year, composer, play count ..etc for audio files)." Clearly, limiting our choice seems to be their only goal. I doubt they even understand the difference between Auto Arrange and Align to Grid (the former aligns items to grid as well as sorts them by a specific order). What we have enjoyed for a decade now since Windows 95 is suddenly taken away from us for no reason? Microsoft simply refuses to give a choice about sorting and arranging. What is this if not an OCD?
The new Start menu also suffers from weird sorting behavior for which I have not been able to observe any specific pattern except one obvious annoyance - all the folders are dumped below and single items are put above. Yet again we get no choice.
This auto sorting in Explorer is an extremely serious usability flaw and the people on the Windows Shell team who do not understand it need to be fired for this issue which causes files to jump in a folder!! It makes Windows Vista/7/8 Explorer UNUSABLE.
I must say the Windows Shell team has failed to produce a usable shell after all the promises of Longhorn.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Why are removed features not explained, documented, accounted for, replaced or updated and reinstated?
Features get removed during the beta too if the whole experience is not robust enough to ship (which is absolutely normal) but even then they are not documented. Case in point: Windows SteadyState. Its main component, Windows Disk Protection was improved upon to require only a logoff instead of a reboot to undo all changes, renamed as Guest mode and was included in the Windows 7 beta, yet it silently disappeared in the RC. Poor users who used it daily on Windows XP and Windows Vista are left longing forever. They are asking for it in Microsoft's forums: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Other features which shared the same fate include: Native Bluetooth audio support, Accelerators for Windows (the Accelerator platform made it in), RSS Desktop Slideshow (which also managed to get in and is documented and supported in the INI theme file supplied but without an end user GUI), Removing beta features is perfectly normal though, in contrast to removing features shipping in an earlier Windows OS which is absolutely pathetic. In both cases, Microsoft does a poor job of documenting them and their reasons and an even poorer job of fixing them once users start complaining.
Therefore, the "Web view" and HTT customization features were dropped in Windows XP but their removal was justified. So Microsoft removed the wizard altogether and thankfully replaced it somewhat with a Customize tab in the folder's Properties which allows customizing the folder's view, icon and thumbnail view. Fortunately, the customization capabilities offered by desktop.ini since IE4 were left infact, which means you could create a hand edited desktop.ini to change the folder background or add an infotip among dozens of other customizations or copy over IEShWiz.exe from an older version of Windows to the folder you wanted to customize and run it.
Ave's Vista Folder Background. This is a shell extension which adds a nice Property Sheet to the folder's properties à la Windows XP's Customize tab. Windows 7 apparently comes with a new ListView control for Explorer which (I presume) breaks all such methods and so now the folder background customization feature is gone till someone writes a background customization shell extension specifically for Windows 7 (which anyone hardly does today, they are all up there twittering except a few) .
Desktop.ini now serves other annoying purposes such as appearing on the desktop when hidden and system files are set to show.
Friday, October 30, 2009
- Lets you keep the jump list on using left mouse click+drag but get back the good old right click context menu.
- Lets you completely turn off grouping which means if you turn off combining as well (Never combine) your new taskbar is your Quick Launch. This is the real classic taskbar functionality Microsoft chose to limit.
- Lets you choose what dragging and dropping a file into an application's taskbar button does - whether it'll be pinned to its jumplist or whether pass the document to the application, that is "Open with".
- Allows you to configure what middle click does - start a new instance (like Shift+click), close the app or focus window.
- Lets you completely disable the thumbnail previews.
- Lets you configure the behavior when you click on an app button while switching from another app : whether to directly switch to the last used window or show the thumbnail previews. Many users felt this was the only customizability missing from the taskbar.
- Lets you disable combining (Never combine), disable grouping yet hide labels.
Thanks to RaMMicHaeL for this. Native 64-bit version also available!
Edit: I couldn't agree more with one of the commenters who said: "It was so annoying how I couldn’t ungroup taskbar icons that were from the same program. Why in hell would microsoft take this feature out from vista? Yes, let’s just arbitrarily take out features. wtf are they high on H?" Unfortunately, that's the direction Microsoft is taking its products in. Every upgrade is a struggle to adapt to changes and compatibility issues.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
One fine day, Windows Vista came along and along came the horrible Explorer, that I feel they forgot to finish it (and the code got lost perhaps during the reset, no lol just kidding). The Status bar no longer showed the total space at one glance used by items in a folder when displaying a folder's contents. Users had to select files to see their size, what's more, the Vista Explorer's status bar has a horrible bug that persists as of this writing, yes, even in Windows Vista Service Pack 2. It incorrectly calculates file size and misreports it if the file is selected and the view is refreshed and the same file is reselected. It is a broken and partially implemented "feature". Vista also comes with a details pane, which btw is much nicer, more useful and also allows showing and editing metadata. The details pane is supposed to the status bar replacement but it doesn't report free disk space. What a half-done piece of work! Plus, a bonus horrid experience is that selecting more than 15 files makes the details pane force the user to click on a "Show more details" link to see the total size and other date-related details. Select or deselect one file and repeat the whole thing all over again. What a horrible user experience!
Apparently, the shell team wasn't done yet which is why they chose Windows 7 to ruin the situation even further. In Windows 7, the status bar does not show the size of any selected item, nor the free disk space. It is now a useless deprecated UI element that only redundantly shows the total number of items. When no items are selected in a folder, neither the details pane nor the status bar show the total size of files in the folder. When 15+ items are selected, the "Show more details" craptastic non-sense persists. (Microsoft's explanation via email when I asked about this issue was "calculating size is a complex operation which is CPU and I/O intensive!" and with libraries coming into the picture, Microsoft can't implement this correctly. WTF!?) Suddenly, for Microsoft, the total size without selecting a file and without the subfolders is a shallow computation that they decide is of no value to the user.
Alt+Enter is broken in the left pane of Explorer and simply plays the default beep sound. And with IColumnProvider gone, viewing folder sizes in a column in details view is impossible. Viewing sizes is now a two-or-more-clicks operation everywhere.
The performance reason is non-sense and for what its worth, I'd rather have it with the supposed performance hit. For virtual views like libraries or search, they need not implement the show-size-without-selection feature at all, neither was it implemented in Windows XP's search. And what is the explanation for removing universal free disk space reporting? Is that computationally intensive too for today's CPUs? That is, as one angry commenter in Microsoft's forums said, like removing the clock from the taskbar because you have got a nice analog clock as a gadget.
A side effect of deprecating the status bar is that it is no longer possible to accurately know how much space you can free up by emptying the Recycle Bin items if it contains folders. As long as only files are selected, file sizes are shown in the
Is there no one complaining or noticing this seemingly small but practically huge regression? Apparently, there are quite a number of complaints, with some threatening to go back to Windows XP for this simple but important "feature", but they're being shown the "This behavior is by design" billboard.
Status bar rants:
Recycle Bin status bar issue:
... and so on but does anyone at Microsoft care? Apparently not because it's been this way since the Windows Vista betas.
Once again, Classic Shell's Classic Explorer shell extension fixes this!! It even fixes Windows Vista's own buggy implementation which miscalculates the file size in certain cases.
Update: This looks like a cat-and-mouse game. Windows 8 Explorer uses a non-standard status bar control in Explorer and eliminates most of the functionality so now not even Classic Shell can fix it. I guess Microsoft weren't happy with third parties fixing Explorer.
Monday, October 26, 2009
The folder size column handler was another heavenly goodie that I simply can't do without. Microsoft's crybaby excuse for not including such a feature out-of-the-box is that it would cause too much SMB chattiness and performance impact on network shares. Fine but that's why Explorer is extensible right? The Folder size shell extension was implemented as a service and cached the sizes of folders in memory upon startup and reported them to Explorer the next time users visited the same directory so any lag/performance impact was negligible, while it updated the size in the background non-obstructively. The developer was also planning to add persistent (on disk) storage of size information so it would not be reset across reboots. Later, the issue of network load was eliminated, as Folder size came with a setting to enable/disable scanning on different types of drives (removable drives, network shares, optical drives). Most other file managers also report directory sizes in columns since long.
But some evil Microsoft person decided to yank IColumnProvider from Windows Vista because of reasons I'm not convinced of, at all. There is no direct equivalent to IColumnProvider now, and there is no way in Windows Vista/Windows 7 to do what IColumnProvider did but the Property System introduced by the Windows Search release in Windows Vista is its somewhat makeshift replacement. Why is Microsoft making life difficult for users and developers? Why are we given less choice, less control than earlier? Whatever happened to Windows 7's pseudo but make-believe "user in control" philosophy? Granted, if the algorithm written by the developer was slow, it could cause Explorer to hang but hey are bad apps totally absent on any platform?
The Property System tries to do what IColumnProvider did beforehand and cache the info to disk, separate from Explorer using the IPropertyStore interface that integrates with Windows Search. But it can only extract metadata which is stored in file streams, there seems to be no way to extract and index dynamic data such as file size that isn't stored inside the file or inside a secondary stream. The result? All such extensions which used IColumnProvider are broken and forgotten. This valuable functionality seems to be lost with Windows Vista. Microsoft has simply turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the rants of the Folder size developer. I guess Windows XP is here to stay till Microsoft listens.
P.S.: Another bonus feature the Folder size shell extension offered was the ability to display file sizes for files above 1 MB and 1 GB respectively in MBs and GBs instead of the dumb "KB" used by Explorer.
Disclaimer: All mentions of "evil" on this blog are tongue-in-cheek as in http://thesource.ofallevil.com. I don't think Microsoft is an evil corporation.
Friday, October 23, 2009
What did Windows Vista do? In an attempt to revolutionize UI and "wow" users, it removed direct access to all buttons except Back, Forward and View, and gave users buttons like Burn and Share which they may not use most of the time. It tried to make the toolbar somewhat dynamic (item/selection specific options) like the Office Ribbon but ended leaving a huge amount of empty space on the toolbar. Critically, it removed the ability to quickly toggle the tree view/left folder (navigation) pane. Windows 7 has gone one step further into degrading the "command bar" by removing icons for more buttons except for the "Open" action icon. Windows 7 does add 2 critical buttons though "New Folder" and Preview pane toggle button. Every now and then on some forum or blog, you see users complaining about the lack of an Up button. Fanboys argue that the Up button isn't necessary with the advent of breadcrumb-style address bar but the Up button allowed users to navigate one level up using a static button, the breadcrumbs style requires users to accurately re-position their mouse pointer every time over the parent folder and then click.
Fortunately, a shell extension partially written in .NET and partially in native code called QTTabBar allowed poor Vista
More recently, Classic Shell has become available which does an exceptionally stellar job of permanently bringing the toolbar icons back, well not permanently really, until Windows breaks Explorer toolbars.
Really! What were they thinking? No one would notice & want it back?
Plus, the new taskbar ensures that users using 16-bit applications continue to have a degraded user experience. If a 16-bit program is pinned to the taskbar, it appears as a separate button (two instances) when launched/running. Looks like the Live Messenger 2009 team influenced this.
This issue has been discussed here on MSDN. I e-mailed Raymond Chen and he replied that he would add my request to the other requests being made of the user interface team so they can prioritize it appropriately. Which means that a feature that worked in previous Windows versions won't be fixed right away with a higher priority or may never be fixed (as MS crawls towards 64-bit).
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Note: Make sure Ctrl+Space doesn't conflict with the apps you use. For example, if you are using the language bar, Ctrl+Space is used to switch the IME. In Windows Explorer, you may be using it for multiple file selection. It is also used in Emacs, Word or Eclipse. If it conflicts, you should change the keyboard shortcut in the app if configurable. For the language bar, the hotkey can be changed in "Text Services and Input Languages" accessible from the Regional and Language options control panel.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Microsoft will be launching Windows 7 in October. How do I feel about it? Not so good and a bit worried for Microsoft. The future is not so good. Windows 7 makes some of the same mistakes Windows Vista did - changing the UI radically, having poor backward compatibility with Windows XP-era apps, removing a bootload of features (the thing I hate the most with a Voldemort like hatred) just like Windows Vista did and making some new design mistakes. Plus it has very little in terms of really new features for Vista upgraders (I really feel sorry for poor Vista
Why am I and (will I) be writing with such negativity and making a huge fuss of this? Because it's a myth that Microsoft listens to feedback. It's an illusion they have very succesfully managed to create with Windows 7. I have been reporting the issues I will be writing about through every possible means: Connect, team blogs, forums, email. I understand that they can't listen to each and everyone's suggestion and that there are time and other resource constraints but hey don't you care about making sure the existing features of your OS are working or broken while developing new features? Are you trading new features in exchange for the working old ones?
If Windows 7 is SO good, Windows Vista wasn't THAT bad and if Windows Vista was THAT bad, Windows 7 isn't SO good. That's my point. The two OSes are more similar than any other Microsoft Oses, maybe Windows 98 SE and Windows Me.
Windows 7 sadly doesn't live up to the hype and my expectations. One only has to look at the consistent dumbing down of Microsoft products to see this. Windows XP remains more popular than its two successors combined. Why? Not because people are reluctant to change, but because each successive Microsoft product gives the user less options, less customization. For all its bells and whistles and "I'm a PC" BS, Windows 7 has simply enhanced the autopilot and hidden the manual controls even deeper. If something is good, let people choose it. It may not be good for everybody.