I'm a developer in Melbourne, Australia, and co-founder of Hello Code.

Published Mon 11 February 2008

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Windows 7: Josh Edition

Windows Vista has been almost universally panned, by critics and users alike. Aside from offering hardly any new functionality, it added a lot of things users didn't like — from changing around menus, to moving and renaming system tools and control panel options. It seemed like Microsoft was trying to make up for their lack of functionality by, well, just changing things. And it doesn't help that MacOS continues to get prettier and prettier.

I've recently bought a new laptop which came with Vista preinstalled, so I've witnessed first hand what everyone talks about. Also, within three days I've already broken it and had to reinstall from the recovery partition. That's quality. Something loading on startup broke it, and it was stuck in a perpetual reboot cycle.

I think it might have been Daemon tools, but for chrissakes if something like that happens, your 'fix Windows startup' tool should actually fix Windows startup errors.

With all this in mind, if Microsoft came to me and asked what I'd like in the next release, I'd probably tell them something like what follows.

Things to fix

Consistency — If it ain't broke

We've heard it from a lot of people that Vista's changes are wildly inconsistent. The problem with changing things is that they may make more sense to you, but you have generations of users who have gotten used to the way you did things previously. For example, first thing I do when I open the Control Panel is to click 'Classic View'. That way I don't have to try and guess whereabouts I click to uninstall programs (although, case in point, this icon is now called Programs and Features instead of Add or Remove Programs — I know which one makes more sense to me). Another example, you have to press Alt to see the menu bar in Explorer/Control Panel windows. Why hide them? It's not like users are crying out for 18px more vertical real estate.

So please Mr Ballmer, be descriptive and sensible with where you place things, don't change things for the sake of it, and don't make me hunt for things that should be easy.

One version with everything

This point is blindingly obvious. Five different versions of Vista... is this really necessary? Follow Apple's lead and create one version of Windows which has everything for everyone in it.

And make it cheaper.

Break compatibility

You heard me right. Break compatibility. The problem with speed, perfomance and size issues from Vista is that the bloated Windows codebase just keeps growing and growing. MS programmers can't remove deprecated APIs because it will break compatibility with older (usually Microsoft) apps, which have their hooks into the OS through hidden APIs and direct accessors, rather than doing everything above board.

I think it's time MS took responsibility for this, however, and bit the bullet. Please break compatibility in the next version of Windows. Cut back all the crap which you've had to support for the last decade, and give us a slimmer, faster, and probably even more secure kernel. Please. It will be worth having to upgrade every app, trust me.

Give us back WinFS

WinFS was a new filesystem that Microsoft planned to introduce back when Vista was codenamed Longhorn. It actually was revolutionary. The paradigm was that the file system was treated like a big database. Programs could run queries against the filesystem, and the idea of folders got even broader. With some smart metatags, you could have a folder which collected all files tagged 'Work' wherever they were. And it would act exactly the same as a real folder.

However Microsoft scrapped the idea along the way because it was slowing performance and development. See the point above, I'd say. Once you've got a small, speedy kernel again, build WinFS right back into it please.

Things I'd like to add

Rearrangeable taskbar tasks

Call me obsessive-compulsive, anal, whatever, but I like my programs in a certain order. Thunderbird always comes first. I know I'm not alone with this one, and it would be incredibly easy to do. Please let me drag my programs to change their order on the taskbar. I'm actually surprised this hasn't happened years ago.

Unified notification interface

This is a little idea that's been niggling at the back of my mind for a while. It's not quite complete, but sheesh Microsoft, do I have to do everything around here?! I'll provide the idea, you implement it, okay?

A lot of desktop apps these days are using pop up "toaster" notifications. Live Messenger (or whatever brand is on it these days), email clients, Winamp, whatever. Whenever something important happens that I should know about, I get a little notification bottom right of my screen. This is A Good Thing.

So is there any reason why this can't be a standard Windows interface? Something like this:

Vista Notification

It could work. But you could also take it a bit further. What about something along the lines of Particls? A unified notification interface that applications can add events to. And events wouldn't just have to be text — progress bars could reside in one interface as well. For example, why do you need to open the Explorer copy dialog to see how far your files are through? Check on that, and the status of your DVD burning, all at once.

Maybe like this:

Vista notification area

Or possibly horizontally along the bottom. I don't really know how to fit it nicely. But hey, Microsoft can flesh out these interface ideas for me. I'm not even getting paid to do this.

Virtual desktops

Linux did it, MacOS copied, surely it's Microsoft's turn. Increase productivity by adding virtual desktops you can swap between. I won't go into much detail here, just look at how Linux or MacOS (or even third-party Vista plugins) do it.

Something groundbreaking

And finally, Microsoft, I'm going to leave the last one up to you. You know how you promised "the Wow starts now" with Vista? Most people would agree "the Meh starts now" is more apt. But that's okay, just do it better next time. Knock us over with a completely new UI paradigm. Show us how fast your new OS can boot up, how snappily it can run our programs, how nifty all the little extras are. And not just by rehashing everyone else's ideas (I'm looking at you, Windows Sidebar).

Oh and for god's sake, don't make it any more shiny or I'll gouge my eyes out.

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