We wanted to do an early Windows 8 post about one of the most used features, and one we have not improved substantially in a long time. With the increasing amount of local storage measured in terabytes, containing photos (in multiple formats and very large files), music, and video, these common operations are being taxed in new ways. These changes, along with consistent feedback about what we could improve, have inspired us to take a fresh look and redesign these operations. Of course this is just one feature among many, but we wanted to start with something we can all relate to. Alex Simons is a director of program management on our Windows engineering team and authored this post on the redesign of some Windows file management basics. (PS: A lot of folks asked about Building Windows 8 Video #1 -- this is the user experience demo, http://win8.ms/uxpreview1.  The numbering seems to be confusing so this will be our last numbered video.)--Steven

Copying, moving, renaming, and deleting are far and away the most heavily used features within Windows Explorer, representing 50% of total command usage (based on Windows 7 telemetry data). For Windows 8, we want to make sure that using these core file management commands, which we collectively refer to as “copy jobs,” is a great experience.

We know from telemetry data (which is based on hundreds of millions of individuals opting in to provide anonymous data about product usage), that although 50% of these jobs take less than 10 seconds to complete, many people are also doing much larger jobs, 20% of which take more than 2 minutes to complete. Prior versions of Windows Explorer can handle these kinds of jobs, but Explorer isn’t optimized for high-volume jobs or for executing multiple copy jobs concurrently.

Usability studies confirm what most of us know—there are some pretty cluttered and confusing parts of the Windows 7 copy experience. This is particularly true when people need to deal with files and folders that have the same file names, in what we call file name collisions. Lastly, our telemetry shows that 5.61% of copy jobs fail to complete for a variety of different reasons ranging from network interruptions to people just canceling the operation.

We clearly have an opportunity to make some improvements in the experience of high-volume copying, in dealing with file name collisions, and in assuring the successful completion of copy jobs.

Many of you reading this blog post come at this from a slightly different perspective. Like me, you might already have a third-party copy management tool that already addresses these high-volume scenarios. Our telemetry data shows that the most popular of these add-ons (such as TeraCopy, FastCopy, and Copy Handler) are running on fewer than .45% of Windows 7 PCs. While that might be a large absolute number given the size of the Windows 7 customer base, it still tells us that most people do not have a great tool for high-volume copy jobs.

We aren’t aiming to match the feature sets of these add-ons. We expect that there will be a vibrant market for third-party add-ons for a long time. Our focus is on improving the experience of the person who is doing high-volume copying with Explorer today, who would like more control, more insight into what’s going on while copying, and a cleaner, more streamlined experience.

In Windows 8, we have three main goals for our improvements to the copy experience:

  • One place to manage all copy jobs: Create one unified experience for managing and monitoring ongoing copy operations.
  • Clear and concise: Remove distractions and give people the key information they need.
  • User in control: Put people in control of their copy operations.

Based on these goals, we made four major improvements to the copy experience. Here is a short video demo of these improvements—but keep reading for a more detailed tour.


If you don't see a video here or can't play it, download it here: High quality MP4 | Low quality MP4

First, we’ve consolidated the copy experience. You can now review and control all the Explorer copy jobs currently executing in one combined UI. Windows 8 presents all pending copy jobs in this single dialog, saving you from having to navigate through multiple floating dialogs looking for the one you need.

Figure 1 - Consolidated copy (fewer details view)

Next, we’ve added the ability to pause, resume, and stop each copy operation currently underway. This gives you control over which copy jobs will complete first. You can also click any of the source or destination folders while the copy operation is taking place and open up those folders.

Figure 2 - Pause (fewer details view)

To support this new ability to prioritize and decide, we’ve added a detailed view with a real-time throughput graph. Now each copy job shows the speed of data transfer, the transfer rate trend, and how much data in left to transfer. While this is not designed for benchmarking, in many cases it can provide a quick and easy way to assess what is going on for a particular job.

Here you can see three copy jobs underway:

Figure 3 - Consolidated copy (more details view)

And here you can see how the speed of file transfer increases substantially when two of the copy jobs are paused:

Figure 4 - Pause (more details view)

We’re anticipating that many of you are going to want to know what we’ve done to improve the accuracy of the estimated time remaining for a copy to complete. (This has been the source of some pretty funny jokes over the years).

Estimating the time remaining to complete a copy is nearly impossible to do with any precision because there are many unpredictable and uncontrollable variables involved – for instance, how much network bandwidth will be available for the length of the copy job? Will your anti-virus software spin up and start scanning files? Will another application need to access the hard drive? Will the user start another copy job?

Rather than invest a lot of time coming up with a low confidence estimate that would be only slightly improved over the current one, we focused on presenting the information we were confident about in a useful and compelling way. This makes the most reliable information we have available to you so you can make more informed decisions.

Our last major set of improvements simplify and clean up the experience for resolving file name collisions, which we also refer to as “conflict resolution.” At this point we can admit that the current experience can be rather confusing. People don’t know which files are which, and they find it challenging to find the information they need to make a decision.

Figure 5 - Windows 7 conflict

Windows 7 Conflict Resolution dialog

 

Our new design is much more clear, concise, and efficient, providing a much more visible and actionable approach to conflict resolution. All the files from the source are on the left. All the files in the target location with file name collisions are on the right. The screen layout is easy to understand and shows you the critical information for all the collisions, front and center in one dialog.

Figure 6 - Conflict (more details)
The new Windows 8 Conflict Resolution dialog

If you need to know even more about the conflicting files, you can hover over the thumbnail image to see the file path or  double-click it to open it from here.

Finally, in addition to these big improvements, we’ve also done a thorough scrub and removed many of the confirmation dialogs that you’ve told us are annoying or feel redundant (i.e. “are you sure you want to move this file to the recycle bin?” or “are you sure you want to merge these folders?”) to create a quieter, less distracting experience.

All of this adds up to building a significantly improved copy experience, one that is unified, concise, and clear, and which puts you in control of your experience.

--Alex Simons