Engineering Windows 7

Welcome to our blog dedicated to the engineering of Microsoft Windows 7

Follow-up: Managing Windows windows

Follow-up: Managing Windows windows

There’s a lot of great discussion from the window arranging post.  This really shows how important these details are to people.  Being able to arrange how apps are shown on screen is key for productivity because it impacts almost every task.  It’s also very personal – people want to be in control of their work environment and have it set up the way that feels right. 

One thing that should be clear is that it would not be possible for us to provide solutions to all the different ways people would like to work and all of the different tools and affordances people have suggested--I think everyone can see how overloaded we would be with options and UI absorbing all the suggestions!  At first this might seem to be a bit of a bummer, but one thing we loved was hearing about all the tools and utilities you use (and you write!) to make a Windows PC your PC.  Our goal is not to provide the solution to every conceivable way of potentially managing your desktop, but rather to provide an amazing way to manage your desktop along with customizations and personalizations plus a platform where people can develop tools that further enhance the desktop in unique and innovative ways.  And as we have talked about, even that is a huge challenge as we cannot provide infinite customization and hooks—that really isn’t technically possible.  But with this approach Windows provides a high degree (but not infinite) flexibility, developers provide additional tools, computer makers can differentiate their PCs, and you can tune the UI to be highly personalized and productive for the way you want to work using a combination of thos elements and your own preferences. 

One other thing worth noting is that a lot of the comments referred to oft discussed elements in Windows, such as stealing the focus of windows, the registry, or managing the z-order of windows—a great source of history and witticisms about Windows APIs is from Raymond Chen’s blog.  Raymond is a long-time developer on the Windows team and author of Old New Thing, The: Practical Development Throughout the Evolution of Windows.  This is also a good source to read where the boundaries are between what Windows does and what developers of applications can choose to be responsible for doing (and what they are capable of customizing).

With that intro, Dave wanted to follow up with some additional insights the team has taken away from the discussion.  --Steven

We saw several pieces of feedback popping up consistently throughout the comments.  Paraphrasing the feedback (more details below), it sounds like there’s strong sentiment on these points:

  • The size of windows matters, but wasting time resizing windows is annoying.
  • Just let me decide where the windows go – I know best where my windows belong.
  • Dragging files around is cumbersome because the target window (or desktop) is often buried.
  • Desire for better ways to peek at the running windows in order to find what we’re trying to switch to.
  • Want a predictable way to make the window fit the content (not necessarily maximized).
  • Want to keep my personalized glass color, even when a window is maximized.

For each of these needs, there’s a lot of great discussion around possible solutions – both features from other products, and totally novel approaches.  It’s clear from these comments that there’s a desire for improvement, and that you’ve been thinking about this area long enough to have come up with some fairly detailed recommendations!  Below are a excerpts from some of the conversations ongoing in the comments.

Put the windows where I want them

It’s super interesting to see people discussing the existing features, and where they work or don’t work.

For example, @d_e is a fan of the existing tiling options in the taskbar:

Arranging windows in a split-window fashion is actually quite easy: While pressing CTRL select multiple windows in the taskbar. Then right-click them and select one of the tiling options...

But that approach doesn’t quite meet the goal for @Xepol:

As for the window reorder buttons on the taskbar -> I've known they were there since Win95, but I never use them.  They never do what I want.  If they even get close to the right layout, its the wrong window order.  Since I have to drag stuff around anyways, its just easier to get exactly what I want the first time.

@Aengeln suggests taking the basic idea of tiled windows to the next level in order to make them really useful:

A very useful feature would be the ability to split the deskotop into separate portions, especially on larger screens.  For example, I might want to maximize my Messenger window to a small part on the right hand side of the desktop and still have the ability to maximize other windows into the remaing space. Non-maximized windows would be able to float across both (all) parts of the desktop.

It sounds like there’s agreement that optimizing the screen space for more than one window would be super useful, if it would only let you stay in control of where windows ended up, and was easy and quick to use every day.  The current tiling features in the taskbar give hints at how this could be valuable, but aren’t quite fast and easy enough to be habit forming.

Open at the right size

We saw a lot of comments on the “default size” of windows, and questions about how that’s decided.  Applications get to choose what size they open at, and generally use whichever size they were at the last time they were closed (or they can choose not to honor those settings).  One of the cases that can trip people up is when IE opens a small window (websites will do this sometimes), because once you close it that will be the new “last size”. 

@magicalclick suggested a solution:

I wish I have one more caption button, FIXED SIZE. Actually it is a checkbox. When I check the box, it will save the window state for this application. After that, I can resize/move around. When I close window, it will not save the later changes.

@steven_sinofsky offered this advanced user tip that you can use to start being more click-efficient right away:

@magicalclick I dislike when that one happens!  Rather than add another button or space to click, I do the same thing in one click with a "power user" trick which is when you see the small window open don't close it until you first open up another copy of the application with the "normal" window size.  Then close the small one and then the normal one. 

Of course this is a pain and close to impossible for anyone to find, but likely a better solution than adding a fourth UI affordance on the title bar.


Finding the right window

The word being used is “Expose”:

@Joey_j: Windows needs an Exposé-like feature. I want to see all of my windows at once.

@Dan.F: one word - expose.  copy it.

@GRiNSER : Expose has its own set of drawbacks: Like having 30 windows on a macbook pro 1400x1050 screen is really not that helpful. Though its way more helpful than Crap Flip 3D. Expose would be even more useful with keyboard window search...

Regardless of the name, there’s a desire to visually find the window you’re looking for.  Something more random-access than the timeline approach of Alt-Tab or Flip-3d, and something that lets you pick the window visually from a set of thumbnails.  This is very useful for switching when there are a lot of windows open – but some current approaches don’t scale well and it is likely scaling will become an even more difficult problem as people run even more programs.

Dragging files

There were several comments (and several different suggestions) on making it easier to drag between windows:

@Manicmarc:  I would love to see something like Mac OS's Springloaded folders. Drag something over a folder and hover, it pops up, drag over to the next folder, drop it.

@Juan Antonio: It would be useful that when I´m dragging an object I could to open a list or thumbnail of the windows ( maybe a right- click )to select what window use to drop the object.

On this topic, I loved @Kosher’s comment on the difference between being able to do something, and it feeling right.

The UI could be enhanced quite a bit to make it much easier to do things. It's not just about how easy it is but it's also about how smoothly the user transitions between common UI workflows and tasks.  This is a bit like explaining the difference between a Ferrari and a Toyota to someone that has never driven a Ferrari though, so I don't know if it will ever happen.

In designing Windows 7, we’ve really been taking the spirit of this comment to heart.  I can’t wait to hear what car Windows 7 is compared to once it’s available for a test drive.

- Dave

Leave a Comment
  • Please add 1 and 1 and type the answer here:
  • Post
  • there used to be a feature (in betas) where you could rotate windows 360° and dock them;I hope you put the dock feature on the desktop like the one in visual studio.

  • I'm one of the many who has complained about focus stealing.

    In this follow-up article you make an oblique reference to Raymond Chen's blog and application responsibilities in the same breath as focus-stealing, from which I get the idea, even without reading back issues of Raymond Chen's excellent blog, that you believe focus-stealing is the responsibility of apps and not Windows.

    However this doesn't mean you guys can't do anything about it.  You are the focal point for the overall user experience so you can do a lot about focus stealing, in the same way you've worked towards a consistent user experience in other areas.  Some suggestions:

    - Make a strong statement in the UI guide that focus stealing is bad unless WW III is about to break out and you are serious about it.

    - Change Microsoft internal development guidelines to look for poor focus stealing and other non-UI-experience-conformant apps, just like you now review all apps for security (most of the software I use that does focus stealing is Microsoft software - for example IE).

    - Change the Windows 7 logo guidelines so an app can't get the logo if it's caught doing focus stealing.

    - If necessary, change the Windows API so certain calls from bad apps to jump their windows to the foreground are ignored (ie a Windows 7 app-specific compatibility setting).

    I know you guys love to focus on coding up cool new features, but a big reason people feel good or bad about an OS release is how predictable the UI is.  Windows XP was very consistent and people liked it for that reason at a subconcious level - I give the XP UI team a lot of credit.  Now in Vista with the top menus gone, it's really hard to figure out how to do something sometimes - Organize menu?  Right click?  Hold down a key to make the legacy menus come back?  There are important features hidden in all those places.  I think Vista makes people feel dumb because they can never remember how to find something even after they've spent time working with Vista.

    So this is a pitch for you to take the somewhat squishy subject of UI consistency and predictability seriously.  Your users will be a lot happier.  And if you can somewhat improve focus stealing while you are at it, that would be great too!

  • Hi again!

    I don't know if this has been said before but it would be really nice to incorporate shading for winodws (take a look at WinRoll - - I use it but under Windows 2008 and Vista it's somewhat broken, 'cause some windows don't shade preperly, mostly Windows Explorer). I'm guessing it wouldn't be that difficult.

    Best regards!

  • Hi,

    Got an adea about icon management on windows desktop. The general opinion is that Desktop cleanup wizard is bad and annoyng and it should be disabled ASAP.

    I propse another solution to a problem of having old icons on the desktop: Why not fade them so that they become semi-transparent or some other way show their irrelevance to the user. This way a user can decide if that icon must remain on the desktop or not. Even more, the user will clearly see other 5-6 icons that are regularly used.

    I believe that even users who have some 30-40 icons on the desktop, only 5-6 are used daily. It would be excellent for them if the icons would fade and it is easier for them to find those used icons more easily.

    The idea of moving those unused icons to another folder is quite scary. I don't like if computer shifts mu stuff around. But marking icons as unused is a nice and polite way to notify me about the low usage of that particular icon.

  • Another input idea about windows placement. Current Windows stacks new windows on top of older windows but if for example there is on explrer window open and user opens another and if there is room to place new window so that it does not cover existing window, then it should be done so.

    This way the user has full access to old window as well as a new window without moving them around.

    It might be complex to work the algorithm out as such a simple solution would work on ly on clean desktop, but something along the lines of improved usage of screen estate on windows placement should be doable.

  • @ion

    Thx for Gif from Microsoft Research

    PS. you have see a video Microsoft  Directions and Culture ?

    See the video and Stop  1:37 min.

    See Folder Animation ;)

    Microsoft Research is GREAT!

  • The MS research already has some ideas how to make the window management and taskbar better.. GroupBar

    I really hope that at least SOME of these features will be in W7.

  • I'm hoping it will be compared to a Mercedes. Beautiful design, but unlike a Ferrari (*cough* Mac) practical for day to day use by the masses.

    And I speak as a PC user who switched to Mac, and then switched back 2 years later.

  • @ITP

    That's a good idea to change the task bar but instead of "study and choose" the best bar prototype, they better pet them all in Windows.

    More possibilities = more liberty

  • ...and one more. isn't customization important? so please explain to me, y there is no way to customize mmc snapins look in vista/w2k8? one could open snapin in author mode, set the view and save it. in vista - someone decided that it is too dangerous and msc files are system protected! LOL!

    the only workaroud is to create your own msc files, put it in some directory and put it's path to %path% variable. but why customisation is treated as denger?

  • Positioning, managing, create effect, create differents taskbars, isn't it something everybody must be able to do? Customization is a great idea for common users because it's not too much complex, but for ones that want to go further, like me, we want to code our bars, our window designs and effects, and offer them to everyone who want to change the apparence of Windows.

    More possibilities = more liberty : Windows 98 was great because there was plenty of themes and screensaver, there was a lot of possibilities for everyone. That's a base idea.

    Why imposing something that someone don't like? It's better to give possibility to change it. That will be a card that Windows 7 team must use because everybody like liberty, to have more possibilities, to be able to control what they see. And if they don't like possibilities they have, there is somebody that can create another one.

    More possibilities = more liberty

  • I have a tip about switching windows, and I signed in just to post this.

    The live window previews in the taskbar is a great addition, but it still doesn't feel like I'm in complete control, like I'm not having a complete overview of all opened windows.

    What about, instead of the previews, the actual window temporarily shows up on top of all other windows?

    Also, the taskbar grouping introduced in Windows XP is useful, but if there are many open windows in one group, it becomes rather annoying.

    Wouldn't it be better if you click on a group, all windows of that group appear side to side, something like what I said about the live window previews?

    When you click one of the windows, the selected window will become active, and all other windows will go back to their original state.

  • >>there used to be a feature (in betas) where you could rotate windows 360° and dock them...

    If I'm following you correctly, this is entirely useless.

    ...The general opinion is that Desktop cleanup wizard is bad and annoyng and it should be disabled ASAP.

    >> I don't think its in Vista. I've been running Vista for almost ten months now and have never seen it. Of course, my desktop is kinda clean...

    >>I propse another solution to a problem of having old icons on the desktop: Why not fade them...

    Microsoft should continue to leave peoples' desktops alone. People don't need Microsoft butting their heads into their computers to tell them their desktop is too cluttered.

    >>I'm hoping it will be compared to a Mercedes. Beautiful design, but unlike a Ferrari (*cough* Mac) practical for day to day use by the masses.

    Macs aren't practical for day-to-day use? I have a VFX class these days that is run in a room filled exclusively with Mac computers, so I've been getting some good exposure to them, and I disagree with that statement entirely. They're just as usable, if not more usable, than any version of Windows for the general computing. OSX for daily computing is leagues faster than Vista and provides just as sleek an interface. One that's slightly more understandable in places, too.

    People noting othat customization = good are 100% correct. I'm hoping W7 is nothing like Vista in this respect. In the M3 screenshot of the Personalization menu there is a link to "Get more themes online," whether or not that is removed at launch I don't know but, at least for now, it's an indicator MS has the idea to make W7 more customizable than Vista. It could always be like XP's themes though... nly MS made themes unless you patch/modify your install and resort to 3rd parties. I believe they online released two themes for XP, Media Center and Zune.

  • Will you guys be supporting custom themes this time around? I know I can get them on Vista by installing a modified uxtheme.dll but will Windows 7 support the option for people to create and distribute Windows 7 themes through maybe a Microsoft ran and supported website like how the current Gadget site is?I think it has to deal a large amount with the customization and personalization of your workspace if you can not only change the UI options as you like but change the look and theme of the UI as well. You're making a lot of very important points about how you won't be able to change the UI options to suit everyone but I think personally that everyone would benefit from a theme scheme as i suggested above. not only does it allow you to moniter the quality of themes and their contents but it gives us peace of mind when installing themes due to your processing of the content.  

  • Hallo,

    i like the points the user who are listet in this post...but i have some more points...

    1. The LivePreview should be open and close by filetype...a sample: if i am selected a mp3 File...the  LivePreview Panel will slide in from the side(maybe with an animation ;) but if i am going to a folder the LivePreview Panel will i dont need to enable or disable the Panel self.

    2. In Vista(i like Vista but the are some problems) i loose a lot of times the settings i made in my folders...a sample: I open Computer in the Explorer...normaly i habe Tiles + Group by Type...but sometimes the drives are not in groups and i have details and not please fix that...Windows should not decide how the folders need to look...its something the User will do.

    3. App Switching...put away Flip 3D and do something in like the old Alt+Tab but improve that and add search if i have many apps open.

    Thats all...i have seen some Screenshots from the M3 and i looks great for a go on and show us the best Windows(OS) we ever seen...

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