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

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  • Please add 5 and 5 and type the answer here:
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  • About dropping files on the desktop covered by other windows, why not make it like this: when the user drags the file(s) to a side of the screen and hovers there for a configurable period of time (say, 1 sec), all windows get minimized and the user can drop his/her files on the desktop.

    Or, make a hide-able panel that has the thumbnails of currently open windows on it, including the desktop. When there are too many windows to show on the panel, it becomes scrollable, so the user can hover the files over a thumbnail and drop them into it.

    About the explorer itself: it happened to me many times already - i open a folder, set the view, leave it, come back and it resets itself to one of the pre-defined views.

    Also, when a picture/mp3 picture tag changes, the folder will still show the old version until you leave and re-open the folder, F5 suprisingly doesn't do anything.

    Oh and another one, if you have a long filename that barely fits into the default explorer window size, there will be no scrollbar. Now, if you rename the file and leave the length the same, explorer sometimes changes to the imaginary 2nd column of the folder - w/o displaying the scrollbar, so all you see is the end of the long filename. Fixes itself after re-opening the folder.

    Overall the explorer seems kinda unfinished, even though it should have been. It's the basic PC browsing tool after all...

    One important point about the taskbar; In Vista, you can't display the icon for power options if you are running Vista on a normal PC. This means every time you want to change your power options, you have to go to the control panel/type it in the startmenu.

    I think it should be possible to activate that icon on a normal PC too, less hassle to activate the power plan you need atm and saves the user money.

  • I'll stop after this comment.

    I glanced at Raymond Chen's blog. It seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the user experience. It talks only about function calls and legacy. I certainly hope that you don't have engineers designing Windows 7.

    1. Blaming application authors is not a mitigation for the bug. You can blame driver authors all you want for Vista and 64-bit problems, but no amount of blame will help Vista or 64-bit OS'es have more drivers. The OS should be able to control this issue.

    2. Blaming legacy is a cop-out. I fully understand the legacy issues of Windows and the pain involved. But just like blaming ISV's, it's not a solution or even a mitigation.

    3. You discuss above that Windows is a platform that people can extend to solve their window management issues. I don't think I can control focus theft.

    4. Keyboard focus and foreground are system-wide transient settings. As such, they should be considered to be a part of the OS. If I am running an application in Windows Vista, I expect that if that application is going to alter a system-wide setting or part of the OS, it will request elevated permissions. Can my app change display settings or swap the left and right mouse buttons without UAC? These focus-related OS settings were somehow made to be exceptions to UAC.

    5. No one in Windows ever seems to accept that this is a problem. I'm not referring to these blog entries. I'm referring to many bugs and conversations I've had over recent years. No one seems to understand that my lack of trust for Windows is a valid concern.

    That's all on this topic. #4 sums up my opinion of how Windows should properly handle focus. #5 sums up my opinion of the status of this issue.

  • Sorry but these blogs are nothing more than an advertising ploy (see "Windows Mojave" ads). Windows 7 will be nothing more than a crap filled Vista update.. they will use these blogs as a "we listened to you and made Windows 7 better, look at our msdn blogs."

    You can polish a turd, but it is still crap and still stinks. Vista is crap, polishing it into Windows 7 does not take the status of crap away from it.

    The Microsoft sales team knows it. Why would there be a full 40% of people switching back to XP? Because another 40% doesn't know you can switch back (aka UPGRADE to XP).

    If the Microsoft team really listened, they would have started fresh and used the WinFS and MinWin as the basis for this new OS, NOT Vista or its kernel.

  • I think sidebar should have more usability like minimize window tiles (with stacks\groups) to it instead of taskbar, while windows that floating on desktop are as usual available in taskbar. Also, there should be settings like adjusting size of tiles, number of visible tiles and size of tile that in focus.

    here an example sketch:

    Hope you can imagine how tiles should be animated, while navigating trough stacks with hovering cursor (or touch flicks, for touch-screens)

  • One thing I don't like in Vista is, when I click the "Show Desktop" icon in the quicklaunch bar or switch to desktop via Flip 3D, the Vista Sidebar get's hidden. I have to click onto one window in the taskbar to show the sidebar again. The sidebar should always be visible when I switch to the desktop.

    And please include a "Save Icons Positions" function for the desktop. Whenever I update my graphic card driver the screen resolution get's very low during the setup and afterwards all my icons are misplaced. Or when a game crashed this can happen. Such a restore icons function is missing since Windows 95 and it's not hard to implement.

  • One feature that I use tremendously (well, add-on) is the moving of a window from one monitor to another. All the discussions about having multiple windows resized at once related to that exactly. I'm constantly trying to have two windows open at once and then working between them. For me this being added to the core OS in an easy to use way (didn't know about the CTRL-taskbar trick until today) is massively useful.

  • I strongly disagree with the requests for an expose-like feature. In my opinion, aside from the iPod (which Microsoft topped with the Zune), Apple has not released a single decent UI in the past 10 years or so.

    The Dock is annoying, pops up when you don't need it and are trying to mouse to something else, it's impossible to tell what programs are actually running and what programs just have shortcuts, and in general managin what's open and closed is a nightmare; expose is very pretty and works wonderfully, assuming you have ~3 applications open: the instant you get over 6 or 7 it suddenly gets really hard to find what you're looking for; the central menu is annoying at best; and the fact that in 2008 there still isn't a central place to go for all your programs is just obscene.

    I'd have to say that the current alt+tab implementation (with Aero enabled) is the most logical, however I do have some suggestions to offer:

    1) Allow me to drag around the order of applications and lock it down (I know it's dependent on the order of which you focused-windowed it last, but it's not very convenient to have to focus windows in a particular order just to get alt-tab orders sorted out)

    2) Create an option to group by program type in the alt+tab: I often have 4-5 instances of Word open; it makes a lot more sense if they're all one after another as opposed to all over the place.

    3) Zoom in on the highlighted application in alt+tab: it's really hard to tell Word documents apart. If you have a bunch of them with just a bunch of text and no heading it gets to be nigh-impossible without at least being able to see the shapes of the paragraphs

    4) Not really task-managing, but make Windows Explorer tabbed. It's ridiculous that I often have 10 windows open and 4 of them are explorer.

  • MS is not aware of where and what the its OS is lacking. Just search for example: to get a glimpse of the countless issues users are having with the most minor "features".

    You can find many such issues at aerotaskforce and "Features removed from Windows Vista".

  • Those of you asking for more customisation read some of Raymond's Blog. Customisation creates complexity, which creates havoc.

    The Office team learnt this. Support Desks were full of people phoning up because they'd inadvertently hidden the "Standard" toolbar.

    The more you let people change Windows the harder it becomes to support and maintain as a software process.

    Microsoft are very good at bending over backwards to people who don't like change. You can make Vista look 90% like Windows 95 if you really want to. With every bit of customisation you add, this is something people will want to customise in future versions of Windows. take dragging toolbars on to the desktop. I only ever did this once and then realised how useless it was. Other people loved it. It's gone from Vista and now people are complaining.

    Someone posted a comment on the previous post saying they wanted to have Explorer do some fancy batch renaming. Again see Raymond's blog []. The gist of it is that it's such a specific need, and could be so easily misinterpreted by a novid, that that sort is best left to ISVs.

    It's a thin line, where does the operating system end.

    For some it should manage the hardware and provide file management only. Ask a Fedora users and they'll say it should have an Office Suite, web server and mail relay as standard.

    from what I have heard Windows 7 will include less non-core OS stuff, and leave all that to Windows Live.

    This, I think is great news. I would much rather the developers who are assigned to Windows are concentrating fully on Windows' core applets, powershell, explorer,  the UI etc than on Photo Gallery and Movie Maker software.

  • @ITP

    That left GroupBar is exactly what I wanted in taskbar. MS already has the prototype. I hate it when they drop it.

  • About finding the right window: One of the things I love the most about Windows Vista is the Start Menu feature where you can hit the windows button and immediately type the program you want. Maybe some shortcut that would pop up a list of open windows and filter them out as you type would work too.

  • What about coloring tasks on the taskbar. You need to recognize fast enough a task, just change the color and it's more visible.

  • I definitely agree that I'd like to see the "spring loaded" feature of Exposé included in Windows.  (Where you can drag a file to the window thumbnail, and wait or press space to switch to that window.)

    On another note, a visual issue I've noticed is that, right now, you're allowed to move windows past the top of the screen, but they jump right back down immediately afterward.  I'd like to see windows blocked from going too high in the first place.

    Finally, I'd like to see the "Show Desktop" button work a but more smoothly.  It'd be nice if it wouldn't hide everything (the fact that the sidebar disappears is annoying) and had some special animation (like Exposé's "show desktop" function) to indicate that the programs weren't all being minimized, but were just being cleared away temporarily.)

  • Would be really nice if Windows 7 includes the Instant Viewer application. I am not sure why this is not given much importance and people rarely get to know unless they purchase Microsoft Hardware.

    [I also think it shouldnt be hard to *improve* the Instant Viewer a bit to fit the Windows 7 theme :)]

  • I wish that someone did a 100% exact copy of GNOME (or KDE) workspaces. I've tried a dozen virtual screen apps for windows and they all suck in some way.

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