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 7 and 7 and type the answer here:
  • Post
  • @RyGuy12: You should give DeskSpace a try, it works pretty much exactly like that! Though I agree an OS-integrated virtual desktop environment would be nicer / more reliable.

  • Don't really know if this is the proper place to make a request for Windows 7, but if I read the blog, it seems you really want to make an effort ;-)

    this is what I would really like to see in the next version of windows. It's an enhancement to the copy dialogue. If for example I need to copy 2 big files from 2 different folders to the same destination folder, I would like it to be possible to start copy of the first file and then go to the next folder, and drag the second file on top of the copy dialog which would then queue that file to the copy process with the same destination.

    Am I making any sence? Hope you know what I mean. I just hate it that I see the speed of both copy commands fall down, because I have 2 copy commands running at the same time. Both files have to go to the same destination folder so why isn't it possible to just drop extra files on an already in progress copy dialog window and just have those files also copied to the same destination folder as the first selected file...?

    should be that hard I think...

    thanks for concidering it though!


  • I really hope the team will consider these three VERY simple things which would make my life with Windows much easier.  


    I'm often working on two documents at once, in different windows.  For example, Word in one window, and my research material in another (IE7, or whatever).  I frequently want to scroll these windows up and down.

    At the moment I have to:

    a/ move the mouse over the window I want to scroll;

    b/ click on it, TAKING CARE to avoid any active areas, such as buttons, icons, etc;

    c/ roll the mouse wheel

    It would be so much better if I could just:

    a/ move the mouse over the window

    b/ roll the mouse wheel

    The first "step" of the wheel would activate the window, the subsequent ones would scroll it.  This would be BRILLIANT.

    (I've tried the "activate on hover" option hidden away in Vista, but it leads to complete chaos in normal use.)


    When I open Explorer, I nearly always intend to move or copy some files around, so I want a source window and a destination window.  It's such a drag having to use the start menu twice to open two windows.  ESPECIALLY when try to open two Explorer windows on 'Documents' (say) and find you can't!

    Please give us single click way of opening two windows at once (or perhaps an optional two-pane view in Explorer).


    This is a shameless steal from Directory Opus.  I'd like double clicking anywhere on the desktop to open up Explorer.  If you haven't tried Directory Opus you probably won't appreciate what I'm talking about.  If you have, you will realise it's simply brilliant.  If you have two monitors, Directory Opus opens in the one you double-clicked in.

    Directory Opus is far too scary for the average user, though, whereas Explorer is beautifully simple.  This request would allow an ultra-fast way of opening Explorer.

    (Combined with 2/ above, so you get a double Explorer window if you choose, would be perfect).

    Is there any chance the team would consider these three suggestions?  I've deliberately chosen three which I believe would be fairly straightforward to program.



  • I'm yet another person who HATES apps stealing focus. The fact that the button on the task bar flashes is plenty enough indication for anyone to know that an app needs attention. At the very least, a user setting that allows you to shut off focus stealing is not that hard to do, but REQUIRES changes to the windows API itself. That pretty much makes it hard to do as a third party extension (as mentioned elsewhere). Off the top of my head I think it would involve API Hooking and that is inherently unreliable. And you do want a reliable system right?

    Here's another one. I'm navigating in Windows Explorer and accidentally click on the floppy drive. Now I have to wait 30sec for it to time out, and then pop up a window saying to insert a disc. Please do us all a favor and just have the information displayed in the files pane instead. There is no reason why clicking on OK is necessary...

    As many users have pointed out, instead of wondering why users didn't embrace the eye-candy of Vista, implement some truly useful EVERYDAY features and the users will come flocking.

  • Not sure if this has been mentioned, too many comments to read them all, but how about a preview of the running application (without losing focus of current application) by hovering over the taskbar item.

    For example, I have the following apps running (keeping it simple):


    Live Messenger

    Engineering Windows (IE)

    and IE has focus.  I should be able to hover over the "Outlook" taskbar item and see a preview of "Outlook", like the 3D flip.  Title captions are not very useful.

    If it's a grouped set of IE, the group should expand (without taking focus) so I can hover over the list of running instances of IE and see a preview of what I'm looking for.

    I'm not sure what the implication of this is but it would definitely help when hunting for a particular running app/window.

    Basically, the taskbar "previews" on hover and only takes focus/activate when user actively clicks it.

  • I have a specific gripe with Windows Explorer.

    There needs to be a way to set a default window size for *all* explorer windows. Vista's default explorer window size is abominable -- it's simply too small to use for browsing folders that contain lots of objects (particularly with Vista's defualt view using largish icons), so I end up wasting my time resizing lots of folders.

    I'm not saying folders shouldn't remember their size from when they were closed -- I want my folders to remember their previously used size. I just also want the option to reset all folders to open at the same size, the same way I can reset the view on all folders by using the "Apply to Folders" button in the View tab of the Folder Options dialog.

    Resizing folders is a only little thing, but it can be truly annoying. It frustrates my experience and interrupts my workflow.

  • Wow it is great to see all the feedback has been taken to heart. I am try Widows 7 now and as a photographer the improvments really help my workflow!

  • At home, my notebook is connected to two external displays: A desktop TFT and a tv set. I use to extend the desktop to the TV.

    One feature I really really miss is something like "Send to display X". Since I do not always have the second display in sight. (Either because it's turned of or because it's not in my field of view.) Right-clicking a window thumbnail and selecting "Send to Display 1" would have helped me so many times. Instead, I have to either try to grab the Window from the second display "blindly". (Firefox uses to open maximized on the 2nd screen.) Or I select "Move" from the window context menu. For that to work I have to first use the keyboard cursor keys to move it a bit. THEN finally I am able to move the window over by mouse motion. For some reason, move by mouse is initially disabled.

  • Hi there, people...first I'd like to thank you all for the fine piece of software you are putting together, I admit I was one of the BIG mass of concerned people around various lapses and not-so-good expressions judging MS products and the company as a whole, I used to say "sorry to be Microsoft,cause there's nothing better out there"...I'm simply impressed on what you did so far with Win 7. Good work, people (finally:o)). Now, for the actual little "comment". I couldn't find a suitable blog post to put it in, so I picked this one, flagged "Shell". Already on Vista I have noticed that the desktop icon size jumped up considerably, and I have a hard time getting used to that, actually I didn't ever get used to it completely. I would like you to include something like "icon size settings" into the display customizations, I know it is possible, I got my Win XP desktop "vistaized" with icons XP size, but looking Vista. I posted a wish on (Windows Vienna forums, wishlist topic) describing it a bit in-depth. Didn't get a "valid" response from a MS Developer on it, just a "good idea" response...and would like to know how this idea stands now :-)). Keep up the good work,people...and change that icon size, it really annoys me =)))

  • @ faramond

    Two thumbs up to your suggestion. It would really be very convenient if the Windows would provide keyboard shortcuts especially for those who uses laptop and who travels. Less usage of mouse, less hassle while travelling, less chances of getting carpal tunnel syndrome (althought i have read an article that say there is a little clinical data to prove this one). And also provide guides for these shortcuts that everyone would know about it. I know many people who uses windows for so many years but have no idea about the present keyboard shorcuts.

    @ lyesmith

    shortcut for renaming is F2 :)

  • I like Windows because i find it more user friendy that other OS. But my problem is windows is really prone to virus eventhough i keep my anti-virus updated. I think it would be better if the next Windows is more protected and secure. This is just an addition to my previous suggestion of Windows having a keyboard shortcuts and guide to keyboard shortcuts for everybody to know.

  • Ten years ago, when I was still in college, my mouse broke down and I was really pissed off but i need to continue working on our computer laboratory with that PC assigned to me, so I tried to discover each keyboard shortcut in Windows e.g. the Start button (Ctrl+Esc), how to switch from application to application (Alt+Tab, Shift+Alt+Tab), Rename a file (F2), Close a Window (Alt+F4), Close an open document in Office Apps (Ctrl+F4). We were using Windows 95 at that time and it really is handy and make my development very much faster. I can sometimes execute a command without looking at the monitor. I hope more keyboard shortcuts that are easy to familiarize will be added and i hope those shortcuts will make Windows experience more efficient rather than make it worse.

  • it's extremally annoying for the ones which uses the projector. after changing the resolution all window sizes are made small to fit it. then you need to resize all the window to your size... more over - windows sometimes forgets that you disconnected the device and changes resoultion for some test or something... grrr

    and the solution is so simple: keep the window sizes as percentage. layouts are well known in java and .net languages - so it's dynamic and auto-adjustable for the screen size. y don't give such a possibilty for system windows?

    another idea is to keep few window sizes so each resolution has it parameter. last the easies way would be some option to disable auto-window-resize - easy and effective.

  • Auto Windows Maximization is Annoying. Every time I move my window close to the top of the screen it auto maximizes, even though I don't want it to. I'm used to moving windows around the screen without maximizing them. Damn annoying !!!


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