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Welcome to our blog dedicated to the engineering of Microsoft Windows 7
Hey folks, just wanted to provide another update (building on the recent post on some changes since Beta) on some of the changes you will see in the Release Candidate. Again, there are many and this is not an exhaustive list. Of course we continue to gather telemetry from the large number of people running the Beta full time. Just a reminder, the Beta is the only official build from Microsoft. Chaitanya compiled this list from a broad set of feature teams focused on visible changes based on feedback that go beyond “bug fixes”, though we included some of the more widely reported bugs on this list as well. –Steven
1. Improved taskbar thumbnail overflow
Our customers are enjoying how windows are grouped and revealed on the enhanced taskbar. Some enthusiasts who have a significant number of open windows for a program encounter our scaling mechanism; the thumbnail view turns into a list view. Although this UI is virtually identical to experience in XP and Vista, customers still want to enjoy new functionality of the thumbnail view. Bentronic wrote, “It's nice that there's a little close button on the thumbnail previews--why not have a similar button for when it's showing as a list? Being able to run down the list clicking the close button instead of right-clicking would be great.” For RC we’ve made the list view architecturally the same as the thumbnail view, just sans thumbnails. Customers will now enjoy close buttons and the menus open on hover (in Beta one had to click to open them).
List View of running windows appears on hover and supports close
2. Control Panel Jump List
Right-clicking on the Control Panel icon on the taskbar in Beta revealed a noticeably sparse Jump List. A few people such as Britney told us “Should most recently used items be displayed in the Jump List of the CPL when pinned to the taskbar? Something should be shown and nothing is there right now”. In RC the Control Panel Jump List offers quick access to recently used items.
The Control Panel Jump List now surfaces recently used items
2. PowerShell Jump List
By default PowerShell in Beta launched a streamlined console. Customers could load optional modules via distinct shortcuts in the Start Menu. We heard from you that this was a confusing experience. Additionally, PowerShell did not surface a way to launch related tasks such as the Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) from within their console experience. PowerShell now has a robust Jump List that affords a method to load modules, launch the ISE and open documentation.
3. Remote Desktop Jump List
Rajeev made us smile with his comment, “Being able to add my Remote Desktop shortcut to the taskbar—good. Saving settings and showing them in the Recent items section—awesome. Being able to pin the connections in the Jump List, so they always appear—priceless!” Well, Rajeev and others who shared this request, you will be enjoy this functionality in RC.
4. Applying taskbar settings
Have you ever customized the taskbar, only to find your changes were not saved across sessions? Has the taskbar ever inexplicably moved on you after you log in? For a variety of reasons, previous versions of Windows saved taskbar settings only after Explorer exited at the end of a session. However, if the OS is not shutdown properly these settings did not persist. Based on the bugs we saw from Beta, we decided to change our architecture and write these settings within 30 seconds (providing enough time to batch a group of changes) during the session. This means settings will now be more reliable.
5. Multi-touch zoom
One of the pieces of feedback we heard from the Beta was that customers enjoy the new multi-touch zoom feature, but wish it was supported in Windows Explorer. In response to this feedback we have added support for the zoom gesture in Windows Explorer. Using the zoom gesture you can switch between view modes in Explorer such as zooming from Small Icons to Extra Large icons.
6. Invert Selection
In an effort to make improvements to performance, network bandwidth and memory footprint for various scenarios (e.g. libraries, search and search federation), we rearchitected the implementation of the view code in Windows Explorer. As part of this we did not to port “Invert Selection” since this rarely used feature is pretty complex to implement in the context of virtualized lists. Despite the small percentage of usage we’ve recorded, those who missed it have been pretty vocal :-) On one of the blog posts, GGreig summarized what we heard from several of you—“Invert Selection; that's a useful - sometimes absolutely invaluable - little piece of functionality, and I definitely don't want to see it go…Please reinstate Invert Selection.” Given the feedback from enthusiasts, we added back the functionality for RC.
7. Going up?
We’ve heard feedback, especially from those on this blog, that in Windows 7 moving up in the folder hierarchy often requires multiple clicks since longer folder names in the address bar often bump the parent folder into the overflow dropdown.
For RC, we’ve improved the overflow algorithm so that the parent folder’s button will appear in the address bar at all times and therefore going ‘up’ will always be a single click away in a predictable location. When there isn’t enough room to display the parent folder’s full name, it will appear truncated instead of going into the overflow. If space is especially tight, then the current folder’s name may appear truncated too, but in all cases the parent folder’s button will remain as a click target in the address bar.
In addition to making the address bar an even better tool for navigating ‘up’ in Explorer, this change also makes it easier to tell where your are as you navigate around since you can now see at least part of the parent folder’s name. It also avoids introducing any more redundant buttons to the Explorer frame and hence taking away any more screen space from being able to see your address. Also, it goes without saying that if you navigate into a folder, you can still use the back button to go back up. And the keyboard shortcut is also available.
In Beta, a parent folder would collapse into an overflow dropdown
In RC, parent folders always remain within single click access
8. Finding music by artist
We covered several of the improvements to arrangement views in the last post, but one we did not mention is that the “Artist” view in the Music Library now accounts for album artists and compilation albums. ShadowChaser summarized some feedback we heard from a number of customers in a comment: “The only concern I still have is with the ‘Artist’ view… it groups by ‘Contributing Artist’, not ‘Album Artist.’” Grouping only by contributing artist results in too many artists showing up and tracks from the same album getting split up in cases where customers didn’t expect. In RC, the “Artist” view in the Music Library groups together multiple tracks from an album by the common “Album Artist” property when it is available, groups tracks from compilation albums together into a “Various Artists” group and finally resorts to grouping by “Contributing Artist”. This reduces clutter when browsing music collection by artist, in addition to improving consistency with artist views in other applications and devices.
9. New folder is always available
We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback during Beta about adding a top level “New folder” button in Explorer, freeing customers from digging into submenus. A common complaint we received, however, was that the button only appeared when nothing is selected. For RC, we’ve changed this so the “New folder” button will always appear, regardless of selection.
10. Right-click in Windows Explorer
For RC we’ve changed the behavior when right-clicking items in the view to address concerns customers were reporting with the Beta. We heard feedback that it was too hard to find space and get to the view’s background context menu for items such as New and Paste. Previously if one right-clicked over any portion of an item she would get the item’s context menu. We now show the view’s context menu when one clicks on any large white space, including the space between a files name and its properties.
11. Content view for search results
For RC we’ve adjusted the behavior when right-clicking items in the view to address concerns customers were reporting with the Beta. We heard feedback that it was too hard to find space
Content view is the new view mode we’ve added to Windows Explorer for Windows 7. It’s especially useful for search results where it surfaces the most relevant properties for each kind of file (e.g. documents, email, pictures and music) as well as a contextual “snippets” of the file content where the search term match occurred. There are a few changes here in the RC build. One thing we heard feedback on is that customers want to know exactly which properties were being shown for each item, so all properties now appear with labels. The text layout and colors have been updated in response to feedback to make each item even easier to parse and to avoid confusion with the colors used for encrypted or compressed files. We heard loud and clear that many found snippets very useful and wanted to see more of them, so in the RC we’ve allowed longer snippets and we’re using them in more places. In response to feedback we heard from customers when resizing their Explorer window or toggling the preview pane, we’ve made the transitions smoother as additional columns of information about each item are revealed when you make the view larger.
12. Intelligent re-indexing after application installation
In RC the Windows Search service now keeps the index up-to-date whenever support for new file types are introduced to the system. We know that in the past customers have sometimes had difficulties searching for files on their computer after new file handlers are installed. (File handlers govern how content and metadata is made searchable and are typically installed with applications such as Microsoft Office or updates such as the Microsoft Filter Pack).
In Win7 Beta (and previous versions of Windows), customers were required to rebuild their index whenever a new file handler was installed to ensure that any existing files were indexed with the newest functionality. Few customers knew to do this and it was an unnecessarily time consuming operation. Windows Search is more efficient in RC by automatically re-indexing the specific files affected by new file handlers. Rest assured that when one installs support for a certain kind of file, she can search for those files without doing any additional work.
13. Trimming sound schemes to help performance
We know our customers care about performance. We discovered that by just trimming the shutdown and logoff WAV files, we could save up to 400 ms. Every little bit counts.
14. Baseline Device Stage experience
Device Stage continues to enjoy positive reviews. For example, we saw this post on on a blog: “I have to be honest this works very well, it worked with my MP3 player in showing how much charge it had and other details as well is able to display the manual and offer me everything I needed to do with it effortlessly, including having the correct icon and image of the product.” However, we occasionally hear “too bad , my N70 aint supported either :-( …hopefully they are gonna support a ton more device by the time windows 7 get released”.
We took feedback like this to the devices makers and they too would like more integration given the interest from our customers. Several manufacturers are implementing custom experiences, but a large number have also opted to support their older devices in what we call the “baseline” Device Stage experience.
This UX works exactly like full Device Stage; the device image appears on the taskbar whenever it is connected and tasks are exposed in the Jump List. On first connect, the shell Window containing all of the built-in tasks appears automatically and is always just one click away from the desktop icon or device image in the Devices and Printers folder. When the device maker implements a custom Device Stage experience for a device, it gets posted on the Web and the baseline experience gets upgraded when the device is later reconnected. The core functionality is the same, but all of the branding, imaging and vendor-specific tasks are now available automatically in the same convenient UI.
Baseline Device Stage experience for a mobile phone
15. Devices and Printers enhancement
PC and laptop makers such as Lenovo, were very interested in doing more than just showing the machine’s icon in Devices and Printers. They told us they wanted to leverage Device Stage to help them better customize the experience for our mutual customers. In RC double-clicking on the PC icon now offers a Device Stage UX. Like the other Device Stage devices, Device Stage for PC will be enabled when the PC maker has chosen to participate with their system.
Device Stage experience for a PC
16. Unified experience for removing devices
One of the tasks customers perform in Devices & Printers is removing devices that are no longer in use. We received feedback that the remove action varied across different device classes. For example, removing a printer only removed the print queue and for Bluetooth devices it only removed the pairing of the device to the PC. We have changed this action to always completely uninstall the device across all device classes – which is the action that most customers expect.
17. Hardware properties
We know enthusiasts use the Device Manager’s property page to check the status of a device. We heard feedback that this wasn’t convenient and so we now also surface the property page directly from the Devices and Printers experience. Simply right-click on the device and one has one less reason to visit Device Manager.
18. Improved eject experience
The Safely Remove hardware functionality enables customers to make sure that their device is ready for removal. During the Windows 7 Beta, customers still had the Safely Remove Hardware functionality available on the taskbar as well as an Eject option on the context menus of applicable devices in Devices and Printers. Based on feedback, we have integrated these two separate pieces of functionality in RC and have changed its name from “Safely Remove” to “Eject”. The tool Notification Area icon still appears, but its context menu now has the option to open Devices and Printers. Also, we have simplified the options by eliminating the drop-down submenu and made the semantics for eject functionality more consistent across the different kinds of media. For example, ejecting an optical drive now ejects the media instead of the drive and ejecting a USB flash drive ejects the entire device instead of an individual volume.
19. USB device reliability on resume
We got feedback from a number of customers that their USB devices (e.g. keyboards, mice and drives) stopped working after a suspend/resume cycle. We worked with a number of customers to get traces and isolated the causes to address them post-beta builds. The work around in Beta was to unplug and replug the device to get it functional again—easy for external devices but not possible for internal devices. This workaround will not be needed on RC builds.
20. FireWire camera support
Some customers informed us they were unable to connected their 1394 HDV camera and stream its contents to their Beta machine. With the help of customers, we were able to identify a fault with our core 1394 stack and we’ve validated the scenario works in RC. This is another good example of the combination of telemetry and more “manual” follow up on the part of our test team.
21. Add Legacy Hardware functionality restored
The Add Legacy Hardware action was provided in Device Manager on past Windows releases to install non-Plug and Play devices. We removed this functionality for Windows 7 with the belief that this was rarely used. Aaron blogged, “You might have noticed that the old 'Add Legacy Hardware' option seems to be missing. I tend to use this quite a bit whenever I need to add in a Loopback adapter or some piece of hardware that is not quite installing correctly.” As a result, this functionality has been restored to Device Manager for RC to help add non-Plug and Play devices.
22. Increased responsiveness of Add Printer Wizard
There are some situations with legacy network printers in which Plug and Play cannot automatically identify the appropriate driver even when it’s available on Windows Update. For these situations, the Add Printer wizard allows customers to download a list of all the printer drivers available on Windows Update so they can manually select the driver for the specific printer being installed. The process of retrieving the list can take a few minutes and we received beta feedback that many people felt their machine was hung since there was nothing in the UI to let them know that it could take a few minutes. We have made some UI changes to indicate that process of retrieval can take some time. Additionally, we have also improved the overall performance of retrieving the list from Windows Update.
23. Partition size reduction
In Windows Vista, configuring features such as Windows Recovery Environment and Bit Locker required significant customer interaction. Also, a significant amount of drive space was reserved. The Windows 7 System partition enables features to be configured to work “out of the box” so very little customer interaction is needed to configure and utilize them. Based on feedback and telemetry data received through the beta, it became clear that we could cut the drive size in half (from 200M to 100M).
24. Reserved System Partition naming
The system partition is created automatically by Setup when installing on a machine with no existing partitions. During the Beta the existence of this partition on default installs confused many people and feedback indicated that a label telling them that this is space reserved for the system would be helpful when browsing disk configurations, and further help prevent it’s accidental deletion by enthusiasts. We will now label is “System Reserved”.
25. Dual Boot partition drive letter assignment
For a dual boot configuration for the Beta, the other Windows OS wouldn’t get a drive letter and therefore wouldn’t show up in explorer. We heard overwhelmingly from Beta customers that the lack of a drive letter was confusing and even caused some to believe that their secondary OS was lost. Assigning the drive letter makes it visible in explorer and aids in navigation across OS installations.
26. Pagefile reduction
Through extensive use of Beta telemetry data, we have determined we can slim down the Windows disk footprint further by reducing the default page file size to be 100% of the available main memory. It used to be “Memory + 300MB” so on a 1GB RAM system there was an extra third allocated that is no longer required. The pagefile on some occasions will increase in size if required, but we just pre-allocate less.
27. Improved driver support
Based on telemetry data received from the beta, we identified networking drivers that were not available inbox. We worked with ecosystem partners to achieve increased inbox driver coverage across wireless and wired with significant coverage for some of the new ATOM-based laptops.
We hope you enjoyed yet another sneak peek into what’s coming in RC.
The theme of “choice and control” has been applied in many aspects of how we have designed Windows 7. We’ve certainly received lots of positive feedback about the theme and about the choices we’ve made in the design, and we’ve also received a few suggestions for how we might continue to implement this theme in the future. We’ve received feedback for features that should be even more customizable (such as Explorer or the logon screen) or features that should be added to Windows (such as a PDF format reader, security tools, or disk utilities). And we’ve received feedback that some users might prefer to run Windows without certain features. This post is about a point of choice and control in the Windows 7 control panel called “Windows Features” which is where you can choose to turn various features of Windows on or off. This continues our discussion of changes we have made based on feedback from the Beta as we progress to the Release Candidate. This post is by Jack Mayo who is the group program manager for our Documents and Printing team and also worked on Internet Explorer 8. --Steven
“Turning Windows Features On or Off” has a long history in Windows, going back to the earliest days of the 32-bit code base. We’ve received a lot of suggestions about features that you would like to turn on or off using your own criteria for choice. For Windows 7 we’ve engineered a more significant list of features and worked to balance that list in light of the needs of the broad Windows platform as well. We want to provide choice while also making sure we do not compromise on compatibility by removing APIs provided for developers. We also want to strike the right balance for consumers in providing choice and balancing compatibility with applications and providing a consistent Windows experience.
We know many have specific ideas of what constitutes a “feature” or a “program” in Windows and what constitutes an identifiable “part” of the operating system, and yet we also know different people can have different points of view, often strongly held. Some might take an end-user approach and identify a feature based on a window or start menu shortcut. Some might take an approach based on one perspective of architectural subsystems, such as storage or security. Some might take an approach based on what to some are alternate choices to some similar functionality. All of these are valid in some context, but would not result in consistently identifying “features” considering these varied points of view. As engineers we know that no software system can be decomposed into an arbitrary set of layers or parts and any decomposition is likely to change over time.
We don’t want the discussion about this feature or these choices to digress into a philosophical discussion about the definition of an operating system, which is ultimately a challenging exercise (judging by the revision history on the community page), but we do want to improve a feature centered on helping to meet the feedback expressed by some over the summer when this blog started.
In the Release Candidate for Windows 7 we have extended the control panel called “Windows Features” which is available from the standard “Programs and Features” control panel (we often call this ARP, for the original name of Add/Remove Programs). This location is unchanged from Vista and XP, though the wording has been clarified. In Windows 7 if you bring up the Windows Features control panel by clicking on “Turn Windows Features on or off” (or just typing “Windows features” in the start menu) you will see the following in the Release Candidate (by default the hierarchy is not fully expanded, but in this screen shot I’ve expanded some elements for additional information):
For those familiar with the Vista version or the Beta version of this dialog you will notice the list has grown. Let’s talk about what we’ve added and briefly how it works.
If a feature is deselected, it is not available for use. This means the files (binaries and data) are not loaded by the operating system (for security-conscious customers) and not available to users on the computer. These same files are staged so that the features can easily be added back to the running OS without additional media. This staging is important feedback we have received from customers who definitely do not like to dig up the installation DVD.
For any of the features listed you can change the state to enable it or disable it. The Vista and Windows 7 beta control panel lists a wide range of features. Some are targeted towards Developers working on a client workstation (IIS, MSMQ, etc.), others are utilities for network administrators and enthusiasts (RSM, SNMP, Telnet, etc.), and some are features customers have asked us to make optional (Games, Fax and Scan, Tablet PC components).
In Windows 7 we are expanding the number of features you have control over in this regard, giving customers more control, flexibility and choice in managing the features available in this version of Windows. In addition to the features that were already available to turn on or off in Windows Vista, we’ve added the following features to the list in Windows 7:
It is worth describing the details of “remove” since this too is a place where there are engineering and customer decisions to be made. We’ve already seen one decision which is to make sure we keep the features staged for future use so that a DVD is not required. A second decision is that we also continue to support the APIs available for features where these APIs are necessary to the functionality of Windows or where there are APIs that are used by developers that can be viewed as independent of the component. As many of you know these are often referred to as “dependencies” and with Windows the dependencies can run both internal to Windows and external for ISVs.
It should be no surprise, but when we develop new features in Windows we tend to use the underlying infrastructure and associated APIs rather than duplicate code which would create extra working set, slow performance, and increase the surface area that needs to be secured, etc. We all know code reuse is a good engineering practice. As a platform, Windows tends to emphasize the creation of APIs for many systems, even when those subsystems are viewed as part of a larger system. When we have APIs that are used, we faced the choice of breaking software that just expected those APIs to be there or to continue to support the API. When we continued to support the API our approach was to remove a feature by making sure that an end-user could not invoke the feature via traditional end-user mechanisms. These are often difficult decisions as we work to balance the expectations of developers, the shared desire to deliver a robust release of Windows 7, and to maintain the goals set out by the feature “Turn Windows Features On or Off”. Because there are so many combinations of dependencies just represented in this list, selecting some options might provide you with some explanation as to the challenges in selecting a combination (for example Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center share a lot of code so turning one off might introduce a pretty complex situation for the average end-user).
Finally, we know some have suggested that this set of choices be a “setup option”. Some operating systems do provide this type of setup experience. As we balanced feedback, the vast majority of feedback we have received was to streamline setup and to reduce the amount of potential complexity in getting a PC running. We chose to focus this feature on the post-setup experience for Windows 7.
Here’s a behind the scenes look at the design of the Aero Snap feature in Windows 7. We thought it would be fun to take a look at the overall design process of the feature and the tools and techniques used. This feature poses a unique design challenge in that you just use the feature without any user-interface specifically to invoke it. As with all features this is a collaboration across all of our engineering disciplines. For this post, Stephan Hoefnagels, a Senior UX designer, presents the design perspective. --Steven (P.S., keep an eye out on the Microsoft MIX conference this week!)
In Managing Windows windows and Follow-up: Managing Windows windows we talked about, and you shared, some interesting window management scenarios that we might address in Windows 7. We also touched on some data around typical configurations, as well as goals that guide our thinking in this area.
In this post we’d like to have a closer look at the Aero Snap feature that many of you have already been able to experience in our PDC builds, and of course the Beta. We’ll briefly describe the feature itself, but mostly we’d like to invite you to take a behind-the-scenes peek at our design process so far, and share our iterations, challenges and considerations.
As we explained more in depth in our previous post, our top goal for the Aero Snap feature is to provide you with an effortless way to position your windows the way you want them. We want to reduce the number of clicks and precise movements needed to perform common activities. In a general sense, we want you to be able to manage your windows with confidence and create a feeling of power and control. This is something we touched on in our post on the Windows 7 taskbar as well, and really a theme that weaves through much of our new desktop experience.
Before we look at how we address our goals in the design, a quick note. In the scenarios below you’ll notice sequences of interactions that are fully written out. Sequences like: select the window, click the caption button, and then resize the window. Looking at interactions at this level of detail makes for somewhat awkward reading. These individual steps are so small, and so frequent, that for most of us they normally barely register. Why not simply gloss over some of those details? Well, we spell out sequences of events this way to force us to be consciously aware of the amount of “overhead” that is sometimes involved to get to the task at hand. It forces us to realize what we normally might not. Also, besides providing insight in the problems, it provides us with the right level of detail to consider our solutions.
Now, let’s look at the design!
As many of you mentioned, doing a drag drop operation from one window to another is sometimes a pain. Windows tend to overlap and to get them positioned right can require a lot of fine mouse movement. Oftentimes the steps are as follows: select a window, resize it appropriately, and position it on the screen so that enough of it shows for it to be a meaningful drag or drop target. Then repeat the same actions with the other window. Similarly, comparing content in two windows requires a lot of mouse clicks, resize actions, careful arrangement, window switches, and a fair amount of mouse mileage.
With Aero Snap you can grab a window and move your mouse to the edge of the screen and the window will resize to fill half the screen. Repeat with the other window. Now with two easy motions you have a setup that makes both of these scenarios much easier to accomplish!
Put windows side-by-side with Aero Snap by moving the cursor to the edge of the screen (left to right, top to bottom)
We know our users love the maximized window state. Many love it so much that they maximize all of their windows and never even run in any other state! However, with screens increasing in resolution and widescreen layout becoming more prevalent, the maximized window state can lose some of its appeal in certain cases. E-mail is an example. Reading long lines of text across the screen is not ideal. Your eye simply cannot track a line all the way across. Web browsing is another example. Content will sometimes not fill the entire width of the screen, leaving a lot of unused white space on the side.
Now, with Aero Snap you can you can maximize a window in the vertical direction only. When you resize a window to the top of the screen, it will also resize all the way to the bottom. Great for reading long blog posts!
Vertically maximize a window with Aero Snap by resizing the window to the edge of the screen
We realize there are a few multi-mon users out there, especially amongst the readers of this blog ;-). Ever wanted an easier way to move a maximized window to another screen? A way that’s quicker than clicking the restore caption button, moving the mouse to the title bar, dragging the window over, and finally clicking the maximized caption button again? With Aero Snap you can simply drag a maximized window down, move it over and snap it to the top, all in one gesture. Finally!
Arranging windows on a desktop PC can sometimes involve excessive fiddling, fine mouse movements and lots of mouse mileage, as touched on above. On laptops this situation is further exacerbated by the lack of a mouse, making some of these movements even more cumbersome. For these scenarios, and our power users, we’ve introduced some convenient key combinations. Hold down the Windows key and one of your arrow keys to give it a try. You may want to try holding down Shift as well, especially if you’re in a multi-mon setup.
OK - So those are the scenarios, and the way we chose to address them. Seems straightforward enough, right? Especially for those of you that have been using Aero Snap in out Beta build. It all behaves as you’d expect. But how did we get here? Well, in this next bit we’d like to something that we don’t do that often and really give you a peek into our design process so far and some of the snags we ran into along the way. Keep in mind that this is a brief overview and by no means exhaustive. While we allude to usability testing for instance, this post is by no means meant to give insight into the scope of those efforts. There will certainly be opportunities to talk about some of those topics in the future.
Let’s have a look!
We’re back in early 2007, and after we established window management as a potential area of interest, and identified several appealing scenarios (again, see our previous post for more detail on that stage of the process), we started with brainstorms to generate ideas. “How can we make window arranging more efficient?” “More direct?” “More fun?” are some of the questions we asked ourselves. This was a multidisciplinary process, with disciplines like design, user research, program management and development involved. All in all there were around a handful of us, certainly less than a dozen, thinking about this space at the time.
We imposed a significant constraint on ourselves: we wanted to achieve our goals without introducing any extra widgets in our UI. Imagine an extra caption button on the window title bar for instance: this may not seem too bad for one window, but when we’re talking about 10 windows or more, we’ve all of a sudden introduced a significant amount of clutter on your screen. And that’s something that we simply didn’t feel good about. After all, as we shared in our UX Principles talk at the PDC, we believe in “Solving Distractions, not Discoverability”.
We captured our, many, ideas in very quick sketches that we shared via an internal website. Transferred from the whiteboards in our offices and hallways, these took less than 5 minutes to sketch each. The sketches below are some actual examples in which you can start some of the Aero Snap ideas forming.
Early ideas are captured in quick and disposable sketches
With so many ideas on paper we were eager to try out the best ones. Now was the time to prototype. Note that we are still very early in the process. We wanted our prototypes to be interactive, and we wanted to be able to live with them in our day-to-day work. So we chose to implement the ideas using early code that we could run on our work machines. For example, the image below shows a “smart resizer” prototype running on Windows Vista. Of course these prototypes are not “done” features that we could actually ship: they merely get the basic ideas working, and they definitely have more than a few “quirks” (bugs ;-)). What’s important however, is that they allow us to experience just enough of the interactions ourselves, as well as get feedback in usability studies.
Early “smart resizer” prototype running on Windows Vista, note the taskbar button created by the prototype (and the date in the calendar to get a sense of where we are in the process)
We use this firsthand experience and early usability feedback to iterate on the ideas as we hone in on the final design. We approach this part of the process in a very open minded way and allow ourselves to be surprised. Sometimes ideas that don’t look like much on paper prove to be startlingly powerful. On the other hand, we found out that others look much better on paper than they were in practice! Since we’re not invested in any one idea or implementation yet, we freely refine, and drop ideas.
Finally, the prototypes ease us into thinking about design details. And we might stumble on some insights too (of course we tell ourselves the real feat is to recognize the insight and hold on to it). Here’s an example from an e-mail at the time from one of the team members about a new version of the “smart resizer” prototype:
I noticed something changed. In the original version if I resized it to the max it “supersized” the window. Then if I resized the window smaller, it jumped back to the normal restored state. It was as if the supersize state was different than restored state. With this version when I supersize the window and then resize it again later, it doesn’t jump back to the previous restored size. There was something kind of nice about the supersized state being different than the restored state. We should think about it more and consider making that a part of the design.
I noticed something changed. In the original version if I resized it to the max it “supersized” the window. Then if I resized the window smaller, it jumped back to the normal restored state. It was as if the supersize state was different than restored state. With this version when I supersize the window and then resize it again later, it doesn’t jump back to the previous restored size. There was something kind of nice about the supersized state being different than the restored state. We should think about it more and consider making that a part of the design.
After many a prototype we settled on the concept of side-by-side windows and vertical maximized windows. We’re getting clearer on what we want to build.
OK - We’ve whittled down our ideas to a good, but not fully specced, set of interactions and behaviors. Time to start filling in the blanks by asking detailed questions. “What does it mean to have a side-by-side window in a world where there used to be only minimized, restored and maximized windows?” “How exactly would you get to and from this new window state?” The e-mail snippet above already pointed to some of these questions.
Currently the common window states are (left to right) minimized, restored, and maximized, how would side-by-side and vertical maximized windows fit in?
Let’s look at the state problem in detail. Below is an example of two proposals made during this time that show how you can move from one window state to another, for all the different states. Which model is better?
Two proposals detailing the various ways we can transition between states
To answer that question we considered more specific questions like “What states do we want to link directly and how do we move between them?” “Is it compelling to go from a vertical maximized state directly to a maximized state?” “Should the vertical maximized and side-by-side states behave similar, as they look similar?” Our answers of course guided us to the model that you are now familiar with, which is model B.
But that’s not the end of it. More details need to be worked through, and more questions come up. “What if I want to move a vertical maximized window sideways?” “Resize its width?” “Then pull it down?”
Soon you’ll find yourself in elaborate sequences of events, many possible actions, and even more possible outcomes. Which would be the most expected when actually using the entire system?
To help guide our decision making process we established some guiding statements. Assumptions that we hold to be true. Examples are: “The intuitive way to undo an effect triggered by a mouse movement is to make the opposite mouse movement.” And: “It should always be effortless to go back to the previous “restored” state so as to avoid excessive work to get the window back to a reasonable size.” Or: “If the user specifies a width for a window in a given state, that size should be preserved across state changes when it makes sense.”
Using these statements we were able to answer questions like the ones above in a predictable way and as a result craft a predictable experience. And while the underlying state transitions and rules are fairly complex when added all together, the resulting behavior is, we hope, intuitively understood. That’s definitely something we’re aiming for.
Here’s an example of a sequence problem for the really attentive reader. When working through our many new state transitions, sometimes the rules that determine what should happen, conflict. Consider the following scenario. Two rules in our new window model are:
OK – Let’s try the following scenario in your Windows 7 build. Start with a restored window. Vertically maximize it by resizing it to the top of the screen. Release the mouse. Drag (don’t resize) down the window and drag it to the top again, all in one motion. Release the mouse. What happened?
Your window should be maximized. Which means in this case we chose to follow rule 1. We could have also followed rule 2, in which case your window would be vertically maximized. We figured rule 1 would more accurately reflect the user’s mental model for this scenario.
This is just one example of the decisions we had to make for each transition to and from a window state.
Throughout this process we made sure to preserve the subtleties in the current model. One small example that some of you may be familiar with that we did tweak is the scenario of dragging a window title bar off screen. In previous Windows releases we would snap the window back halfway in an attempt to provide you with just enough space to still move the window around, while optimizing vertical space as much as possible. We chose to be a little more deliberate and straightforward here by snapping back so that the entire title bar is visible. This way you can start to rely on the fact that all of your windows are always very easy to grab, also with touch, and move around. If we really felt half of a title bar is enough, why don’t we always half it, right? For our vertical maximized window states we of course chose to keep the entire title bar visible as well, leading to a solid story all around.
State diagrams are of course only one way to look at the world. We used various ways to communicate different aspects of the feature, picking our medium based on familiarity, availability and intent. We didn’t even shy away from the occasional ASCII art as you can see below! We’ll simply use whatever tool gets the point across. Most of all, interaction storyboards were a very valuable technique to help us understand the user flows, and even though this is only a small sample, you can see we did quite a few of those.
Feature details are communicated throughout using appropriate means
Besides figuring out the right state transitions, one or our biggest discussions was around when a state transition should exactly occur, or in other words: when the feature is triggered. We talked a lot about “accidental triggers”, i.e. running into the feature without deliberately setting out to do so.
Aero Snap is triggered by touching the edge of the screen with the mouse
From the very beginning we always made sure that our feature did not get in the way of current scenarios such as tucking a window off-screen to the side. After all, we don’t want to have a detrimental effect on your current, expected, way of managing your windows. That’s why you have to literally touch the edge of the screen with your mouse, not the window edge, to trigger the transitions.
However, at this time, the feature as you know it now was different in one very important, fundamental way. In our early builds, Aero Snap followed an “instant commit” model. When you moved your mouse to the top of the screen, your window would literally be maximized while you’re still dragging. That is, before you even release the mouse. Moving back in one motion would literally restore the window. We liked this approach as the “preview” was very accurate, i.e. the preview was the window, and there is a certain directness in not having a commit model.
Because our UI is invisible by design, we expected some accidental triggering. In fact in some sense we were relying on accidental triggers to help with the discoverability of the feature. However, after living with the builds for a while we got a little worried because accidental triggering seemed higher than we expected. From our telemetry data we saw people running into the feature, and then cancelling it nearly twice as often as committing. In our usability studies we observed confusion as to what exactly triggered the behavior. Was it the window touching the edge that did this? A gesture? Or something else?
We’re now in early 2008. What should we do? Cut the entire feature? We actually did consider this as an option. Again, we really respect our current window management behaviors, and the last thing we wanted to do is degrade the experience. More constructively, we took on the challenge to come up with a design tweak that would address these issues. We explored several solutions. Some conservatively centered on smoothing out the resize transitions, so an accidental trigger would at least be smooth. A conservative approach for sure, but probably not satisfying enough as a real solution. Others focused on trying to detect user intent more accurately, based on the angle of motion into the screen edge, or the speed of the motion. This proved much too complex to be predictable. Maybe we could trigger the transition only when double-bumping the edge? We were worried that this would degrade the experience of fluidity and flow of the current model.
In the end we settled on the implementation you’re familiar with. We don’t trigger until you release the mouse, making it easy to back out of the effect before anything happens to your window. In addition we provide you with a smooth preview animation, and a cursor effect to help you understand what just happened. This way you can be more deliberate in the future, and use the feature to your full advantage.
Did we solve the issues? Feel free to let us know :-)
It’s interesting to think back and realize that up to this point we had essentially designed a feature without any visible UI whatsoever. Now all of a sudden we have window previews, and a cursor effect. What should those look like, and how should they behave?
Well, luckily we had some things to go on. At this point we had already established a clear picture of our taskbar look and feel (we call it “personality” and will talk about it more in a later post). We had settled on using glass sheets for Aero Peek. We saw an opportunity to use the same visual representation for our preview windows. But how should the glass sheets appear? After experimentation, we settled on a scale animation that originates from the cursor. This gives a subtle hint as to where this preview window came from. We also made sure to animate our transitions. Try this in your build for instance: move a window to the top, and then to the side, in one motion without releasing the mouse. Notice the smooth morph of the preview? Why did we spend time on this? We believe “Small Things Matter, Good and Bad” of course.
Light effects are used to indicate the snap trigger, and glass sheets for snap previews
Finally, we tied into some of our ideas around “light” for the trigger indication. We tuned this to be noticeable, but not too loud and made sure to synch with other light effects in the system such as our touch feedback.
We hope this post has given you some insight in the Aero Snap feature, including our design process. We would love to hear your thoughts!
We’ve come a long way in engineering Windows 7 since we first provided an engineering preview of Windows 7 and the work we are doing to support the touch interface paradigm back at the D: All Things Digital conference. We chose to kick-off the discussion about engineering Windows 7 with touch scenarios because we know this is a long-lead effort that requires work across the full ecosystem to fully realize the benefit. For Windows 7, touch support is engineered by building on our advances in input technology we began with the TabletPC work on Windows XP. Touch in Windows 7 requires improvements in hardware, driver software, core Windows user experience, and of course application support. By having this support in an open platform, consumers and developers will benefit from a wide variety of choices in hardware, software, and different PC form factors. Quite a few folks have been a little skeptical of touch, often commenting about having fingerprints on their monitor or something along those lines. We think touch will become broadly available as the hardware evolves and while it might be the primary input for some form factors (such as a wall mounted display in a hospital, kiosk, or point of sale) it will also prove to richly augment many scenarios such as reading on a convertible laptop or a “kitchen PC”. One of my favorite experiences recently was watching folks at a computer retailer experience one of the currently available all-in-one touch desktops and then moving to another all-in-one and continuing to interact with the screen—except the PC was not interacting back. The notion that you can touch a screen seems to be becoming second nature rather quickly. This post is our first dedicated blog on the subject. This is a joint effort by several people from the touch team, mostly Reed Townsend, Dave Matthews, and Ian LeGrow. -Steven
Windows Touch is designed to enhance how you interact with a PC. For those of us that have been living and breathing touch for the last two years we’re excited to be able to deliver the capability to people using Windows 7. In this blog we’re going to talk about what we’ve done to make Windows touchable. We approached this from a number of different directions: key improvements to the core Windows UI, optimizing for touch in key experiences, working with hardware partners to provide robust and reliable touch PCs, and providing a multitouch platform for applications.
With Windows 7 we have enriched the Windows experience with touch, making touch a first-class way to interact with your PC alongside the mouse and keyboard. We focused on common activities and refined them thoughtfully with touch in mind. You will have the freedom of direct interaction, like being able to reach out and slowly scroll a web page then flick quickly to move through it. With new touch optimized applications from creative software developers you will be able to immerse yourself as you explore you photos, browse the globe, or go after bad guys in your favorite games.
While providing this touchable experience, we made sure you are getting the full Windows 7 experience and not a sub-set just for touch. We’ve been asked if we are creating a new Touch UI, or “Touch Shell” for Windows – something like Media Center that completely replaces the UI of Windows with a version that is optimized for touch. As you can see from the beta, we are focused on bringing touch through the Windows experience and delivering optimized touch interface where appropriate. A touch shell for launching only touch-specific applications would not meet customers’ needs – there would be too much switching between “touch” mode and Windows applications. Instead, we focused our efforts on augmenting the overall experience so that Windows works great with touch.
We took a variety of approaches – some broad, and some very targeted to support this goal:
Overall, the Windows Touch features are designed to work together to deliver a great end-to-end touch experience. For example, the goal with IE8 was to deliver a seamless touch browsing experience, this includes the panning, zooming, URL entry, and several interface enhancements. For this reason, all the new touch features require the presence of a multi-touch digitizer – more on that further down.
The Windows Touch gestures are the basic actions you use to interact with Windows or an application using touch. As we noted above, because the gestures are built into the core of Windows, they are designed to work with all applications, even ones that were never designed with touch in mind.
Our mantra with gestures has been “Predictable + Reliable = Habits”. To be predictable the action should relate to the result – if you drag content down, the content should move down. To be reliable, the gesture should do roughly the same action everywhere, and the gesture needs to be responsive and robust to reasonable variations. If these conditions are met then people are far more likely to develop habits and use gestures without consciously thinking about it.
We’ve intentionally focused on this small set of system-wide gestures in Win7. By keeping the set small we reduce misrecognition errors – making them more reliable. We reduce latencies since we need less data to indentify gestures. It’s also easier for all of us to remember a small set! The core gestures are:
For touch gestures, seeing them in action is important so here is a brief video showing the gestures in action:
In order to make the gestures reliable, we tuned the gesture detection engine with sample gesture input provided by real people using touch in pre-release builds; these tuned gestures are what you will see in the RC build. We have a rigorous process for tuning. Similar to our handwriting recognition data collection, we have tools to record the raw touch data from volunteers while they perform a set of scripted tasks. We collected thousands of samples from hundreds of people. These data were then mined looking for problems and optimization opportunities. The beauty of the system is that we can replay the test data after making any changes to the gesture engine, verifying improvements and guarding against regression in other areas.
This has led to several important optimizations. For example, we found that zooms and rotates were sometimes confused. Detecting zoom gestures only in applications that don’t use rotation has resulted in a 15% improvement in zoom detection.
Further analysis showed that many short gestures were going unrecognized. The gesture recognition heuristics needed to see 100ms or 5mm worth of data before making a decision about what gesture the user was performing. The concern that originally led to these limits was that making a decision about which gesture was being performed too early would lead to misrecognition. In fact, when we looked at the collected user data, we found we could remove those limits entirely – the gesture recognition heuristics performed very well in ambiguous situations. After applying the change and replaying the collected gesture sample data, we found zoom and rotate detection improved by about 6% each, and short scrolling improved by almost 20%!
Gestures are built into the system in such a way that many applications that have no awareness of touch respond appropriately, we have done this by creating default handlers that simulate the mouse or mouse wheel. Generally this gives a very good experience, but there are applications where some gestures don’t work smoothly or at all. In these cases the application needs to respond to the gesture message directly.
In Windows, several experiences have been gesture enabled. We’ve spent a considerable amount of effort on IE8 – ensuring scrolling and zooming are smooth and that back and forward are at your fingertips. Media Center, which is a completely custom interface ideally suited to touch, added smooth touch scrolling in galleries and the home screen. The XPS Viewer has gesture support that will could become a model for many document viewing apps. Scrolling and zoom work as you would expect. When zooming out beyond a single page, pages start to tile so you can view many at a time. When zoomed out in that fashion, double tapping on any page jumps back to the default view of that page. A two-finger tap restores the view to 100% magnification. These predictable behaviors become habit forming quickly.
A major benefit of the Windows ecosystem is diversity – PCs come in all shapes and sizes. To help ensure that there is a great Windows Touch experience across the many different types of PCs we have defined a set of measurements and tests for Windows Touch that are part of the Windows Logo. We’ve been working with touch hardware partners since the beginning of Windows 7 to define the requirements and ensure they are ready for launch.
Our approach has been to provide an abstraction of the underlying hardware technology. We’ve specified a requirements for the quantitative aspects of the device, such as accuracy, sample rate, and resolution, based on the requirements to successfully enable touch features. For example, we have determined the necessary accuracy values for a device so people can successfully target common UI elements like close boxes, or what sample rate and resolution are required to ensure quality gesture recognition.
The requirements form the basis for the Windows Touch logo program. For consumers, the logo tells you that the PC and all of its components are optimized for Windows. Component level logo, which is what we grant to Touch digitizers helps the OEMs choose a device that will deliver a great touch experience.
Based on the quantitative requirements, we built an interactive test suite that includes 43 separate tests, all validating the core requirements under different conditions. There are single point accuracy tests at various locations on the screen, including the corners which are often harder for accuracy but critical to Windows. There are also several dynamic tests where accuracy is measured while drawing lines on the screen – see the screenshot below of Test 7. In this test, two lines are simultaneously drawn using touch along the black line from the start to the end. The touch tracings must remain within 2.5 mm of the black line between the start and end points. The first image below shows a passing test where the entire tracing is green (apologies for the fuzziness – these are foot long tracings from a large screen that have been scaled down).
Figure 1: A passing line accuracy test from the Windows 7 Touch logo test tool
Not all devices pass the tests. Below is a screenshot of a device that is failing. This one has some noise – notice the deviation from the line in red. These errors need to be resolved before it would receive the logo. Errors like this can result in misrecognized gestures.
Figure 2: A failing line accuracy test from the Windows 7 Touch logo test tool
To ensure repeatability of the tests, we’ve built a set of plastic jigs with tracing cut-outs, see photo below. This particular jig is used for 5 of the tests and measures accuracy while tracing an arc.
Figure 3. Plastic jigs with tracing cut-outs for testing.
The testing tool is available to our partners now, we’re working closely with several of them to help tune the performance of their devices to meet the requirements and deliver a great touch experience. We have set-up an in-house testing facility that will be testing every device submitted for Logo.
With the Release Candidate, OEMs and IHVs will be able to finalize the logo process for systems designed for Windows 7. Today we already have several hardware partners that have provided us with devices and drivers for testing.
We also want to talk a little about the touch platform for software developers. Windows 7 provides a rich touch platform for applications. We’ve already mentioned gestures, there’s also a lower level platform that gives developers complete control over the touch experience. We think about it in a Good-Better-Best software stack.
The “good” bucket is what touch-unaware applications get for free from Windows 7. Windows provides default behaviors for many gestures, and will trigger those behaviors in your application in response to user input. For example, if someone tries touch scrolling over a window that is touch-unaware, we can detect the presence of various types of scrollbars and will scroll them. Similarly, when the user zooms, we inject messages that provide an approximation of the zoom gesture in many apps. As a developer you can ensure that the default gestures work just by using standard scrollbars and responding to ctrl-mouse wheel messages.
The “better” bucket is focused on adding direct gesture support and other small behavior and UI changes to make apps more touch-friendly. For instance, there is a new Win32 window message, WM_GESTURE (preliminary MSDN docs), that informs the application a gesture was performed over its window. Each message contains information about the gesture, such as how far the user is scrolling or zooming and where the center of the gesture is.
Applications that respond to gestures directly have full control over how they behave. For example, the default touch scrolling is designed to work in text centric windows that scroll primarily vertically (like web pages or documents), dragging horizontally does selection rather than scrolling. In most applications this works well, but if an app has primarily horizontal scrolling then the defaults would have to be overridden. Also, for some applications the default scroll can appear chunky. This is fine with a mouse wheel, but it feels unnatural with touch. Apps may also want to tune scrolling to end on boundaries, such as cells in a spreadsheet, or photos in a list. IE8 has a custom behavior where it opens a link in a new tab if you drag over it rather than click it.
In addition to gestures, there are subtle optimizations applications can make for touch if they check to see if touch is in use. Many of the subtle touch behavior optimizations in Windows were enabled in this manner. Larger Jump List item spacing for touch, larger hot spots for triggering window arranging, and the press and hold behavior on the desktop Aero Peek button with touch are all features written with the mouse in mind, but when activated via touch use slightly different parameters.
Applications or features that fall into the “best” bucket are designed from the ground up to be great touch experiences. Apps in this bucket would build on top of WM_TOUCH – the window message that provides raw touch data to the application. Developers can use this to go beyond the core system gestures and build custom gesture support for their applications. They can also provide visualizations of the touch input (e.g. a raster editing application), build custom controls, and other things we haven’t thought of yet!
We also provide a COM version of the Manipulations and Inertia APIs from Surface. The Manipulations API simplifies interactions where an arbitrary number of fingers are on an object into simple 2D affine transforms and also allows for multiple interactions to be occurring simultaneously. For instance, if you were writing a photo editing application, you could grab two photos at the same time using however many fingers you wanted and rotate, resize, and translate the photos within the app. Inertia provides a very basic physics model for applications and, in the example above, would allow you to “toss” the photos and have them decelerate and come to a stop naturally.
We’ve previously demonstrated, Microsoft Surface Globe, an interactive globe done in partnership with the Surface effort. Spinning the globe works as you would expect from a real-world globe, but with a touchable globe you can grab and stretch the view to zoom in, rotate, and move the view around. Interacting with the globe and exploring the world is the majority of the UI, and it is exceedingly easy to use with touch. Other features like search and adding markers to the map have also been designed with touch in mind.
Here’s another video to get an idea of what we’re talking about:
We’re eagerly looking forward to seeing new touch-optimized user interfaces and interactions. If you’re thinking about writing touch applications or adding touch support to your existing app, you should start with the MSDN documentation and samples.
We’ve noted several touch updates in the RC. If you have the Windows 7 Beta you can experiment with touch using a PC that supports multiple touch points. Please note that the multitouch PCs available today were developed while the Windows 7 requirements were also defined, so while we believe they can support Windows 7’s requirements, only the maker of the PC can provide the logoed drivers for Windows 7 and support the PC on Windows 7. Keeping that caveat in mind, today there are a few multitouch PCs on the market:
To enable multitouch capabilities on these PCs running the Windows 7 Beta you will need to make sure you have the latest multitouch beta drivers. Remember these are pre-release drivers and are not supported by Microsoft, Dell or HP. And again, they still need to pass through the Windows Logo process we described above before they are final.
We often get asked about single-touch PCs. Will they work with Windows 7? There are many types of hardware available for touch and many screens and PCs can provide single touch (usually based on resistive touch technology). A single-touch PC will have the same functionality on Windows 7 as it does on Vista, but this functionality will not be extended to the Windows 7 capabilities. As we noted earlier, Windows Touch in Windows 7 is comprised of a collection of touch enhancements, several of which require multitouch, that work together to deliver a great end-to-end touch experience.
As form factors change and the demands of our user interfaces change, input methods change and grow as well. We’re excited about the unique benefits touch offers the user, and the new places and new ways it enables PCs to be used. We expect PCs of all form factors and price points to provide touch support and so it makes sense that these PCs will be able to take advantage of the full range of Windows 7 capabilities.
Windows 7 is designed to provide efficient ways to use multitouch for the most common and important scenarios, while being a natural and intuitive complement to the mouse and keyboard people use today.
Keep in Touch!
- Windows Touch Team
The Windows Explorer has evolved by enabling you to find all sorts of content by searching for it. Many of you have used the search features in Windows Vista (based on our instrumented data) from the start menu or from the search box in Explorer. It has been a long time since most of us could remember where everything is by carefully managing our folder hierarchy and finding things based on file name alone. We often rely on domain specific search (in music players, mail clients, photo clients) but with Windows Vista and Windows 7 we make it possible to search within a namespace and across namespaces. This post is about a new feature based on Search that allows searching across PCs and even servers in an Enterprise setting. Alwin and Scott, program managers, and Brandon, a developer, on the “Find and Organize” feature team authored this post. --Steven
Whether you’re searching or browsing, Windows Explorer is really about finding your stuff, and once you’ve found it, doing something with it (such as copying, opening, deleting, etc). For data that lives on your PC or home network, Windows 7 has invested in HomeGroup and Libraries (subjects for a future posting from our team) to provide an easier and richer experience than ever before. However, we didn’t stop there. Over the last few years, we’ve seen enterprise customers’ important content migrate towards (or aggregated in) centralized content stores, such as SharePoint. These products typically provide great features for team collaboration, document versioning and workflow management, archiving, retention policy enforcement, and other centrally-managed functionality that IT managers appreciate.
Important enterprise data is found on local machines, in a variety of centralized content stores and also beyond the firewall
Unfortunately, this has placed an extra burden on customers to learn each new content store’s user interface, often asking them to give up familiar desktop features like drag-and-drop. Given their collaborative focus, these sites grow organically and it can become hard to remember where a particular document was stored and then wade through long lists of them every time you want to get back to it. Enterprise customers have asked us for a solution that simplifies finding important content in these various data stores but without leaving their normal Windows work flows.
As we looked at this trend and the lack of integration with content management and content indexing web services, we used these guiding principles in developing a solution:
Federated Search wasn’t the only way to address these challenges. The brute force approach would have been to take our existing Windows Search indexing technology and just use it on these content stores—that index the remote content on a local PC. This isn’t a very realistic solution since it’s inefficient to have all content indexed over the network by each person’s machine, especially when the content is changing at a rapid pace and represents a large corpus. Corporate retention policies may also prevent keeping even a local index of certain sensitive data.
Fortunately, there’s a better option – Federated Search. Federated Search enables you to search a remote web service from Windows explorer and get results back that you can act on like any normal file. The largest barrier to doing Federated Search has already been taken care of too. That is, most of these content stores are already indexed on the server, or at least on some server. There are several great offerings that will accomplish this, such as Microsoft Search Server. Not only do these servers index this content, but many of them already expose search results via a standard web protocol. This is largely thanks to the prevalence of OpenSearch and RSS enabled clients (including Internet Explorer and Microsoft Search Server, among many others).
For Windows 7, we’ve added support for Federated Search using OpenSearch v1.1 and worked to make the experience a seamless one. We found this solution strikes a good balance by leveraging the strengths of content services and the strengths of local file interactions within Windows.
Using Windows Explorer, people are familiar with several important user interface and interaction elements. They know how to use the navigation pane to change what they’re looking at. They know how to scroll around, how to select an item (or several), and they know how to double-click to open them. Most people know how to right-click for context-sensitive options related to their selection, or how to find those options presented in the command bar. They know they can drag and drop items to move them around. They know how to change view modes. We hope that they know how to search their current location using the search box, and in Windows 7 we think we’ve made it much easier to discover and use the Preview Pane to make sure they’ve got the right result.
Searching a SharePoint site using the new Federated Search support in Windows Explorer
Much of the usefulness of building Federated Search into Explorer is our ability to take advantage of this knowledge and familiarity. This may seem obvious once you see it in action, but behind the scenes there’s quite a lot going on to make all of this happen. For example, some applications such as Microsoft Word already know how to work with web URLs. So opening a Word document from a web server is fairly straightforward. But the majority of applications you’ll encounter really only understand how to open files on the local machine or via standard network file sharing protocols. This includes everything from the built-in software like Notepad and Paint, to third-party software like Photoshop or iTunes.
To handle this case, we implemented a “just in time” download solution, which will download the file to the internet cache before opening an application or taking actions (like using the SendTo menu) which require local files. This lets us offer searches that are very “lightweight” from a server load perspective, where we display metadata and icons or thumbnails without ever requesting the actual file. Then if you take an action like previewing or opening an item, we will do some behind-the-scenes work to make a local copy of the file only if necessary.
That enables us to work with the existing application ecosystem without asking anything of developers. However, applications can also take steps to offer even better functionality in many cases. For example, Windows Photo Viewer has added support for non-file items. So if you open a picture result in the built-in photo viewer, it’s the photo viewer that downloads the item, not Explorer. This may not seem like a big deal, but it lets the photo viewer enable the forward and back buttons to jump to the next or previous result – and it will download that image on-demand. Starting at the PDC we began reaching out to third-party ISVs to encourage them to implement similar enhancements for Federated Search scenarios, and we will continue to offer guidance on how to best integrate with all of the newest Explorer features.
Finally, we support all the standard clipboard and drag-and-drop operations. So if you drag a Word document from a Federated Search query onto your desktop, it will be copied there. You’ll even see the familiar Windows Explorer copy dialog, with progress indication, cancel ability, conflict resolution, and so on.
But wait, there’s more! Windows Explorer is a great tool that many customers know and love. But some people use it without even knowing it. Countless Windows applications make use of what we call the Common File Dialog. This is a special Explorer window that lets you find and choose items to be opened or inserted into your current application, without ever leaving it. If you’ve ever clicked File and then Open or Save in an application menu, you’ve probably seen some version of this dialog. PowerPoint, for example, uses the common file dialog to insert pictures. That means from inside PowerPoint you can click Insert Picture, select the Federated Search link for your image repository, search for the picture you want, and then insert it directly into PowerPoint. This works for any existing application that supports the Common File Dialog, and there are a whole lot of them!
Inserting a picture into PowerPoint’s using Federated Search
Our Federated Search solution is all about simple lightweight access with a common, familiar user interface. This has a lot of benefits as we described above, but there are also cases where a server’s web interface will offer its own benefits. This might involve advanced query building, browsing, or server work-flow tasks, for example. So Windows 7 builds a bridge to these content repositories. After doing a search against a supported location, you will see a “Search on Website” button in the command bar which allows you to seamlessly send the query up to the service’s web interface in the default web browser. You’ll also see the “Open File Location” menu item when you right-click on a search result. Selecting that option will launch the web browser to the specific location in the document repository where the file is stored.
This seamless integration of Federated Search within Windows allows customers to greatly simplify their workflow for getting at remote files while still being able to easily take advantages of the advanced functionality of content repositories.
Our next challenge was to make it easy for customers to get these new connections onto their machines. It wouldn’t be practical to ship Windows with a connection to every solution in the world, so we shifted to a way that would make it very easy for any web service to deploy a connection to their specific service.
The model we came up with is similar to the way you add favorites from the web today. A web service can place a link to an .osdx file somewhere on their web page (see Channel 9’s search page for an example). The .osdx file is a simple XML file that uses the OpenSearch description document format to describe how to connect to the web service, and gives the web service some control of how the data is presented in Windows Explorer. When a person clicks on the link, Windows performs an ultra-lightweight install process that adds a search connector to that web service and places a link to that it in the Windows Explorer favorites.
If you are an administrator in an enterprise environment, you will likely want to provide some pre-installed search connectors for your users to search the company intranet or a popular internal SharePoint site for example. You can do this by deploying the search connector (.searchconnector-ms) files to your users’ machines via typical deployment techniques such as imaging, group policy preferences or startup scripts. The beauty is that it’s just a simple XML configuration file and there’s no code that needs to get installed on their machines. It’s also possible to pin one of these as a link from the Start menu through group policy. In the group policy editor look for the policy in this area: User Configuration> Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Explorer. The policy name is “Pin Libraries or Search connectors to Search again links and start menu”.
Launching a Federated Search of an enterprise Intranet from the Start Menu
Of course this technology depends on having services that support it. Although there are only a few services that provide a .osdx for you today, there are many existing services that already support the basic OpenSearch requirements.
We’re already seeing positive initial reactions from enthusiasts and ISVs alike echoing that it is indeed easy to enable your service to work with our Federated Search platform. If you’re a developer and want to enable an existing web based service to support Windows 7 Federated Search, you’ll need to provide a web service that accepts an http GET request with the search terms embedded somewhere in the URL and be able to return the results as an RSS or Atom feed. These requirements are typically very easy to meet for most applications that already provide search services via a web browser.
Your web service results should include the basic RSS tags like <link>, <title>, <description>, <pubDate> to get started but there’s much more that you can include in the RSS output and customization you can do within the .osdx file to enhance the experience for the end user.
For more information, we’ve published the Windows 7 Federated Search implementer’s guide with detailed information on how to enable your data source to work with Windows Federated Search. There’s also a recorded PDC session that demonstrates how to build a Windows Federated Search compatible web service for an existing SQL database.
- Brandon Paddock, Scott Dart & Alwin Vyhmeister, Find and Organize
This post continues the discussion of Compatibility testing from our test team. --Steven
In the previous blog post "Application Compatibility Testing for Windows 7" we talked about the importance of Application Compatibility and work we are doing to engineer this in Windows 7. In this post we will examine the challenge that emerges as we consider the world wide audience that Windows serves.
This blog post will cover the following areas:
For Windows 7 we have made significant investment in application compatibility, ensuring applications that worked on Vista, continue to work on Windows 7 and we’ve also rescued some applications that were broken in Vista to work on Windows 7 (more on that later). As we’ve talked about, there are some applications that are OS version specific by design (utilities, firewalls, security, etc.) and those are not included in this discussion.
One of the biggest challenges in International Application Compatibility is what applications we test, the scale of testing, and what it means for us to say that an application “works”. For Windows 7 we are testing over 1200 applications across 25 specific markets. We have improved our coverage over Vista by adding over 300 more international applications.
We look at applications in 3 buckets.
Categories 1 & 2 are pretty straightforward. There are a known set of key applications and scenarios used around the world and we must ensure these applications function in Windows 7. Category #3 is where there is some complexity.
The applications list we build for 3rd Party Local Applications is built using a number of methods. First, we build on the list of applications we have used in previous versions Windows (XP/Vista, etc). If it worked on Vista, it must work on Windows 7.
Next we work with our teams in markets around the world to rank top applications in particular markets. It is amazing to see the diversity in application use around the world. The application testing list is based on a combination of market data where it is available, individual knowledge of markets, culture, revenue, usage and even sometimes just “word on the street”. The cultural knowledge in these markets is probably most critical to our success. For example, casual gaming in Korea is hugely popular and we need to ensure our Windows 7 testing accounts for this.
Our goal in selecting applications is to test as many applications as we can that will expose the most issues across different scenarios and markets.
These scenarios include:
Once we build the list of applications we need to test the next process is acquiring them. We acquire applications in a variety of ways but many times we have to buy an application from a retail store just as any end user would. Other methods we use to acquire applications include downloading full featured trial versions, purchasing software, and working with ISVs to acquire their applications to ensure compatibility.
Testing applications means more than just installing them and making sure they launch. Every application gets a unique test plan written for it to cover as much functionality as we can. We write test cases to cover primary and secondary application functions – for our word processing example this would include opening a file, typing a letter, adjusting formatting, save, and print, emailing a copy to someone, etc. These applications go through 6 or more test passes during the product cycle.
Now, we can’t test every piece of every application and we do run into some interesting challenges when we focus on a worldwide audience. Many applications depend on location specific information (meaning if you aren’t testing the application in that location – you aren’t likely to have the information needed). Examples include Brazilian citizen’s CPF ID, or Brazilian personal number of identification which would be required to test something like tax preparation software. We run into similar problems with SMS applications requiring active local mobile phone accounts.
Along with the core tenet of ensuring that any application that worked on Windows Vista also work on Windows 7 we have a stretch goal to “raise the bar” and make applications work on Windows 7 that never worked on Windows Vista. For Windows 7, we have some good news early in the development cycle. So far we have made over 30 applications that were “broken” on Vista work on Windows 7. This means that Windows 7 will have higher application compatibility than Windows Vista. We are continuing to push this number up. Below is a table of the # of applications by language that we have made to work on Windows 7 but didn’t’ work on Vista.
Asure Purchase/Sale/Stock Master 2008
Cyberlink DVD Suite v6
Asure Accounting Master 2008
Haufe Personal Office Professional - Haufe Formular-Manager
Compedia Timmy in English World
Compedia Moomins: The Search for the Ruby
Compedia The Puzzling Time Quest
Finson Costo del Lavoro Italian v2
Finson Falco 6
Finson Progetto Condominio
Finson Contintasca 7
Kenchako Adventure 9.0
WZ Editor 5.0
Overland LOKI: with Japanese Manual
WF-Fakturka dla Windows
Nahlik eTeacher 5
Mexico Federal Taxes Simplified SAT: Individual Taxes
IKEA Home Kitchen Planner
Along with ensuring these applications work on Windows 7 we have taken an extra step for our existing Vista customers. Of the applications outlined in the above table, 27 of the fixes we made have been back ported to Windows Vista for possible inclusion in future updates. We really wanted to raise the bar for application compatibility and go beyond just looking at Vista as the baseline.
There is a lot of information here and hopefully gives you some insight into what it means for us to make the application experience (application compatibility) on Windows 7 as high as possible for users around the world. We started out with a goal of making sure if an application worked on Windows Vista it should work on Windows 7. We have taken that further by bringing applications that never worked on Vista to work on Windows 7 and even future updates to Vista.
Delivering a new release of Windows includes a major effort to insure that applications continue to function as well on the new release as they have on the previous release. At the PDC we talked about some of the new areas of Windows Vista that reduced this level of compatibility, such as changes we made around the OS security model. With Windows 7 we renewed our engineering efforts to maintain compatibility. As with device testing, compatibility testing is an effort that spans the entire engineering organization, though we also have a group that is dedicated to this effort. This post was authored by a set of folks and coordinated by Grant George, the corporate vice president for testing in the Windows Experience team. --Steven
We have taken a very proactive approach to Application Compatibility and our process starts from the moment we first plan our product schedule and design and check in code for Windows and runs through all of our engineering processes and disciplines leading up to our final release (and beyond).
Our main Application Compatibility goal for Windows 7 is to make sure that most all applications which work on Windows Vista will continue to work seamlessly on Windows 7. We do have to be careful about making this claim to be universal because there is a class of applications that are always updated in tandem with a new Windows release. These applications are primarily system utilities, diagnostics, and security software—the common thread is that they make assumptions about the underlying implementation of Windows internals and thus require updates. We carefully coordinate with a large set of ISVs who provide these applications. This was talked about earlier this month as we announced our Ecosystem Readiness Program, which we will discuss more below.
At the start of our product cycle we review our new features and changed designs to ensure that every element of Windows 7 has Application Compatibility in mind. Our engineering process includes automated quality checks to assure public APIs don’t change, and our test engineers have the right tools, engineering time and information that is used to find application issues as early as possible in our development cycle. Telemetry information is collected to assess and prioritize the breadth of applications our users depend on, paired with market data and install base information, across a wide variety of software categories to make sure they work as expected in our new OS version.
Below we expand on how we deliver on this goal.
Rich telemetry from external usage and the broad software marketplace helps us to provide a list of the most popular and critical applications, updated frequently throughout our development cycle. Our engineers then acquire these applications and build automated tests that verify each one works as expected on Windows 7.
Changes that could impact application compatibility are followed up closely, for example Legacy Code Removal which involves removing code that existed in the previous release of the product is strictly guarded and tightly managed and should not happen without proper documentation and engagement with the impacted parties. For example if we need to deprecate an API call, the documentation for this API will be updated and we will wait until the impact of the removal is minimal as indicated by telemetry data unless it is required sooner to fix a security issue.
Throughout the development process we are running tests in the background creating an ongoing validation of new code relative to application compatibility. As code is getting ready to be checked into the main build, if a compatibility failure is detected in an automated regression test the checkin is halted. At that point the code is scanned for known compatibility issues and if an issue is detected the developer is asked to fix the problem. Of course we also develop new tests throughout the course of developing Windows 7 in order to broaden our coverage of third party software.
We have several teams dedicated to application compatibility as part of the Windows development effort. These teams provides guidance on how to build in application compatibility, provides data on application dependencies, and information on what applications may be impacted for any particular change we make in the Windows platform. These teams also reviews new feature designs, as well as other planned changes, to ensure that the engineering team has fully taken application compatibility into account so that we achieve the tenet of "keeping applications working on Windows 7".
In addition to working with the internal Windows engineering teams, we also reach out to 3rd party developers writing Windows applications to ensure these partners have all the information they need to make their solutions fully compatible with Windows Vista and Windows 7. Furthermore if we do uncover any issues that may need to be resolved by the 3rd party developers, we collect all the information, resources and guidance and engage in a conversation with those external developers to help them understand and fix these issues.
We recently announced the Windows 7 Ecosystem Readiness Program. This program provides partners with access to Windows 7 builds and tools they need to test solutions for Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2. The Ecosystem Readiness Program also facilitates testing multiple components of the ecosystem together to improve the overall user experience. Rather than just focusing on getting a specific OEM product, software application, or hardware device certified, we will be bringing multiple components together to verify a rich user experience that delivers quality, reliability, and performance as well as innovation through new feature adoption.
As mentioned earlier we use telemetry data and market share information to choose the applications we directly test on as part of our compatibility efforts, below you can find the a sample of the Consumer Scenarios we focus our testing on:
To view a full list of Application Categories covered please take a look at the Appendix section at the end of this post. While we would love to provide the detailed list of products, several of the sources of this information are based on proprietary research from third parties.
Another very important set of technologies we test on are the middle tier technologies like Java, the .Net Framework, etc. to make sure the applications that use these technologies continue working as expected
In addition to 3rd party stand alone applications we test a subset of OEM pre-installed software and their inbox applications for compatibility. The software tested come from the engagements we have with our OEM partners and their submitted installation images. These images are tested on clean installations of Windows 7 and upgrades from Windows Vista on OPEM standard hardware. This level of coverage allows us to best replicate the initial experience with Windows 7 for many of our customers. Because many of these applications are closely aligned with the OS, hardware and drivers, it is not unusual for an OEM to provide updates to this software with a new OS release.
In addition to the above mentioned testing approaches, Microsoft IT maintains a software portfolio of approximately 1,500 applications. These applications must be tested prior to software deployments inside Microsoft.
Microsoft IT developed an application-tracking method that simplified the process of selecting applications for sample-based testing. By identifying groups of applications that have similar data processing, controls, underlying technology, and methods, Microsoft IT is able to test approximately 4 to 6 percent of the total applications and gain a reasonable assurance of compatibility for all.
For more information you can read the LOB Application Compatibility Technical White Paper.
Part of our testing process includes the creation of scenarios that we validate on 3rd party applications. We approach this by verifying the intended functionality of the application while focusing some of our attention to changes in the OS, new functionality and risky integration areas. Manual and automated test passes are scheduled to cover the identified scenarios and to verify the user experience. We cover the applications on different sets of hardware and make sure that that we cover a lot of different configurations, x86, x64, Intel, AMD, touch and multi -touch machines, etc.
We use specific categories when measuring the compatibility of the applications we test on:
We will cover these categories in more detail in subsequent blog posts about how we manage application compatibility.
As part of our testing we do find issues that may need to be resolved by the 3rd party developers at the companies that develop and sell these applications. We collect all of the relevant technical information, resources and guidance and engage in a conversation with those external partners to help them fix the issues. Of course we also engage them in our technical beta programs so they can test Windows 7 compatibility with their products at the same time we do.
Application compatibility is very important to the Windows team. We are constantly working to improve your experience with applications as you move from one release of Windows to the next. We encourage you to try our Windows 7 beta release to experience the improvements in the application compatibility space and we want to hear your feedback.
It is worth mentioning the work we have done from an end-user perspective to assist in application compatibility. Many failures of application compatibility happen at install time and to assist with this, in Windows 7 we have improved the detection of failed installations and provided a step by step wizard which will help to get an application’s “compatibility mode” correctly set. We also provide real-time problem reports and solutions that can help you locate an updated version or patch. Many of you might have experienced this when trying to run Skype after an upgrade or install the current version, and in both cases you were automatically referred to the Beta download site.
Microsoft Covered Consumer Scenarios & Application Categories
Our list includes the top 50% best selling applications in the past 24 months, some of this data is collected and aggregated from several well-known third party research information providers.