Larry Osterman's WebLog

Confessions of an Old Fogey
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Everyone wants a shiny new UI

Everyone wants a shiny new UI

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Surfing around the web, I often run into web sites that contain critiques of various aspects of Windows UI.

One of the most common criticisms on those sites is "old style" dialogs.  In other words, dialogs that don't have the most up-to-date theming.  Here's an example I ran into earlier today:

AutoComplete

Windows has a fair number of dialogs like this - they're often fairly old dialogs that were written before new theming elements were added (or contain animations that predate newer theming options).  They all work correctly but they're just ... old.

Usually the web site wants the Windows team update the dialog to match the newest styling's because the dialog is "wrong".

Whenever someone asks (or more often insists) that the Windows team update their particular old dialog, I sometimes want to turn around and ask them a question:

"You get to choose: You can get this dialog fixed OR you can cut a feature from Windows, you can't get both.  Which feature in Windows would you cut to change this dialog?"

Perhaps an automotive analogy would help explain my rather intemperate reaction:

One of the roads near my house is a cement road and the road is starting to develop a fair number of cracks in it.  The folks living near the road got upset at the condition of the road and started a petition drive to get the county to repair the road.  Their petition worked and county came out a couple of weeks later and inspected the road and rendered their verdict on the repair (paraphrasing):  We've looked at the road surface and it is 60% degraded.  The threshold for immediate repairs on county roads is 80% degradation.  Your road was built 30 years ago and cement roads in this area have a 40 year expected lifespan.  Since the road doesn't meet our threshold for immediate repair and it hasn't met the end of its lifespan, we can't justify moving this section of road up ahead of the hundreds of other sections of road that need immediate repair.

In other words, the county had a limited budget for road repairs and there were a lot of other sections of road in the county that were in a lot worse shape than the one near my house.

The same thing happens in Windows - there are thousands of features in Windows and a limited number of developers who can change those features.   Changing a dialog does not happen for free.  It takes time for the developers to fix UI bugs.  As an example, I just checked in a fix for a particularly tricky UI bug.  I started working on that fix in early October and it's now January.

Remember, this dialog works just fine, it's just a visual inconsistency.  But it's going to take a developer some amount of time to fix the dialog.  Maybe it's only one day.  Maybe it's a week.  Maybe the fix requires coordination between multiple people (for example, changing an icon usually requires the time of both a developer AND a graphic designer).  That time could be spent working on fixing other bugs.  Every feature team goes through a triage process on incoming bugs to decide which bugs they should fix.  They make choices based on their limited budget (there are n developers on the team, there are m bugs to fix, each bug takes t time to fix on average, that means we need to fix (m*t)/n bugs before we can ship).

Fixing theming bug like this takes time that could be spent fixing other bugs.  And (as I've said before) the dialog does work correctly, it's just outdated.

So again I come back to the question: "Is fixing a working but ugly dialog really more important than all the other bugs?"  It's unfortunate but you have to make a choice.

 

PS: Just because we have to make choices like this doesn't mean that you shouldn't send feedback like this.   Just like the neighbors complaining to the county about the road, it helps to let the relevant team know about the issue. Feedback like this is invaluable for the Windows team (that's what the "Send Feedback" link is there for after all).  Even if the team decides not to fix a particular bug in this release it doesn't mean that it won't be fixed in the next release.

  • Bullshit, fixing dialog is like 30 min max.

  • Tihiy: Sometimes.  Sometimes it's a matter of weeks and weeks of work.

  • It depends how to define 'feature'. Vista had a 'feature' of a redesigned user interface.

    Except that feature wasn't fully implemented for the entire user interface.

    One would argue that the last 'feature' isn't complete yet until all elements of the user interface that comes with Windows Vista follow the user interface for Windows Vista.

  • Ian: I didn't know that Vista had a feature of a redesigned UI.  

    There were elements of the XP UI that were updated for Vista just like there were elements of the Win2K UI that were updated for XP and there are elements of the Vista UI that were updated for Windows 7.

    To my knowledge, we've never had a completely redesigned user interface.

  • I agree, changing one dialog may bring a lot of complex problems requiring compatibility shims, design review, RTL weirdos, etc.

    But there should be a usability and design review, and it should be done more often than once in ten years.

    IE is certainly stuck in that time; can you even imagine now why this dialog is needed?

    Can you imagine Internet without autocomplete?

    What are those 8* numbers anyway? If they were search terms or at least telephone numbers, it could make sense (it didn't make sense 10 years ago, too).

    Or the dialogs like:

    Do you see yellow foobar? - "Sorry i'm blind!".

    Do you want to disconnect from Internet when you close browser? - "Sure, it's XX century now and i'm paying for dialup time".

    Sorry for bothering you with stuff you don't control.

  • @Hino Musouka

    "Well, is it not a privilege of the customer to DEMAND something from the product they paid for ?"  The customer has the right to demand the behaves as advertised.  I don't see any real reason to _demand_ something here.  I would certainly request an update, but Microsoft can do as it wishes.

    @Larry

    " 'You get to choose: You can get this dialog fixed OR you can cut a feature from Windows, you can't get both.  Which feature in Windows would you cut to change this dialog?' "

    I reserve the consumer's right to vote with my wallet and not purchase the product.  As a customer I don't care about why something is annoying, just whether the end result is acceptable and best in the marketplace.  Customer's don't have to be sympathetic.

    Now all that said, little things like this don't bother me and don't weigh too strongly into my buying decisions.

  • And Tihiy demonstrates exactly why those dialogues are there and still the way they are.

    "Can you imagine Internet without autocomplete?"

    Some people don't want autocomplete, and some do. If I'm using a shared computer you can bet I want to turn that bitch off.

    "What are those 8* numbers anyway? If they were search terms or at least telephone numbers, it could make sense (it didn't make sense 10 years ago, too)."

    Ever hear of zip codes? From, say, Arizona?

    "Do you see yellow foobar?"

    Well, not really, since I'm Joe Blow and don't necessarily pay too much attention to what's happening in the background.

    "Sure, it's XX century now and i'm paying for dialup time"

    Yes, and everyone's living in a high-priced condo with FTTH, there's no such place as rural USA and Africa where MSFT products are bought and used...

    Good Lord, man! Think outside your boundaries, why don't you?

  • >>Bullshit, fixing dialog is like 30 min max.

    Let's assume there's a minor text change just to make it interesting. Let's guess 30 languages in Windows. That's some number of translators getting involved, plus some number of UI review editors making sure there's nothing inappropriate in the text. Sometimes the translated text won't fit on the dialog, ok, go back and change size for that language, try again. Then

    do all the builds and hokey things to get the dialogs all shown (if it's an error dialog you may need a one-time switch to get the error dialog shown). Make sure all the language versions work in all the button-click/dialog close, F1, combinations.

    I know that non-localizable dialog in a relatively simple program can take less than an hour but not in a localizable operating system.  

  • Larry made this same exact argument nearly 2 years ago before Vista's release about why Microsoft need not update the 15-year-old font dialog box.  You might think that Larry would have a reformed opinion on UI after the blow-up over the font dialog box that erupted on the Shell Revealed message boards pre-Vista; but apparently not.

    Microsoft made great headway with Windows 7 beta in convincing me that it understood the importance of UI in a world where feature parity nearly exists across all PC platforms and where consumers are now more prone to choose beauty over function and to prefer aesthetics over compatibility.

    Larry didn't get it 2 years ago and he doesn't get it today.  If everyone working on Windows shares Larry's philosophy, then I'm very worried for Window's future.

  • While your arguments certainly compute on the level of any individual employee, in terms of the entire company they make no sense. If they did Microsoft would *never* invest any resources into new visual themes or UI upgrades. Since the company does so, there must be returns for this investment, in terms of the user experience.

    Since you don't have any more evidence of how little or how much this return is affected by these mismatched UI's than do the complainers, I find myself unable to sympathize with your plight. Your contention that these issues are less important than some unnamed feature that would prospectively be cut is no less specious than the complainer's contention that the UI issue is more important than that same feature. I don't see any evidence that the triage team is any better at it either.

    You're awesome at code... why not leave it at that?

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