Well, we shipped Windows 7, and now I’d like to talk about a few of my favorite features that were added by the Sound team. Most of them fit in the “make it just work the way it’s supposed to”, but a few are just cool.
I also want to call out some stuff that people probably are going to miss in the various Windows 7 reviews.
One of the areas I want to call out is the volume UI. There’s actually been a ton of work done on the volume UI in Windows 7, although most of it exists under the covers. For instance, the simple volume control (the one you get to with a single click from the volume notification area) uses what we call “flat buttons”.
Windows 7 Simple Volume UI:
Windows Vista Simple Volume UI:
Both the mute control and the device button are “flat buttons” – when you mouse over the buttons, the button surfaces:
By using the “flat buttons”, the UI continues to have the old functionality, but it visually appears cleaner. There have been a number of other changes to the simple volume UI. First off, we will now show more than one slider if you have more than one audio solution on your machine and you’re using both of them at the same time. This behavior is controlled by the new volume control options dialog:
As I mentioned above, the device icon is also a “flat button” – this enables one click access to the hardware properties for you audio solution.
The volume mixer has also changed slightly. You’ll notice the flat buttons for the device and mute immediately. We also added a flat button for the System Sounds which launches the system sounds applet.
Another subtle change to the volume mixer is that there are now meters for individual applications as well as for the master volume:
And finally, the volume mixer no longer flickers when resizing (yay!). Fixing the flicker was a problem that took a ton of effort (and I needed to ask the User team for help figuring out the problem) – the solution turned out to be simple but it took some serious digging to figure it out.
"Flat" buttons that show up when you mouse over them are like door handles that don't appear until your hand is on them. While it may look cool, it doesn't exactly make the door any easier to open.
Nathan - how do you discover toolbar buttons? They behave exactly the same way. Or the butons on the tiles in the mobility center? Or all the controls in Windows Media Player? There are a number of buttons that fade into the background in Windows for exactly the same reason - the button visuals clutter up the display when they're present but inactive.
You're right that the flat buttons are missing the normal button affordances (raised 3d effect) but those affordances appear when you mouse over the control.
How did you guys manage to fix the volume mixer flickering during re-sizing? Would be glad to hear how that was fixed.
Toukarin - it's on my queue of Win7 posts.
Here's a hint: Group boxes are buttons.
Love the new functionality, thanks for that! :)
I do, however, prefer vista's "real" button for the mute functionality (speaker icon) - i think that it's now less intuitive to understand what's an interactive element and what's not.
also, a feature that i really wanted is the ability to selectively switch audio output to a specific channel, e.g. (based on the images in the post) after the "Windows Media Player" channel has been established to output to the "Speakers" device, switch it to output to the "Headphones" device. i've seen in a channel 9 vid that this happens when a device becomes disabled, but can i do selectively without disabling any devices?
Fernando, that's a post for a couple of days from now - the answer is a qualified "yes" - you can do that by changing the default output device in the playback tab on mmsys.cpl (assuming that the app is rendering to the default output device).
I second (third?) what Nathan said -- flat buttons aren't particularly user-friendly.
It's not really a problem when toolbar buttons go "flat", because they're arranged in a bar of similar command buttons, and they usually live just below the menu bar or caption, so they're normally pretty obvious.
When you start to have flat buttons on their own in the middle of the window, though, that's getting very non-discoverable. Not everybody mouses over every random icon just to see if it's an interactive element in disguise.
(It's almost as annoying as websites that turn off the styling of hyperlinks, such that unless you mouse over them they're indistinguishable from normal text.)
>"Nathan - how do you discover toolbar buttons? They behave exactly the same way. "
But toolbar buttons are in a place where I expect buttons to be.
There is no indication that you can press the flat mute button what so ever. I would only discover it if I happened to move the mouse over it.
It is clearly a step back with regard to user friendliness.
What happens when you press the speaker?
I completely agree with Nathan that the flat buttons offer no visual cue that they're clickable. Having to mouse over the button to find out that it's a button makes its discoverabilty accidental. In a toolbar, a user knows to click the icons by virtue of the fact that *it's a toolbar*! The context implies that the widgets are clickable. A flat button that's islanded on a dialog offers no such context.
As for toolbars, the first thing I do on any application that offers them is disable them. I guess that makes me too weird to offer UI advice.
Larry, you used flat toolbar buttons and Windows Media Player as if they were examples of good UI. An affordance that only appears when you mouse over is a second-rate affordance. I'm not buying the "clutter up the display" argument. A door handle does not clutter up the display of a door, it shows you how to open it.
Some new UI bugs also came to life during the rewrite/update.
If you in the Volume Mixer press ALT key, you get a redundant line under Device GroupBox label.
Also, in the same dialog, if you have multiple speaker endpoints to choose from, the fading effect on the "speaker" selection button is broken.
So Windows is slowly becoming a Lucas Arts adventure, you have to mouse over the whole picture to tell what's clickable :-D
Kidding aside, I'm really not sure if the cleaner look outweights the lack of affordances. I expect a lot of "Ah, I didn't know you could to THAT" sentences in the future, as so often seen in the comments to some of Raymond Chen's blog posts.
My problem with flat buttons is when they don't make themselves apparent as a button.
Case in point: I have been using Vista since Beta 1 and never once noticed the speaker icon was a button. The win 7 mute button is somewhat discoverable based on the fact it was a clear button in the past and it has the icon you would expect on a mute button (though I wouldn't be suprised if I was asked by a non-techie what happened to the mute button)
This is not to say flat buttons are bad, they just need to be used carefully and in a way that makes them self-evident as a button. The speaker icon in this example does not, in my opinion, because unless you mouse over it there is no indication it is not just a decoration that indicated the current output device.
IMHO, the per app volume control sucks. Why is the per app volume slider "linked" to the master volume?
Take http://blogs.msdn.com/blogfiles/larryosterman/WindowsLiveWriter/AfewofmyfavoriteWin7SoundfeaturesUIrefin_E2E9/image_thumb_1.png for example, there is very little room to "slide". It would be better if the per app volume starts @ 50% (middle of the slider, unrelated to where the master slider is)
A somewhat related question: Is there a way to somehow change the sensitivity of the master volume? Meaning, I have a laptop (Vista) where for normal use, the master volume is at 12 (That's what the tooltip says) This makes it very hard to make small adjustments to the volume (20+ is very loud, <5 is almost muted)