It's a dark day for taskbar tweakers (you know who you are). Microsoft has actuallycutVista's taskbar functionality from what was in XP, ignoring years of calls for improvement.
Warning: if nitpicking, ranting blog posts that focus in on the minutiae of user interface annoy you, stop reading now.
It's a dark day for taskbar tweakers (you know who you are). Microsoft has cut Vista's taskbar functionality from what was in XP. Yep, that's right, they've gone backwards, not forwards.
Although it wasn't a widely known feature, in XP, it was possible to drag a toolbar off the taskbar (provided all applications were minimised). The toolbar would then become a floating, resizable toolbar window. You could then drag that window to any side of the screen and it would dock as a stand-alone toolbar, away from the main taskbar.
The regular Windows taskbar:
The quicklaunch bar dragged off the main taskbar:
The quicklaunch bar docked at the left side of the screen. Nice. Many possible configurations to suit your most hedonistic taskbar fantasies. Freedom is power. Power to the taskbar, etc.
Right-clicking on the docked toolbar provided useful options, such as always on-top, and the ability to view icons at a large size rather than the regular small size.
Personally, I liked the ability to dock a toolbar with commonly accessed folders to another edge of the screen, and approximate the OS X Dock by having quick-launch with large icons at the bottom of the screen, with the regular Windows taskbar at the top of the screen.
Now I'm running Vista RC1 full time, I've lost the capability. It's now a one-size fits all taskbar. Yes, you can drag the whole lumpin' thing to another side of the screen, but let's face it, it doesn't work when dragged to the left or right side of the screen, which gives you the choice of top or bottom. Woop-ti-doo.
Sadly, Microsoft confirms it has cut the ability to drag toolbars off the taskbar in Vista because it was too confusing for users.
The user experience has undergone a great deal of user testing as we developed Windows Vista - far more testing than any previous version of Windows. We received feedback from customers indicating that after accidentally dragging a toolbar off the taskbar, they were not be able to get the toolbar back to their desired configuration. As a result, we removed this functionality and integrated desktop search throughout the operating system, most prominently featured in the Start Menu. For users wanting to launch something quickly, all they need to do is to press the Windows or "Start" button, start typing and Windows Vista can find any file, folder or program instantly.
In my opinion, the "desktop search" argument is a bit fatuous. The PR spokesperson should have just stopped after the bit about noobs finding it confusing when they accidentally dragged the toolbar off.
It's frustratingly typical of Microsoft. Rather than fixing the flawed interface, they simply dropped the feature. I guess we should be grateful they didn't introduce a multi-paned wizard, complete with dancing paperclip or talking dog.
Rather than cutting the functionality altogether, Microsoft could have simply made undocking a toolbar a more deliberate action (e.g. via a context menu) rather than a drag-and-drop thing, so that Flora Average didn't do it accidentally with her less-than-stellar hand-mouse coordination while trying to open Microsoft Word.
Returning to the argument that desktop search is a complete replacement, I can attest to the fact that desktop search is far from "instant" in Vista release candidate 1. I'm running RC1 it on a very grunty Dell PC with a dual-core Pentium-D and 2GB of RAM.
It takes several seconds to start returning results, unlike Windows Desktop Search on XP. Sure, it may improve in the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) version of Vista, but it also may not.
Frankly, desktop search is no replacement for an onscreen toolbar with commonly accessed folders and network locations, accessible via one-click. The nearest thing that can be done with the Vista toolbar is a pop-up list of folders as part of the main taskbar.
And one final parting shot: why is it that in this next-generation version of Windows it's still not possible to reorder opened programs on the taskbar by dragging and dropping the buttons?Windows users have been calling for this for years. Microsoft has been able to add a glossy look and feel and replace the start button with a glowing Vista orb, but still no freaking drag and drop reordering of opened programs.
Yes, I know I'm ranting, and I should probably go home and have a glass of milk and have a lie down, but then again, many of us will probably spend more time with the Vista taskbar than our loved ones for the next five years [to paraphrase Microsoft's marketing materials below], so at the very least, Microsoft could sex it up a bit.