As Microsoft readies for the first widespread distribution of Windows 7 at two key conferences later this year details of planned changes to the software continue to emerge. And while the issue of how much Windows 7 needs to be differentiated from Vista remains in the air Microsoft has committed to making some interface changes that will firmly differentiate the new Windows from its predecessor.
One of the more obvious (and annoying) changes to the Start menu in Vista was burying the options for shutdown and restart in a tiny fly-out menu while making the sleep button much more prominent. In the latest post on the Engineering Windows 7 blog Microsoft core user experience program manager Chaitanya Sareen effectively admits that this plan backfired and confused users.
“We did encounter some challenges with the power options in Vista’s Start Menu” Sareen wrote. “The goal was to bubble-up and advertise the sleep option so that customers enjoy a faster resume. However we now know despite our good intentions customers are opening that fly-out menu and selecting other options. We’re looking into improving this experience.” Hopefully the experience improvements will include making sleep actually work reliably especially on notebook PCs as well as ensuring the other options are more visible (and keyboard-accessible).
The user experience team is also grappling with how to make changes to the taskbar area which is one of the most widely used features of the Windows interface. While Sareen largely shied away from specifics a number of key elements in the plan have emerged:
- Getting rid of the endless pop-up notifications that appear in Vista. “Based upon the feedback we’ve collected from customers we recognize the Notification Area could benefit from being less noisy and something more controllable by the end-user” Sareen wrote. (I’d love to be able to tell Vista’s security systems not to freak out while my security software is updating itself for a start.).
- Cleaning up the taskbar. “The taskbar is almost 15 years old everyone uses it people are used to it and many consider it good enough” Sareen noted. However on powerful machines running large numbers of applications it can still got crowded. Thus another key design goal: “The taskbar should have a cleaner look and feel.” (This ties in with Microsoft’s previously announced intentions to cut down on the amount of third-party ‘crapware’ visible within Windows.
- Rethinking the concept of Desktop Toolbars such as the Windows Media Player mini-control. “After extolling all the greatness of Desktop Toolbars we must also admit they introduce several challenges” Sareen wrote. “For starters they aren’t the easiest thing to discover. They also take up valuable space on an already busy taskbar. Most importantly though they don’t always solve the customer goal. Sure you can have a folder’s contents accessible off your taskbar but what if the files you want quick access to aren’t located in a single place? These are design challenges we intend to tackle.”
Some other features of the Windows desktop are likely to remain but won’t get much emphasis in terms of future development or planning for integration with new features.
For instance Windows has long allowed you to shift the taskbar from its default location to either the top or side of the screen but Microsoft’s user data suggests not many people care. “Less than 2% of sessions have a taskbar that’s not at the bottom of the screen” Sareen wrote. So don’t be surprised if the Windows 7 interface doesn’t look so crash-hot if you belong in that select 2% group.