Filling the gaps in Windows

Rupert Goodwins: Microsoft always has grand plans for Windows, but it's the little things that need fixing first

With the launch of XP now a distant memory and Longhorn playing peek-a-boo from the far future, it's time to think about what we'd like to see in the next generation of desktop operating systems. If you listen to the marketing corps, you'll be told what you want: all sorts of tighter integration, .Net synergies, authentication and replication, XML smarts. But most of the things I'd like to see in Windows are plain and simple, wouldn't require phalanxes of PhDs to implement, and would make my daily life so much nicer. Journaling filing system
IBM's had this for decades. So had VMS, the operating system that informed so much of NT's internal design. You can do it for Linux in lots of ways, you can do it for OS X. But there's no sign that Windows knows anything about it. It is a lovely idea: every time you modify a file, the old version -- or the information needed to recreate it -- is kept. So after you edit fred.doc, you get fred.doc and fred.doc;1 in your directory. Made a mistake? Go back and grab the last good copy. Want to trace changes? Just as easy. Totally independent of your application, it saves bacon on a daily basis. Journaling does need a bit more disk space and a little more processing power -- neither of which are in short supply. Done properly, it's a godsend. I was using it 20 years ago on VMS, and I'd swap every dancing paperclip and Smart Display ever to come out of Redmond to have it now. Microsoft says NTFS is journaling, but I'm darned if it's ever let me roll back anything but my eyes. A save-by-application sound mixing desk
This omission causes me more pain -- genuine, physical, tears-in-my-eyes pain -- than any other lost Windows feature. There I am, working late at night, listening on headphones to some relaxing MP3 set to an atmospheric level when BRRRRRING! An IM has just come in, and I'm six months closer to deafness. Or some brash streaming video makes me whack the volume down, and I don't notice half a dozen alarms have gone off until the end. How hard would it be for some sound management software to let me associate individual volume levels for known programs? Or have limiting? Not hard at all. Just think of it like an application-level audio firewall. Location concept
I have broadband at home. I have GPRS. I have a network at work. Let's face it, I'm living the life of the uberconnectoid geek that should bring tears of joy to advertising people worldwide. But does Windows know this? Can I set up all my file shares, permissions, printers, and other environmental considerations so that I can move from one way of working to another without going mad? No. Long promised: never delivered. Scroll management
Big document. Need to highlight a large chunk. Click at start, drag down... and suddenly, my PC decides this is the ideal chance to demonstrate all 2.4 billion instructions a second and scroll through the document so fast that the top of the monitor bulges outwards as the pixels smash into it. Can I find the bit of the document I want? Not without having eyes capable of spotting millisecond events. So, er, how about scroll speed regulation? Or a find that works with the mouse down? Or mark-to-here tags in documents? A proper system console
When the next version of Windows appears, of course, there will be no crashes. No system errors, no mysterious delays or worrisome behaviour that makes you think there might be a virus because heaven only knows there's no way the computer would do that otherwise. But just in case this peak user experience is somehow delayed, I'd just like to know what's going on. I'd like to know what processes are running when things happen, not just when I happen to look at the task manager. I'd like to log some of that weird IP traffic. I'd like to know what's going on with my USB ports. I'd like to know what all those files are in my system folder, and who uses them; I'd like to know who on earth put 20 copies of an apparently identical mystery key in the registry. I'd like to know what on earth is going on when I try to close down Windows on my laptop, and it sits there for a full minute meditating on the unfairness of it all. I can find out some of this stuff by juggling a slew of nutty diagnostic applications. I can find out other stuff by annoying friends who have better things to do, or dedicating an evening to the gods of the Googleshrine. But Microsoft knows all this stuff. It could put together a decent diagnostic/control application that monitored all this and has a decent database of information to put stuff in context. The company has such things internally: it should release the info with the OS, with every service pack and security patch. Trade secrets? Does the company really think that programmers gather in bars and ask themselves how on earth Microsoft produces such fantastic software? BSOD-BGB interface
This is pure fantasy, in bad taste and grotesquely illegal -- but what if every Blue Screen Of Death sent a small but noticeable jolt to a part of Mr Gates? What would that do to the reliability of Microsoft software? Hey, the darn software automatically files a report on fatal errors to the Redmond servers these days, and you just know that someone's invented 802.11b-enabled underpants. You join the dots. Got some better ideas? Is a little piece of Windows getting on your nerves? Let us know... by email


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