That "unlocked" Windows 7 taskbar is also unfinished

Summary:My hat’s off to blogger Rafael Rivera, who returned from last week’s Microsoft Professional Developers Conference and apparently didn’t sleep until he figured out how to unlock the flashy new Superbar interface that Microsoft showed off at PDC but didn't make available to PDC attendees. Rafael's clever hack does indeed unlock an alternate interface for Windows 7 Build 6801, but in this post I want to throw a giant bucket of cold water on your expectations. The unlocked interface is missing some key features, as I explain.

My hat’s off to Within Windows blogger Rafael Rivera, who returned from last week’s Microsoft Professional Developers Conference and apparently didn't sleep until he figured out how Microsoft had hidden Windows 7's flashy new Superbar interface. The Superbar was on display in every demo, but it's MIA in the builds that were handed out to PDC attendees (including yours truly). As Rafael noted in his post, he "stumbled upon an elaborate set of checks tied to various shell-related components, including the new Taskbar."  He’s posted the unlock instructions over at his website.

Here’s the short version: Download the small UnlockProtectedFeatures utility program, change permissions on Explorer.exe, kill the Explorer process, and then start UnlockProtectedFeatures from an elevated command prompt. Here's what it looks like:

Unlock protected features utility from Rafael Rivera

I’ve downloaded the simple utility Rafael created, tweaked file permissions per his instructions, and successfully revealed the larger taskbar.

And now I want to throw a giant bucket of cold water on your expectations. Although this technique unlocks an alternate interface for Windows 7 Build 6801, it does not mean that you will see the interface Microsoft showed off at PDC. I spoke with Rafael yesterday and he confirmed that the “unlocked” UI has a number of odd behaviors that suggest it is incomplete; he's also updated his post accordingly.

So what's wrong with the Superbar in build 6801?

For starters, every taskbar button on the unlocked 6801 taskbar has an arrow that appears on its right when you move the mouse pointer over it. (The technical term for this is a “split button.”) That arrow is gone from more recent builds. In a PDC presentation entitled Design Principles for Windows 7, Microsoft ‘s Samuel Moreau showed this exact design and indicated that it had been rejected in favor of cleaner, more current designs. (Fast-forward to just past the 30:00 mark to see the full discussion.)

Here’s the rejected design that Moreau showed off. See that arrow to the right of the Word button? That's a split button. Click it to display the Jump List for Word.

Rejected design for Windows 7 taskbar

Now look at the unlocked taskbar in Windows 7 Build 6801, the one handed out at PDC. You can see the same split button and the same behavior where I've clicked to the right of the stack of Explorer buttons.

Unlocked taskbar from Windows 7 Build 6801

And here’s the (presumably finished) design as it appeared in the PDC builds:

Windows 7 taskbar design as shown by Microsoft at PDC

Other features are missing or incomplete as well. The Peek feature doesn’t work with thumbnails on an unlocked 6801 build; you have to click on a thumbnail to switch to the window before you can see its contents.  (For details on how the Peek feature works, skip ahead to the 33:00 mark in Moreau’s presentation and watch for about two minutes.) Jump Lists aren’t working on the Start menu, nor is the Show Desktop shortcut in the lower left corner working as expected.

In short, it looks like one small piece of the Superbar is included in Build 6801, but other crucial components and functionality are missing. That will lead to a woefully incomplete picture for anyone who tries to follow these instructions and thinks they’re seeing the real Windows 7 user experience.

So why is this happening?

It helps to look at the date and time stamps on the Windows system files in the 6801 build. Most of them are dated September 14, which indicates the date the build was finalized. It typically takes at least a couple weeks of testing and tweaking from the time a milestone candidate (in this case Milestone 3, or M3) is locked down and when it’s declared fit to ship. So the user interface available in the PDC builds is at least two months old and could be more than three months old.

So, hats off to Rafael for his mad reverse-engineering skills, but don’t expect too much from the unlocked Windows 7 interface.

Update 6:30PM PST: Steven Sinofsky pops by the Talkback section and leaves this note below:

You've got it right. Our plans were to complete the user experience for the beta milestone and the PDC build is the M3 milestone (final stop before beta). So the UI is not complete in either functionality or design.

This doesn't represent what we showed at the PDC demonstrations as you correctly point out (based on Sam's session).

Fortunately, there's plenty of stuff that's already finished (or mostly so). 

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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