If you love Windows XP, you'll hate Windows 7

If you love Windows XP, you'll hate Windows 7

Summary: My colleague Jason Perlow has been playing with Windows 7, and he hates it. The sad thing is, all the things that he hates are improvements, in my opinion, which just goes to show that you really can’t please everyone. Jason describes a reaction I heard from plenty of diehard XP users when Vista was released. If you insist on using techniques you learned back in the last millennium, you will be frustrated. But I believe that an open-minded XP user who actually takes a few minutes to learn how the new UI works will be more productive very quickly with Windows 7. I've taken Jason's three examples to prove my point.


Special Report: Windows 7

My colleague Jason Perlow has been playing with Windows 7, and he hates it. The sad thing is, all the things he hates are improvements, in my opinion, which just goes to show that you really can’t please everyone. But what’s sad to see is that every setting Jason describes as broken is in fact easily customizable so it works the way he wants it.

The crux of Jason’s complaint is simple: “I learned how to use Windows in 1998. Don’t change a thing.” Here's his main argument in a nutshell:

I find it difficult to believe that Windows 7 was created to be easier to use than Vista — if anything, they’ve introduced a number of UI changes that make the system much harder to navigate, particularly if you’ve never used Vista and are going direct to Windows 7 from Windows XP, which is the path that many users will experience.

Yes, there’s a learning curve. And if you insist on using those techniques you learned back in the last millennium with software that was designed differently, you will be frustrated. But I believe that an open-minded XP user who actually takes a few minutes to learn how the new UI works will be more productive very quickly. The secret is breaking old habits and developing new ones. Let’s take all three of Jason’s examples and work through them.

Jason: “The ‘Run’ option is no longer directly accessible from the Start Menu, you have to get to it via a Search.”

Where do I begin? First of all, the Search box at the bottom of the Start menu does nearly everything the Run box did, and much more. If you begin typing a command, it appears in the Start menu, where you can click or press Enter to run it. With the Run box, I have to type a command in full and possibly even include its path. If I mistype the name, I get an error message. Want to play Solitaire? With the Search box, you can begin typing sol and the first choice on the list will be Solitaire, ready to run when you press Enter:

The Windows 7 Search menu is easier than the XP-style Run box

But the worst part of the Run box is that it requires you to learn the names of executable files. In XP, if you open the Run box, type solitaire, and press Enter you’ll get a cryptic error message. You need to know that the name of the executable is sol.exe. Want to play Minesweeper? You’re SOL with the Run box until you learn that the executable is named Winmine.exe. The Vista/Win7 Search box, by contrast, works with program names and executable files.

Still not convinced? You want the old- school Run box? So just press Windows key+R. That shortcut has been around since the mid-1990s and still works in Windows Vista and Win7.

Not good enough? Fine. Customize the Vista/Win7 Start menu to add the Run command and you can party like it’s 1998. Right-click Start, choose Properties, click Customize, and select this check box.

Customize the Vista/Windows 7 Start menu to add the Run box

Jason: “Another thing that greatly frustrated me was the fact that a fresh install of Windows 7 gives the end-user a blank slate on the Desktop, removing the familiar ‘Computer’, ‘Network’, ‘Control Panel’ and ‘My Documents’ icons, requiring users to get to those functions and folders via the Start Menu.”

Jason thinks this is “change for the sake of change.” I disagree. I’ve been talking to Windows UI designers and usability testers for years, and I can tell you that moving this stuff off the desktop is a huge usability win for novices and experts alike. If you rely on desktop icons, you have to minimize all open windows first before you can even see the icons on the desktop, then you have to click them. That adds unnecessary steps to every navigation option, and adds still more steps to get back to the windows you were working with previously. Once you wean yourself from desktop icons, all you have to do is tap the Windows key or click the Start button and you are one click away from any common file storage location. You can also press Windows key+E to open Explorer, where common locations are neatly arranged in the navigation pane.

Jason thinks the option to restore those desktop icons is “not intuitive.” Well, if you open the Start menu and type “desktop icons” in the Search box, the very first result is “Show or hide common icons on the desktop.” There's another shortcut that's even easier to discover. Every Windows user quickly learns how to right-click the desktop and choose Personalize, so they can adjust the desktop background (you old-timers remember it as wallpaper). When you do, you’ll see a very prominent “Change desktop icons” option at the top left. It leads here:

Put old-style icons back on the Vista or Windows 7 desktop

Jason: “I also find the Windows 7 Control Panel to be less intuitive than XP’s […] you now need one additional mouse click to see all the Control Panel options — of which there are now approximately double than which existed in XP. Clearly, they could have done a better job at consolidating functions, or at the very least, provided a better UI for navigating such a long list of stuff.”

The Windows XP Control Panel intuitive? A folder filled with icons, many with cryptic/technical names, doesn't seem intuitive to me. I think familiar might be a more accurate word to describe the reaction of someone who learned where everything is the hard way. Meanwhile, if you want "a better UI for navigating such a long list of stuff" it’s right there already. See that search box in the upper right corner? It’s a huge improvement on the old folder full of Control Panel icons. If you don’t believe me, try changing your screen saver from the Windows XP Control Panel. Does it make sense that you have to click the Display icon and then choose the Screen Saver tab to get there? You know those steps because you've been doing it that way for 14 years, but it's hardly intuitive.

By contrast, in Windows Vista and Windows 7, you type the word screen into the search box, and the list automatically filters as you type. I think this result list is pretty helpful:

Use the Search box in Control Panel to filter the list of optionsFor an even better example, try finding the option to show hidden files in Windows Explorer. With XP, you have to open Control Panel, double-click Folder Options, and then click the View tab. Now, would the average person know that file settings are under Folder Options? That hardly seems intuitive.

By contrast, type hidden in the Control Panel search box and here’s what you see:

Another example filtering the Control Panel options in Windows Vista and Windows 7

The very first option on the list takes you to the correct tab on the correct dialog box, with exactly one click. That's a huge improvement over the XP solution; in fact, when I open Control Panel in Windows XP I am enormously frustrated over the inability to do anything except drill down into icons to find the right one.

The real problem most XP users will have when migrating to the Windows 7 interface is that they need to unlearn those old navigation models. The longer you've been using PCs, the more likely you are to reflexively assume that the solution is to pull down a menu or double-click an icon. Those techniques worked fine back in the 1990s, but today, with instant search available just about everywhere in the Windows UI, those old techniques are as dated as a pair of Dockers.

If you're an XP veteran, take some time to learn why the new interface was designed the way it was. Believe me, those designers and  usability professionals didn't just make this stuff up. If you're willing to learn a few new techniques, I guarantee your productivity will increase over time.

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Loving Windows XP

    I don't understand what would be so difficult in giving users a chance to select "Use XP Interface" for those who don't relish leaning new commands for things they already know.
    • BINGO

      Why force change down user's throats? Every single enhancement in Vista and Windows 7 could have been presented in the same context as Windows XP.
      • Things change - move on

        So should all interface design stand still because you can't be bothered to spend sometime learning what has changed and what the new ways of doing things are!

        I don't recall car manufacturers having an option to choose the old style dashboard when you buy it either. Most normal people spend some time having a check where all the controls are and what the buttons do. I am sure they have even had a quick read of the manual if they are not sure!
        • Not a good analogy

          Changes in cars are relatively easy to comprehend because the basic controls for their operation haven't changed in at least 80 years. Sure, a modern car has a lot of extra gizmos and buttons than they did than 20 or 40 years ago, but at the end of the day, the steering wheel, the transmissions, accelerator and the brakes have remained the same. And by the same token, the most high-end sports cars in the $200,000 and up range have not changed their basic layouts in 40 years -- they are even simpler than most $20,000 family sedans. A 1960 Ferrari and a 2009 Ferrari or Maserati are just as easy to drive, because their controls are easy to use. It's optimized for driving and for the least amount of driver distraction.

          PC Operating Systems are much more sophisticated than cars, at least from a learning and usability perspective. Minor changes can severely impact productivity and what may seem "more intuitive" is not readily accepted by end-users. Consider which age groups are using the system and how long it takes for a typical enterprise to roll in a new OS to its user population.
          • but point still applies

            Maybe not a good analogy but the basic controls of Windows hasn't changed either. We still use mice, keyboards, monitor, etc. The taskbar is still at the bottom, the start button on the left, clock on the right. There is still a programs menu, accessories, control panel, etc. It still has letters for disk drives!

            I don't find Windows 7 any harder to 'drive' from Windows 95 or XP either. I would say that I have found car stereos to have not got easier to use though!
          • What age group are you in?

            Are you a milennial? Under 30?
          • What?

            I am over 30 but not sure why that matters. I could ask the same of you as I assume you are of the age where you are set in your ways ;-)
          • What age group am I in?

            Age in May of this year= I'll be 67 years young-do I find new UI's difficult? -NO. Just a learning curve is all-most are improvements of what was previous offered. Once learned is actually better-faster than before.
            Michael L Hereid Sr
          • Perlow is an illerate

            Perlow, you call yourself a computer consultant.

            Stop running a scan on unsuspecting individuals who end up paying for your worthless services.
          • Mars Lander One to Skybase...

            Do you read me? We are 3 minutes away from entry. Our system malfunction appears to be caused by Windows 2023. We are switching over to emergency XP. Things should be good to go at that point. Of course we won't be able to play 3D Martian Golf on this trip. Rats.
          • 40+

            And I found Vista a breath of fresh air, after XP. I think it was the Fisher Price/Tellitubbyness of XP which put me off.

            I started programming on a VAX in the early 80s, moved through various home computers and mainframes, worked with MS-DOS, Windows and Apple System/Mac OS over the years.

            After the release of XP, I went to Linux for a while, then to OS X and with Vista, I came back to using Windows on a regular basis. XP felt childish when it was released, and the "Classic" look made it look "so last century".

            I much preferred the way OS X and Linux worked, over XP. Vista has brought some of the better functionality changes of the other OSes to Windows.

            I switch between XP, Vista, OS X and Linux several times a day and they are all as easy to use as each other - some have advantages in one area or another, but in general, with the exception of XP, they are much-of-a-muchness these days. XP is still my least favourite OS; I can't wait for 6 o'clock to come around, so that I can get out of the office and carry on working at home for a couple of hours on my Vista or OS X machines...

            On another note, my mother came to visit a couple of years back and she used my old laptop when she was there. She said, "your Windows is so much easier to use than mine!" My Windows was SUSE Linux 10.0! :-D

            She now uses SUSE as her preferred operating system and she was over 60 when she switched to Linux!

            Age has nothing to do with it. Some people are open to change, others aren't.

            One of the biggest problems I've found (and I am not accusing you of this, it is a general observation I've seen repeated many times over the years) with moving to a new operating system or application is the "power" user. The novice user and the expert user generally don't have any problems moving from one OS to another, they just get on with it and they pick up the changes pretty quickly.

            The "power" user, on the other hand, has taught himself a few "smart tricks" to make himself look like an expert. Somebody who people come to when they have problems. They don't understand the basics of how an operating system work, or how a particular type of application works, they know how to tweak a particular version, which makes them look good.

            They are scared about moving to a new OS, package or version, because they will go from "power" user to "normal" user, until they learn the tips and tricks for the new version and that represents a loss of face, until they have found a source of useful tips-and-tricks on the internet or in a magazine.

            This group of users are often very hostile to new versions of applications, whether they are better or not.

            In one instance, I was working on as a fill-in on a helpdesk when a client switched from DisplayWrite IV to WordPerfect 5.1. The secretary of the CFO didn't want to switch. She kept logging calls with the helpdesk for the same problems (page size, tabs and printing - the converter from DW4 to WP5, for example, set the paper size to American Letter, not the International A4 that all the printers in the company worked with, which meant you needed to set the page size on a converted document before printing). I think the record was 6 calls in one day for the same problem on 6 different documents (and that was after a 3 day training course)! She wanted to show that WP5 just wasn't as good as DW4 and was just causing problems.

            The CFO complained about the sharp escalation of calls with the switch-over. We had expected the change to colour the figures slightly for the first couple of weeks, but we had seen a rise of around 120% in the number of calls. We showed him the anaylsis, take out his secretary and the number of calls had actually fallen 5% in the first month!

            After that, we didn't hear another peep out of her and the number of calls for the helpdesk returned to expected levels.

            Back on topic, Vista isn't perfect and it did have problems when it was first released - many caused by OEMs looking to kill off old kit by not providing support under Vista. But the situation wasn't a lot different to when XP was introduced. The big difference is that users have had an extended period to get used to XP, as opposed to the regular upgrade cycle of Windows before XP came along.

            Mix the "power user" syndrome with users generally getting complacent about XP, the switch to Vista's new interface has caused an uproar.

            Me? I find the switch down to XP at work a pain. I'm used to hitting the Windows key on my keyboard and starting to type the name of the application I want to launch - a bit of a supercharged "run" command...
          • All others after XP are crap

            Vista was a joke and 7 has to many flaws and bugs. Ubuntu has been working out alot better then 7. Plus it don't just restart for no reason like vista and 7 does. And I hear 8 is worse then 7 is...OMG I think microsoft has lost its way for os....
          • the real problem is

            most are unaware that an super thin version of XP is available for purchase and Microsoft has announced it will be supported for approximately another 8 years ? it is called EMBEDDED XP, cost per copy is @ 90, while it is primarily for use in kiosks - Several computer manufactuters did use it as their base version. Vista will eventually be available in the embedded format - you can thin out every thing you do not like. Why recommend to your CIO cost per station is much less, stability strong, reliability higher, and on flexibility a good candidate.
            .. you might consider buying the minimum number of copies as a test - before rolling out.

            so if you don't like something - no problem leave it out.... simple
            coffee junky
          • code_Warrior is an illiterate?

            The proper phrase is "running a scam," not "running a scan."

            I'm sure that could have been a typo, but when you're calling someone illiterate it pays to double-check your spelling and grammar before clicking "add."

            Besides, "illiterate" doesn't apply - that means you can't read. Sounds like someone using big words to try to seem impressively intelligent, and failing miserably.
          • Freak'n Old ...

            At 61.75 years old, and still having my original set of Windows 1.1 floppies (5 1/4"), I find that when using Vista, I can run circles around the XP dweebs.
            And now, I'm looking forward to learn the changes in Windows 7, so I can continue to teach the latest OS down at the nursing home.
          • A simple solution...

            ...Is for Windows 7 to have a simple switch to run it in XP mode. A menu list to toggle the changes on and off individually allows people to ease into these so called improvements.

            Microsoft should be wise enough to not alienate people who are sensitive to change. If we look at the percentage of the population that is over 50 it is easy to understand why this is just good business sense.
          • What age group? How about over 55

            And I agree. Yes Vista is a change, but I have to agree with Ed. Once familiar, it is easier adn It does keep my desktop clearer. I always do some customization - I use the Quick Launch for commonly used stuff, including a link to Computer. At first I didn't see much need for the sidebar, at least until I used it to display RSS feeds, security alerts, time, and a really cool RAM/CPU meter that shows my quad processor. I just bought a new PC for home with Vista Home Premium x64, which is becoming my main media station. I even run Vista Ultimate x32 on my Macbook Pro, which I like much better than Mac OSX 10.5, BTW.

            FYI: I am an IT administrator/Security professional.
          • An Illiterate !?

            Grow up... I don't always agree with Perlow, but resorting to childish name calling...???

            Disagree, make your point why and move on !
          • Well, you didn't ask me but here it is:

            I'm 61. And I find Vista to be a far better version than WinXP, especially since SP1. I'm looking forward to Windows 7.

            I'm not standing still for anyone. You could call me an above average user, as I'm not a tech geek. That means I'm not as heavily invested into the tricks of tweaking an OS, as a person such as yourself might be. I use my Vista every day for long periods and when I need to change something I just do a search either in the OS or the Internet to get the info I need. It's not hard. :)
          • I was happy with Vista too

            I was happy with Vista too, after it was upgraded and tweaked.

            Windows 7 is Vista with hidden user protections/preventions that are annoying, with no Windows Calendar and no Windows Mail.

            Windows 7 is your gateway to using online, soon-to-be-monthly-rental Microsoft products. They will force you to use online email and online calendar, just to warm you up to the idea.

            Other than that, it's Vista all over again.