Six Vista annoyances fixed in Windows 7

Six Vista annoyances fixed in Windows 7

Summary: In the past two-plus years, I’ve read countless complaints about the Windows Vista user interface. It has too many options for ordinary users. It doesn’t offer enough options for advanced users. It’s dumbed down and overcomplicated, sometimes all at the same time. Maybe Microsoft's software designers have learned something from all that criticism, because I see plenty of small but significant improvements in Windows 7. The most revealing is a dialog box that includes this refreshing option: "Let me choose."


I sometimes wonder how Microsoft's interface designers find the strength to go to work every day. It certainly isn't for the external validation. In the past two-plus years, I’ve read countless complaints about the Windows Vista user interface. It has too many options for ordinary users. It doesn’t offer enough options for advanced users. It’s dumbed down and overcomplicated, sometimes all at the same time. To listen to the critics, Vista’s designers succeeded in making every feature worse than XP. In fact, the latest complaint is that Vista and the upcoming Windows 7 are even worse than Windows 98.

Six Vista annoyances fixed in Windows 7Or maybe not. I’ve been using Windows Vista full time for more than three years, and I’ve been running various builds of Windows 7 on a daily basis for the last couple months. Maybe Microsoft's software designers have learned something from all that criticism, because I see plenty of small but significant improvements in Windows 7.

In this post, I’ll show you six specific annoyances from Windows Vista that are fixed in Windows 7. Each one represents an easier, more efficient way to accomplish a common task. Collectively, they constitute some pretty persuasive evidence that “have it our way” is no longer the controlling design principle among Windows’ designers.

Vista Annoyance #1: That awkward Preview pane In Vista, it takes at least three mouse clicks, plus a selection from a cascading menu, to show the Preview pane, and you have to repeat the process to hide it again. With Windows 7 you can preview a file with one quick click.

Vista Annoyance #2: The overcomplicated Shutdown button Vista’s Shutdown menu has been roundly criticized for its cryptic icons and unintuitive options. In Windows 7, it’s been simplified dramatically to an easy-to-read, easy-to-customize text menu.

Vista Annoyance #3: Arranging windows, awkwardly Ever try to arrange two windows side by side in Windows Vista (or XP, or Windows 98, for that matter)? Windows 7 makes it dead simple with some genuinely innovative new window management gestures.

Vista Annoyance #4: Unpleasant User Account Control UAC is the Vista feature everyone loves to hate. Security always involves trade-offs with convenience, but with Windows 7, there’s a lot less to dislike about UAC.

Vista Annoyance #5: The ultra-minimalist Defrag utility The colorful, almost mesmerizing progress display from the XP-and-earlier Defrag utility is gone and never coming back. But Windows 7 does restore some much-needed progress indicators and offer more control than the stark Vista version.

Vista Annoyance #6: The no-options backup program In Windows Vista, every edition has a file backup program, but you can’t choose individual files or folders to back up. Windows 7 restores that option, courtesy of a “Let me choose” option that indicates a refreshing change of attitude for Microsoft’s UI designers.

Vista Annoyance #1: That awkward Preview pane -->

<-- Continued from Page 1

Vista Annoyance #1: That awkward Preview pane

At least once a week for the past two or three years I have cursed the interface designer who was in charge of the Preview pane in Vista’s Windows Explorer. It’s a great idea and a big improvement over Windows XP. Instead of guessing at a file’s contents, you select it in an Explorer listing and then preview it. The trouble is, it takes three clicks and one cascading menu to show Vista’s Preview pane.

VistaÂ’s Preview pane takes at least three clicks to show or hide

To hide the Preview pane, you go through the same rigmarole. So if you want to quickly preview the contents of a file and then get the preview pane out of the way, you’ll need to go through six clicks of the mouse.

Windows 7 adds a Show/Hide Preview button on the command bar just above the contents pane in every Explorer window.

Windows 7 lets you show or hide the Preview button with a single click

Click to make the preview pane visible, click again to hide it. No menus (cascading or otherwise) required.

My index finger feels better already.

Vista Annoyance #2: The overcomplicated Shutdown button -->

<-- Continued from Page 2

Vista Annoyance #2: The overcomplicated Shutdown button

Back when Vista was finally shoved out the door in late 2006, one of the most frequently criticized interface features was its shutdown button.

VistaÂ’s Shutdown menu was criticized as needlessly complex

Programmer/curmudgeon extraordinaire Joel Spolsky said it was an example of Microsoft's interface designers making Windows too complex for ordinary users:

Every time you want to leave your computer, you have to choose between nine, count them, nine options: two icons and seven menu items. ... Inevitably, you are going to think of a long list of intelligent, defensible reasons why each of these options is absolutely, positively essential. Don't bother. I know. Each additional choice makes complete sense until you find yourself explaining to your uncle that he has to choose between 15 different ways to turn off a laptop.

Apparently someone in Redmond was listening, because here’s what the same feature looks like in Windows 7:

Windows 7 uses a simpler Shutdown button

Text, no confusing icons. And if you want to change the default, it’s the first thing you see in the dialog box where you customize Start Menu properties.

Customizing the Windows 7 Shutdown button

Hopefully, Joel Spolsky (and his notebook) will sleep better.

Vista Annoyance #3: Arranging windows, awkwardly -->

<-- Continued from Page 3

Vista Annoyance #3: Arranging windows, awkwardly

The mechanics of opening, moving, arranging, and closing windows haven’t changed much since the debut of the 32-bit Windows desktop in 1995. Maximizing a window is easy, but how about arranging two windows side by side, so you can (for example) drag files from one folder to another? Not so simple.

In Vista, the official technique involves this complex set of steps:

  1. Open both windows.
  2. Click the taskbar button for the first window and then hold down the Ctrl key and click the taskbar button for the second window,
  3. Right-click the taskbar button and choose Arrange Side By Side.

Arranging two windows side by side in Vista requires too many clicks

Cumbersome enough for you? And good luck if you want to control which window goes on the left and which goes on the right.

In Windows 7, the process is dead simple. Drag the title bar of one window to the left edge of the screen until the mouse pointer hits the edge, and then release the mouse button. The window snaps into position, occupying the left half of the window. Now do the same with the second window, snapping it to the right edge of the screen.

Windows 7 windows arranged side by side

That’s just one of at least a half-dozen cool new techniques for resizing and repositioning windows, including a few I haven’t seen documented anywhere yet. Amazingly, as far as I can tell, these techniques aren’t borrowed from some other OS but actually represent fresh thinking.

Vista Annoyance #4: Unpleasant User Account Control -->

<-- Continued from Page 4

Vista Annoyance #4: Unpleasant User Account Control

When the anti-Vista mobs assemble with pitchforks and torches, their most popular target is, inevitably, User Account Control. It’s the most hated and most misunderstood addition to Windows Vista.

UAC is a good idea, poorly implemented. No, it’s not just another annoying confirmation dialog box. That’s a single, annoying portion of a fairly complex set of features designed to keep unwanted executables from running on your system without the explicit permission of you, the administrator.

You can count me among those who are annoyed by persistent UAC prompts, especially for system-level tweaks that are unlikely to have been triggered by hostile foreign code:

A single request for permission doesn’t bother most people. What gets under the skin is the second UAC prompt, and the third, and the fourth, and so on. The closer together those dialog boxes arrive, the more annoying the phenomenon.

Getting rid of UAC isn’t an option, but providing more fine-grained control over its prompts is a must. In Windows Vista, the only easily accessible control is an on-off switch, which requires a reboot after each change:

VistaÂ’s only easily accessible UAC control is this on-off switch

There’s also a more complicated set of workarounds to tame UAC, but none of them are easy, especially for nontechnical users.

Windows 7 offers a more granular set of controls over UAC, designed to focus its protections strictly on third-party software.

Windows 7 offers more UAC customization options

I’m composing this post on a notebook running Windows 7 Beta 1. Using the default UAC settings, I have yet to see a UAC prompt for at least the past week. That’s a major improvement that should go a long way toward placating critics.

Vista Annoyance #5: The ultra-minimalist Defrag utility -->

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Vista Annoyance #5: The ultra-minimalist Defrag utility

When Windows Vista debuted in 2006, even Windows enthusiasts were united in their scorn for the interface of the new Defrag utility. Or, to be more accurate, the complete lack of interface. Vista’s ultra-minimalist Defrag tool has essentially no interface. It runs in the background and provides none of the colorful, almost mesmerizing progress displays that Windows users had grown accustomed to for the previous 10 years. Purportedly, they represent blocks of data on the disk, although in reality the display is mostly conceptual and fairly inaccurate.

The old-school XP Defrag utility offers this colorful but misleading progress display

I’d show you a picture of the Vista interface, but frankly, there’s nothing much to see.

All of which inspired one commenter to write:

The absolute lack of information in Vista’s defrag is insulting. No reporting, no progress bar, no GUI. And no the command line is NOT a substitute for any of this.

The absolute ONLY thing good about it, is the automatic scheduling option. Microsoft really seems to be screwing over enthusiasts, first with their licensing which still screws over OEM users and now this.

The Tetris-style defragmentation map isn’t making a comeback, but the Defrag utility’s interface in Windows 7 is far more informative, with details about the last defragmentation for each drive, a live progress display (text only) for current operations, and options to adjust the automatic scheduling settings.

Windows 7 offers more progress indicators and scheduling options for its Defrag utility

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a mesmerizing set of visuals to amuse you while the disk defrags, might I suggest the Gigertron 3D Blacklight effect from the Psychedelia Viz Pack for Windows Media Player?

Vista Annoyance #6: The no-options backup program -->

<-- Continued from Page 6

Vista Annoyance #6: The no-options backup program

Windows XP includes a backup program that’s the very antithesis of usability. And that’s if you can even find it in the first place, because it isn’t even installed by default on XP Home Edition; you have to dig it out of the Valueadd\Msft\Ntbackup folder on the XP installation media.

The trouble with the XP backup program is that it’s strictly location-based. You have to manually select folders to be backed up, and then hope that you haven’t missed a hidden folder that contains important stuff, like your e-mail.

XPÂ’s Backup utility forced users to choose which folders to back up, a capability Vista removed

Windows Vista improved that situation by including a file backup program in every edition. But it inspired complaints from critics like David Pogue of the New York Times, who complained loudly about its inability to specify individual folders to be backed up:

Windows finally comes with a prominent backup program. That’s great, except that you can specify only which categories of things to back up (pictures, e-mail, and so on), not which specific files or folders.

As I noted at the time, the Vista file backup program was designed to address a specific complaint from users (including David Pogue!) who had been tripped up by folder-based backups. But offering no choice isn’t fair to those who understand what they’re doing.

The solution, as embodied in the new Windows 7 Backup program, is to offer both options.

Windows 7 offers a “Let me choose” option for file backups

The most telling part of that dialog box, and the one that directly speaks to Vista critics, is the simple “Let me choose” option. The default is to accept the setup that Microsoft’s designers came up with. But if you prefer to set up your own backup system, that’s your right. It’s a clean, easy-to-use compromise.

“Let me choose.” Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? More of this, please, Microsoft.

Topics: Software, Data Management, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • Complicated shutdown?

    I will agree that changing the default power button behavior is not as intuitive as it could be and it looks like this will be improved in Windows 7. However, I have to wonder what is so complicated about the power button in Vista? There is 1 button to press when you are done using the computer. What could be simpler?

    Now here come the legions of ABMers who are going to claim that the Power button doesn't actually turn off the computer and this makes it confusing. Are these same people confused that the power button doesn't actually turn off their TV, their DVD player, or their stereo? You are powering down these devices, not turning them off, just like Vista. And before someone claims that unlike a computer, you can safely unplug a TV without fully shutting it down, the same applies to Vista. The default sleep mode for a desktop is a hybrid sleep mode that stores a hibernate file and then puts the computer to sleep. If the computer loses power while it is in sleep mode, it will safely restore the previous session from the hibernate file, as if you had originally chosen the hibernate otion. So yes, you [b]can[/b] hit the Vista power button, unplug your computer, move it, plug it back in, and turn it back on with no ill effects to the OS.

    The hilarious thing is that some of these people are Apple apologists who praise Apple for taking away options because it makes the device easier to use yet they chastise Windows for not showing you Turn Off, Sleep, Hibernate, Log Off, Restart, Lock, Switch User on the main screen and instead make it available in a menu. Microsoft chose the default that is right 99.9% of the time and gives it to users in a simple, easy to understand format: a power down button just like their TV. Using Apple apologist standards, Vista actually has this one [b]right[/b] and it is OS X that has an overly complex system.
    • More absurdities

      [url=] Windows Shutdown Cr@pfest [/url]

      I believe this is the blog that started it all. I got a big kick from this comment to the blog.

      [i]The Mac does this nicely. There is only one choice, "Sleep."[/i]

      Except this is false. Under the Apple menu you have 3 choices: Sleep, Restart, Shutdown. Contrast this to Vista which gives you a power button with the same icon you would find on your TV remote and does the same thing it does on your TV and a lock button with a lock icon. Already Vista is less complex and uses intuitive icons instead of confusing text.

      [i]This seems to be the right solution 90% of the time.[/i]

      Agreed, which is why Vista offers it as the default option and doesn't make you pick from a menu of choices, unlike OS X.

      [i]For those geeks that really want only sleep or only hibernate for some reason, they can hack away and change the default behavior. (It's fairly easy to do.)[/i]

      Or you have the Vista way which allows you to choose hibernate on a case-by-case basis from the optional menu without "hacking" anything. If you want hibernate to be the default, you can change this too [i](It's fairly easy to do.)[/i]

      [i]This is why I like my Mac so much. Instead of bogging me down with pointless choices, it just does things the one best way.[/i]

      So you like your Mac because it doesn't bog you down with pointless choices even though it actually [b]does[/b] bog you down with more choices than Vista and it is actually Vista that just does things the one best way? Hilarious!!
      • Sleep just one of the many problems...

        that Vista has - standby and hibernate break almost every driver in the most important devices and features, many users need.

        1. Sound shuts down despite the fact the sound control on the system tray shows that it indeed is sampling the sound data.

        2. Breaks about umpteen things in Windows Media Center, cant't get just about anything to work without rebooting.

        Symantec must be banned from Windows as it leaves it's post for no reason and can't be uninstalled without destroying the security descriptors, and the way almost any system file permission works. This in Vista.

        I can see maybe having to do a restore once in a blue moon, especially if you do a lot of grunt work; but having to reinstall the operating system every three months is ridiculous to the extreme!!

        This is only a few of the complaints I have; I didn't bring notes to the discussion. The UAC is one of the few things I LIKE about Vista!!!

        *Edited* Changed the word player to center.
        • The really big problem...

          ...with Vista was the lack of appropriate drivers. Many people have told me they will stick with XP because they didn't want the hassle or impossibility of locating Vista drivers.

          Why doesn't Windows have a support option for XP drivers (a toggle to use the XP drivers should be added to the driver installation query box...)

          Since size is no longer a huge concern, previous GUI setup options (setup the desktop like XP, Vista, Windows 7) for the OS and updated programs would be great as well.

          We all know XP will soon be akin to using Win98 in the future, but forcing the public to change to Vista without an XP mode is not unlike what Apple would do.
          • just to add...

            I had a Sony Clie "Palm Pilot" that worked well for my needs. When I got a computer with Vista on it, there was no way to make it work. Now I have to get another one just to complete the same tasks I did before.

            Sony and Microsoft should be chastised.

            Old printers have driver issues as well. I am sure the list goes on and on, but no one needs to spend a few hundred dollars on hardware so they can run Vista/Windows 7.

            By the way, who came up with the name Windows 7? I haven't used all the Windows versions but can remember: Window 3, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 95 SE, Windows NT, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Vista. Aren't we using Windows 15 by now?
          • The Vista Problem -- Arrogant/Ignorant Users

            Sony is the Palm problem. Microsoft CAN'T write every driver.

            You CAN use XP Drivers. Just did it for my "unsupported by HP" scanner.

            Windows 3.0 was Windows 3.0 (!), Windows 95/98/ME was version 4.0, Windows 2000 and XP are Windows 5.0 and 5.1 respectively, Windows Vista is Windows 6. Simple.
          • Arrogance My Blue Buttocks

            The Problem with Vista is the problem with Vista: a horrid, overbloated piece of scummy crap that is totally unworkable, this fact is separate from the fact that although there might be ignorant or arrogant users, a bad OS is a bad OS without regard of arrogance or ignorance.
          • @Xweapon

            and yet Vista regularly trounces XP in benchmarks. The problem with Visat is ignorance and stupidity, I have run *every* flavor of XP and theyre comparable. Either adapt or die. It's the law of nature and OSes. Vista runs fine and in fact much better on my XPS 1530, but then maybe youre one of the guys squeeking by with a P3 Micron and refuses to quit being a cheapass?
          • Just curious as to why the palm pilot would not work...

            you did try installing your XP driver for the "palm pilot" on Vista in compatibility mode, didn't you? What happened at that point? It still would not install or it installed but wouldn't work? How old is the "palm pilot"? <br><br>
          • Why it's Windows 7

            Contrary to what someone else said, the 9x kernel does not fit into the naming scheme here. The numbering/naming scheme is for the NT kernel, not the 9x kernel.

            The first widely used version of NT was NT 3.50/3.51. Shortly after the release of the 3.5x version, they released NT 4 in Workstation and Server versions. A few years later, Windows 2000 was released. Windows 2000 was NT 5. Windows XP was NT 5.2xxx, a revamping of 2000. With Vista, a new kernel, it became NT 6. The next version of NT will be 7, hence Windows 7.

            The 9x kernel was a completely different, DOS based OS series, where Windows 95, 95b and 95c were actually shells on top of DOS 7, like 3.xx was a shell on top of previous versions of DOS. 98 and 98SE were improvements on the model, and, in most opinions, the peak of the series. ME was a ill advised and completely useless "update" to the shell on DOS model that, thankfully, destroyed the whole concept.
            Dr. John
          • XP driver support.....I agree it's hard to find for some users.

            You are absolutely right. Right now a user needs to, for example, put in the disc with the XP driver for their 2003 Sony handycam, browse out to the disc, find the setup.exe file and then right click, choose the compatibility tab and choose XP compatiblity and then install the XP driver. (they could use the starup box that comes up when putting in a disc, in this example, and right click the startup there and choose compatibility mode as well).
            Like you said, instead of all of that (which is really simple if you know that's what needs done, it's really just an extra few clicks, maybe 1 or 2 seconds of extra time) when the user clicks the setup.exe (or whatever the setup is named) the system should recognize it is an XP driver and tell the user the driver can only be installed in compatibility mode (have help links in the dialog box perhaps to describe compatibility mode) and ask them if that is what they would like to do. Simple as that. XP drivers work perfectly in compatibility mode, so I would think MS would try to draw attention to how to do it considering the hundreds of posts that make it sound like Vista doesn't even support XP drivers at all. I can't imagine MS was missing that? It's that kind of stuff, building easier to use interfaces for many thing they need to realize are problems for people. <br>
            Things like System Restore, Search (which many find annoying in Vista but it's really very good and Search Folders are GREAT, but all the pieces for advanced searching (files and content) are spread all over and it's hard to setup what indexing you want and folder options and other things without spending a good deal of time finding and understanding how they all inter-relate. Again, i think it's better search than ever before, MS just needs to understand the need for user friendly design and interfaces.
          • Thank you xunil_z!...

            for the positive responses. I'm not totaly against Vista, but I do feel we should make known our gripes.

            I hadn't had much trouble with drivers; other than x64 drivers that misbehaved, but they've been updated. I guess I didn't want anything that wasn't already Vista x64 capable, I can always run it on my 32bit XP laptop.

            I notice things run very well on WOW mode for most 32 bit apps, and one of them was written for XP. I may occasionally get "program installed incorrectly" but the program runs fine anyway, so I've ignored that. I should have used compatibility tools, I suppose; just lazy I guess

            Vendors seem to be rapidly closing the 64 bit gap. I can see the death of 32 bit coming quite soon!

            I appreciate your input!
          • Sure? anytime.

            I've heard that with x64 even 32 bit apps running on WOW run faster than on the 32 bit OS. <br><br>
            I suppose that makes sense since some kernel operations are still able to do 64 bit operations while it's running. <br><br>
            I had an update come in for my display adapter last time I got an update (I really like that drivers and other optional software is detected and comes in as part of WU) and it bumped my Windows "experience" Index up .2 points. Exciting, huh? <br>
            What do you think of Tinker? Do you have Ultimate i should first ask? <br><br>

            have a nice day.
          • Haven't had time to go gaming yet...

            but want to try some WWII style games soon!

            Since my second priority was cable recording, I was forced to go OEM to get QAM cable compliant DRM packaging. Under this agreement, HP was only able to offer a special Vista x64 version of Home Premium.

            I know, what a dud! I'm just hoping they will offer an upgrade as soon as Microsoft gets their s**t together.

            I'm looking to reach that [b]5.9[/b] experience index also, HA! Just got to get a better video card. The ATI that I got with the machine is a dud anyway, it won't adjust properly in monitor mode to fit my 61" Samsung.

            My next move is to contact HP an see if I can do a hardware upgrade to a better one that still has an HDMI port like the one I have.
        • Reinstalling the OS...

          We can thank Microsoft for teaching a whole generation of computer users that you need to reinstall the OS periodically to fix problems with your system.

          Install Mac OS or Linux in your life once and move on.
      • Vista's annoyances fixed, et al

        It just irks me that Microsoft creates another OS and primarily all it does is fix bugs from the previous one. Shouldn't this have been SP2 rather than Windows7?
        • True, but ...

          Service packs are free (OK, maybe a penny for the download time) --- new versions, regardless of how much, or how little, changes, cost a whole lot.

          Results = profitability for Microsoft (and other companies with pay for OS's), plus gainful employment for programmers.
        • I think it's a bit more than just bug fixes.

          There is a lot of continued work toward under the hood design in win7. The move to a smaller and more dependency free kernel will make many more things possible with win7. <br><br>
          In some ways you are right but it's really no different than most Ubuntu releases or Mac OS X Tiger to Leopard. There was no real fundamental changes in either. A few more apps that could have been in service packs. <br><br>
          I think win7 is fundamentally more of a change than the others and there is a SP2 for Vista coming.
      • What's with the Mac, Mack?

        I think you've lost the plot here. Your harangue was
        precipitated by a Vista advocate's comment. A Vista advocate.
        You riff on a misinformed feedback item from two years ago as
        though it means something?

        The Moishe Lettvin post you reference wasn't the start. The
        topic was started by Joel Spolsky the day before: In the
        linked article, Mr. Lettvin, a former employee of Microsoft and
        part of the team that designed and implemented the Vista Start
        button, attempted to explain how bureaucracy and design by
        committee led to the excess of choices Mr. Spolsky critiqued
        the day before.
      • NZ - "Already Vista is less complex and uses intuitive icons..."

        "...instead of confusing text."

        LOL - NonZealot is a Nut Case! Guess he can't read! Text is much easier, hence why Win7 is using text instead of pictures.

        Press the power button on apple and hit enter to turn OFF the computer or select Restart or Sleep with the mouse or keyboard.

        Real simple...when you can READ!!
        No More Microsoft Software Ever!