Saturday, December 1, 2012

End of the Windows eXPerience: Windows 8 is not my idea

 

It was bound to happen some day. It's finally happened. Microsoft Windows as I loved it is dead. Let me perform its funeral and give a eulogy. Microsoft killed the Windows I loved. What remains is a system that you must use only in the way Microsoft wants you to use it. As XP is killed, Microsoft has forgotten long ago what the company was all about. It has turned into a battle with Apple and Google to control over digital lives, how we should use our PCs will be dictated at every step. Every system after XP has been retarded at usability. They changed a perfectly good, consistent UI into something gimmicky, non-customizable and unproductive. Apple-envy has made Windows end up as a convoluted contraption that is neither simple nor logical and powerful. You have to constantly fight against the OS to do what you want and in the end, you still can't do what you want because Microsoft removed the feature. Windows XP is the last OS for power users, developers, IT pros. All later Windows systems are so consumer-oriented that you must struggle to work the way you want, features are just lacking. And yet this scam of eliminating features is openly continuing.     

It started with this:
Features removed in Windows Vista
Features removed in Windows 7
and ended with this:
Features removed in Windows 8

Windows 8 is definitely far worse than Windows Vista. The vision behind Windows Vista was good but the execution flawed. The vision behind Windows 7 was the same as Vista, and slightly better execution (+some blackmail about XP getting unsupported) resulted in Windows 7 succeed despite it being not as good as Windows XP. Now it's not that I completely overlook the important innovations in security, graphics, networking, audio, management, deployment - just about every core improvement Vista/7 brought over XP so as soon as my UX issues were resolved, I upgraded, even though I am not really pleased with the Windows 7 desktop UX at all. It's far from my idea, it pisses me off many times but I still use it.

Windows 8 on the other hand is a horribly flawed vision. So it doesn't matter how they execute it. It won't be accepted.

It is neither my idea of customizable, powerful and backward compatible desktop computing, nor productive and usable mobile computing. I just don't like it because it is dumbed down, it removes what I liked and what it is ugly. Liking an interface, liking a design, liking its features, liking its compatibility - all these are very important to enjoy its UX. Windows 8 is engineered on the fundamentally incorrect decision that Microsoft took to merge their mobile platform with the desktop when they should have been separate or merged without any compromises. Microsoft has lost the value it once had for backward compatibility of design, UI and features. This is similar to the rant that Jim Allchin made around the Windows Vista timeframe. They have lost their way, they do not understand how important current ecosystem and current features are. For power users who expect a little more customization, Windows is not what it used to be. Form, over-simplification and bad design have completely taken over the User Experience at Microsoft so function, usability, compatibility of software are all harmed.

While Windows Vista had other issues, mainly the ecosystem not being ready, one of its core issues was that the UX was not up to the level of backward compatibility we had come to expect from Microsoft. It made dramatic changes to the Windows XP UX. For the most part, Windows 7 had a backward compatible design with Windows Vista, although many features were carelessly dropped. Windows 7 nearly reached that same level of usability, customization and compatibility that Windows XP offered, but not because Microsoft fixed things, but because the ecosystem caught up and created workarounds, fixes and replacements for missing features. They just "made it work".

The feature loss problem that has cropped up at Microsoft has made Windows 7 a half-baked successor to the venerable XP, with many shell features missing. Efforts like Classic Shell made it almost worthwhile but it can’t fix everything. Microsoft's failure to understand good usability and backward compatible design made basic scenarios difficult. I noticed this problem with Windows 7 and Windows Vista and listed those issues which Microsoft should have fixed, but they continued to ignore those under the new policy of engineering the OS entirely based on internal decisions, and telemetry, ignoring all direct outside feedback.
Most of the world is now going to see and experience those same issues with Windows 8 - because the changes made this time around are even more drastic, even more reckless. Windows 8 acceptability is absolutely out of the question because of far too many interface issues that Microsoft continues to ignore. While Windows 7 got the seal of approval from most casual PC users who just wanted to get their job done and switch to a modern OS from the aging XP platform, enthusiasts like me who demand UX perfection cannot use or recommend even Windows 7, because Microsoft ignored all design bugs and issues which were not present in XP and moved to an engineering process that works in total secrecy. A little feature, bug or two that got ignored or broken, I can tolerate. Hundreds of ignored issues that make up a truly annoying experience, no I cannot accept. And what about design? That Metro-style design will appeal to millions? Does Microsoft really think that? Microsoft's Design has also collapsed with Metro, not just their understanding of usability and backward compatibility.
I seeked perfection and aimed to restore balance to power user features by sharply criticizing Microsoft's careless approach to OS design after XP, because no amount of feedback would work in this secrecy-centric development model that has decided to make desktop computing secondary and more dumbed down. Unfortunately, the Windows team misunderstands any criticism of their product as hatred and anti-Windows propaganda. They are just interested in taking your money, but have no commitment to delivering a backward compatible, high quality product.

So, I think it is time that I bid a tearful farewell to the great OS I once fell in love with, back when Windows 95 was introduced. Now it is getting easier for grandma (if you love Windows 8, you are a grandma in denial, no offense meant to those who are real grandmas but efficient at using computers), but it is just getting impossibly difficult to use my computer with Windows the way I want. It is time to give up the enthusiasm and loyalty, and find another platform, one that simply retains the features and customization of the previous version and is committed to the same backward compatible design and feature set that Windows once offered - not a big thing to expect, is it? Windows was special, and backward compatible design was what made it succeed and dominant that like no other OS, Apple was never committed to such a level of backward compatibility which is why the business world uses Windows.
Hopefully, some day, someone at Microsoft will come to their senses. Even if they don't, most people might still upgrade because they are all casual users, they just want to get their job done and run their favorite app, as long as they don't miss any particular feature they used, they will find this OS okay. But they will sooner or later come across a deal-breaking feature omission. It really is a shame because Microsoft almost fixed Windows Vista with Windows 7, but never quite got the UX perfect - still too many ignored issues. Due to the change of management, the development changed to a process of total secrecy and then they behave as if the problems don't exist because it is too late in the lifecycle to fix them. The engineering process is also flawed because it leaves no time for the core design to be changed when the public gets to see it.

Windows 7 was the Longhorn vision realized - it was a hit based on Windows Vista innovations, people's passion and goodwill it generated by promising to fix Windows Vista's flaws and the illusion which they created that the mistakes with Windows Vista won't be repeated. Windows 7 only came to dominate because Microsoft stopped all sales of XP and XP being a very old release, they could trash it and convince casual users to upgrade because they don't have the same requirements of backward compatibility or customization. But Microsoft blew it again with Windows 8 by oversimplification, arrogance, overconfidence and refusal to listen to customers.
It was a pleasure using Windows for 20 years while the eXPerience lasted. Thank you Microsoft for that. Now it is getting long in the tooth. And should they ever realize this problem, they will always find power users like me ready to assist them with User Experience because they have been failing miserably to make it as backward compatible as it should be after the 2001 release, Windows XP. Backward compatibility isn't just about being able to run older third party apps, it's about features in the OS itself and that is exactly the problem Microsoft's upper management does not understand. The problem with upgrading isn't about adapting to change or fear of learning new ways to work. It is not the case that the UI is simply different and features are the same, the problem is - missing features in the "upgraded" release. The problem isn't the end of life of XP after supporting it for 12.5 years, I would have dumped XP the next day if there was a true replacement available. The problem is that its replacements do not have a large amount of essential features, and successive versions of Windows also continue to drop features of their predecessors.

If you really care about customization of core UI, productivity, usability, shell features and backward compatible design, stay away from Windows 8 even if you use Windows 7 and not XP. You will never get a higher quality Windows if you "upgrade" to this low quality OS. If you are just a casual user with basic computing requirements, then this OS is for you, you won’t even notice that stuff is missing. But you should stick with Windows 7 as long as possible because of the way this OS ignores power users. The Building Windows 8 blog goes to great lengths to convince you that Windows 8 is "improved" but it really is a regression in many ways - whatever changes they have made under the hood and on the desktop side are also merely changes to adapt the OS for the mobile market in most cases, and actual improvements are too minor. One example is the Task Manager, which is "new" and "improved" but it really is an abomination designed without any backward compatibility in mind, mainly for Metro style apps. Let me put it this way - they are no longer capable of wholly improving anything while preserving the existing design and feature set. They change everything causing massive regressions in functionality. If something is broken or not working as well, they don’t fix it or improve it, they abandon it and build a half baked replacement from scratch. Believe it or not, Windows 8 is a heavily dumbed down version of Windows 7, and I am not talking just about the Start menu. You will come across hundreds of little features and options missing here and there - in Explorer, in Task manager, in Control Panel, in Accessories, in RDP client, in Windows programs. It's like a cancer spreading inside Microsoft, someone deliberately pulls features and configurable settings randomly from everywhere.
Windows XP will serve me till it is supported. Windows 7 can be my idea with a few hotfixes from the shell team which change the design of the Windows Shell to make it USABLE from its current UNUSABLE state. But I think I must try Apple now - all these years, from Windows 95 to Windows XP, Microsoft was so good, that I didn't have the need to try Apple at all - Apple is elitist, Apple has short life cycles, Apple is way-overpriced, Apple enforces planned obsolescence faster than Microsoft, Apple is dumbed down, Apple places simplicity above all else, Apple removes features - but still I think it can't be any worse than Windows 8. Once it becomes impossible to run Windows XP I think I will switch to Apple's OS X or Linux Mint and iOS or Android platforms but it is not a guaranteed move until I find them as comfortable as Windows. Then there is always Android to keep Apple and Microsoft on their toes. Google has not cheated users so far by "simplifying" a more advanced, more capable product. Even though I have said my goodbyes to my enthusiasm of Windows, it is not an irreversible decision. While I won't be using Windows on a daily basis, I will still be keeping a tab on the Windows side of things once in a while to see if a good enough Windows OS for me comes along. And of course to continue testing Classic Shell. All those poor souls stuck with Windows need help, because some of them don't know how to install another OS, some of them have app dependencies on Windows at home or work. I will certainly be running evaluation versions of Windows to test Classic Shell. But if you are a wise business user or personal user of Windows, now is the time to dump this OS which doesn't respect your choice, opinion and investment you made in the platform, and in previously included features. The current trend at Microsoft shows that things won't be as backward compatible as they used to be. Windows Vista was supposed to be a modern fresh beginning while maintaining a relatively high level of compatibility with most apps and system features, but it didn't turn out to be that way. How many resets and fresh starts they will keep making? The best days of Windows and Microsoft innovation are behind us because they have lost the value of backward compatible product design and do not understand how it affects their users. Just how bad the situation at Microsoft is right now? It's pretty bad in my opinion. They have not only lost their way, but they cannot figure out what's wrong with their failing products, when I can clearly see it ever since Vista. Microsoft has lost all understanding of importance of backward compatibility, usability, productivity, good user interfaces, and good UX. Period. At least during Vista development, they were listening to external feedback. Now they aren’t interested in listening to outsiders either.

It's not like I would have rejected the new Windows 8 interface completely. Touch and mobility are two important factors why Steven Sinofsky said a new kind of Apps model with touch-friendly UI and battery life awareness was required. I completely agree with that. I was actually enjoying the interface (despite the terrible Metro design) until the Start Menu and other desktop features were removed. The desktop should be there unharmed. The moment, they harm even one bit of the desktop, they lose credibility and trust. The new Apps model doesn't make sense for serious productivity, it lacks a number of must-have features. Two core elements lacking are an efficient way to switch between Apps and extremely low data density on-screen due to oversimplification or an incomplete job on the Apps and controls being larger to accommodate touch.

The Windows UX/Shell team is so incompetent that I would like to offer my services to Microsoft to help them. I have focus and direction, I have a very clear direction and vision of what needs to be done to compete with Apple, I am not lost like Microsoft is. They just build new experiences without maintaining any continuity. I have been helping to fix Windows 7 and Windows Vista as well since 2009 with Classic Shell and it's time Microsoft sorted out their UI and design issues or risk getting increasingly irrelevant. The day when the foolish Windows Shell/UX team stops damaging existing features to promote new ones is when Windows will return to its former level of backward compatibility and users will start upgrading their systems as fast as they can. It has become an issue of trust. We can't trust Microsoft any more, they will randomly yank something. By the time you like it and start using it, it will be removed citing some stupid reason and you will be told to use something less capable in its place. Microsoft's basic thinking and outlook regarding how they should design for customers needs to change. They need to go back to their roots and understand why it is super-important to fix regressions with the highest priority, why the user is intelligent enough to make choices when given different options and why there should be more openness in the entire design/development process of such a widely-used operating system.

What's happened to Microsoft today is that they have lost touch with their customer base. They're removing Windows features based on telemetry which their users are telling them to retain! In fact, that's the only user expectation. We users love what Microsoft does, what we don't like is innovation getting killed in the next release. What Windows users want Microsoft to do is to preserve all the innovation that came in earlier releases by doing incremental changes, and adopting once again a backward compatible design strategy like they did in the 90s. That's exactly what Microsoft is refusing to do!
Okay so another question people ask me is why is Windows 7 not my idea. Windows 8 is not getting universally accepted they understand, but why not Windows 7? It's a perfect OS, right? Wrong. Windows 7 and Windows Vista, the shell team made some pretty unacceptable regressions and oversimplified it. I will not accept a dumbed down file manager or use a third party one, none of them have a pleasant UX. The Shell team needs to create hotfixes for the Explorer to fix some major usability flaws. Things like auto sorting make it UNUSABLE, it just makes folders UNUSABLE. After making these design changes with hotfixes or in a Service Pack, Windows 7 will be my idea. Well, that too only till 2020 because Microsoft thinks Windows 8 should replace Windows 7 and everyone should be happy about it. So, XP users upgrading to Windows 7 is pointless because Windows 8 awaits you with its "simplifying" agenda. At what point, will I switch to Apple? I don't know but I have started exploring Apple products definitely, while still on Windows. It is not an overnight switch for me, but a very gradual one when at some point, when the alternatives allow me to do all the things I do with Windows XP and Windows 7.
How does Microsoft fix the mess that is Windows 8? The answer to that is simple, the trouble is whether Microsoft is willing to bend backwards to understand how important backward compatible design is. They just have to restore all desktop features of Windows 7. Restoring only the Start Menu isn't going to help fix Windows 8. They must keep the two worlds entirely separate where the user's scenario doesn't involve switching between them unless he's done with his "Work" and "Play". Above all, don't sacrifice or make drastic changes to previously shipped Windows features for any reason - that makes users mad with rage. If Microsoft need help how to seamlessly integrate new features with the old stuff, my consultation services are available. I have comprehensive knowledge of end user-level Windows features that add value along with how to make the OS more likeable, more usable.
Another sad thing in these platform wars is that Microsoft has abandoned their originality. In their fight to copy Apple's success, they forgot what they were good at - what their own strengths were vs Apple, why their loyal customers chose Microsoft over Apple, what was absolutely special and unique about Microsoft products, why their innovation used to be so good that they didn't need to copy Apple in every single area, giving up their core strength of backward compatible design and consistent UI. They were the only company that could beat Apple in the 90s. It was because of the superior backward compatible UX of Windows, which protected the user's investment in time, money and effort. If Microsoft continues with what Windows 8 introduced, Windows is no longer my idea. Apple was the greedy conscience-less demon from which Microsoft saved us all and now it's become just like them. So if both companies are the same now, I might as well go for Apple as it has superior design and a desktop OS less crippled than Windows 8.
I have decided to try OS X and Linux Mint (a usability focused Linux distro!). Both are decent representations of what a modern, uncrippled pure desktop OS is, with high battery life as an advantage over Windows. Microsoft knows where to contact me for helping them if they want to bring Windows again on the right track.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Here's a native way to bypass the Start screen

I thought this solution by KNARZ would get quite popular but apparently it didn’t get much attention, maybe because not enough people are using Windows Codename Desktop-Users’-Insult. So in case you are using this horrible OS or for poor folks who get it accidentally or on purpose when it goes on sale, try this:

Login directly to Desktop in Windows 8 (Bypass Metro UI) like Windows Server 2012

Mind you, it requires re-activation. If you don’t wish to re-activate Windows, it’s best to install this when you install a fresh copy of Windows 8 and before you activate it / before Windows 8 auto-activates itself. If you don’t want Windows 8 being oversmart and auto-activating itself, see this guide by Chris123NT.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The complete list of Classic Shell's reviews

What Classic Shell Users Have To Say:

Classic Shell will be essential to my business when W8 is released. Please keep up the great work!
asokasus Sep 26, 2012
You Sir, finally brought back usability to the Start Menu. Thank you so much!
Anonymous Donor Sep 25, 2012
Fantastic job thus far. Keep it up.
Anonymous Donor Sep 21, 2012
Without ClassicShell I would have sticked to WIndows XP! :)
Anonymous Donor Sep 16, 2012
Thank you so, so much for this. Have an awesome weekend.
Anonymous Donor Sep 14, 2012
Thank you... You helped me stay sane. I no longer wish to kill myself when opening Start Menu.
Anonymous Donor Sep 13, 2012
Thanks! Great addon for Windows 8, I don't like the new start screen
Anonymous Donor Sep 10, 2012
Thank you (again) for that life-saver!
Anonymous Donor Sep 8, 2012
Very nice, this will be very popular with us old Win dudes on V8
Anonymous Donor Sep 3, 2012
This is a fantastic project, thanks for the great work!
Anonymous Donor Sep 3, 2012
Thank you for making the Windows 8 Desktop usable again. Shame on Microsoft!
Anonymous Donor Sep 1, 2012
Classic Shell makes Windows 7 more bearable.
Anonymous Donor Aug 31, 2012
You people are great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Sorry I can't afford more.)
Anonymous Donor Aug 29, 2012
Good job, makes windows 7 usable, and hopefully win8 as well!
Anonymous Donor Aug 29, 2012
Keep up the great work! I might just keep using Windows 8 now...
Anonymous Donor Aug 28, 2012
Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous Donor Aug 27, 2012
Great job guys!! Will support more in the future.
Anonymous Donor Aug 26, 2012
Thanks! I wouldn't use Windows 8 without Classic Shell.
Anonymous Donor Aug 25, 2012
Great! Thank you! Anselm
Anonymous Donor Aug 24, 2012
Thanks for freeing me from metro.
Anonymous Donor Aug 22, 2012
Thank you for this best program!!!
Anonymous Donor Aug 21, 2012
Anonymous Donor Aug 19, 2012
You have saved my sanity. I recently switched from XP to Win7 and I was so frustrated. THANK YOU!
Keep up the good work!
Anonymous Donor Aug 18, 2012
This make Windows 8 usable great job on this program
Anonymous Donor Aug 18, 2012
Indispensable for Windows 8 - bypass of Metro screen is beyond price!
Anonymous Donor Aug 18, 2012
Great product, needed to make Windows 8 work!
Anonymous Donor Aug 18, 2012
Makes Windows 8 so much nicer to use, thank you, keep up the good work!
Anonymous Donor Aug 18, 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Windows 8 is a crippled Windows 7 with Metro bolted on and given all the prominence

Ever since I made the Windows 8 list of removed features, I have been getting many hate emails and comments on my blog, some of which I had to delete because they were too obnoxious and abusing. While I am generally not affected the least bit by fanboys attacking me for criticizing Microsoft, I thought maybe I should trim the list to highlight the most severe issues so Microsoft looks at them first.
 
Many people have accused me of just fault finding and hunting for features hardly used by anyone. That is not the case. Personally, I didn't have to make a huge effort to make the list, I just noticed them in my daily usage, which means I use these features once in a while, and noticed they were missing. Anyways, my intention with making the list wasn't to troll as the hateful comments said but to encourage Microsoft to fix them. I am trying just as well as everyone is to migrate to a more modern version of Windows where my productivity and usability is not affected or compromised in any way, and without making a sacrifice of the features I used.
 
The missing Start Menu is not the only problem with Windows 8 – the problem is general dumbing down throughout the OS, a UI that is not enjoyable and totally ignored feedback (although MS create the illusion that they listen to feedback by throwing all sorts of stats at us about Windows 8 having been tested for a billion hours and what not)!
 
Not only is it the fact that Windows 8 completely sucks and that it makes no sense to use those stupid Metro apps with hampered productivity on an always-powered PC with large screen or any non-touch screen, but they are actively deleting Windows 7 features in an "upgrade" – features which you should continue using and ask them to reinstate. Adapting to a less functional dumbed down amateur interface just to satisfy Microsoft's usual revenue cycle makes no sense to me. Nothing about it makes sense.

What is the point of spending on a newer operating system that only removes features from its predecessors, and installing third party software to gain partial functions of those features back? I mean yeah, I know this is how they make money and all that - but what's wrong with taking what already works, and improving and adding features to that - instead of trying to re-create the whole concept (very badly too, might I add) every single time!

Windows 8 is a desktop crippling OS full of compromises - don't fall for it. And so is every Microsoft product shipping today. You pay to upgrade for new features in exchange for the older features.

Just to get mobile “Apps”, you get a crippled desktop. Why Microsoft does this in every release after XP is really aggravating and sad.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How the Windows 8 copy file conflict dialog slows you down

After Microsoft got its act together in Windows 95, the Windows copy conflict dialog's user interface essentially remained the same up to Windows XP. The copy engine may have seen under the hood improvements but the UI was very well-designed, consistent and simple. Microsoft attempted a redesign the file conflict dialog with Windows Vista but that resulted in a dialog that had horrible keyboard usability. Now with Windows 8, they have changed it yet again and this time keyboard usability is now okay - still not great but it's resulted in a dialog with poor mouse usability and somehow they have managed to remove functionality too! The biggest mistake they have done is they have a split a single simple yet powerful dialog into two separate dialogs - one simple dialog, and one advanced dialog. Here are some screenshots of the Windows classic copy conflict dialog, the Windows Vista/7 dialog and the Windows 8 dialog to refresh your memory.
 
 


See for yourself how many mouse clicks or keystrokes it requires and you will realize the new design isn't quite intuitive:
 

Task

Windows classic dialog

Windows Vista/7 dialog

Windows 8 dialog

See file conflict details to make a decision (mouse)

0 clicks required

0 clicks required

1 click on Choose files button

See file conflict details to make a decision (keyboard)

0 keystrokes required

0 keystrokes required

3 keystrokes (down arrow twice, then Space or combination of Alt+C)

Overwrite/skip single file when copying single file (mouse)

1 click on Yes button or No button

1 click on Replace button or Don’t Replace button

1 click on Replace button or Skip button but 3 clicks or many more keystrokes if you want to see details to make a decision and then overwrite

Overwrite single file when copying single file (keyboard)

1 keystroke (Space bar or Enter)

2 keystrokes (Tab, then Space)

1 keystroke (Space) or 1 combination keystroke (Alt+R) but more if you want to see details to make a decision

Overwrite single file when copying multiple files (mouse)

1 click per file on Yes button

1 click per file on Replace button

2 clicks for first file, then 1 click per file, finally 1 click for Continue

Overwrite single file when copying multiple files (keyboard)

1 keystroke (Space bar or Enter) per file

2 keystrokes (Tab, then Space) per file

At least 4 keystrokes for first file (Alt+C, then tab, then down arrow, then Space) then Up/down arrow keys, space per file then finally 2 keystrokes to tab to Continue

Overwrite/skip all (mouse)

1 click on Yes to All or No to All

2 clicks (1 click on ‘Do this for next….’ then 1 click again on ‘Replace’ or ‘Don’t Replace’)

1 click on Replace All or Skip All button

Overwrite all (keyboard)

1 combination keystroke (Alt+A) or 2 keystrokes (Tab, then Space)

9 keystrokes (Tab 4 times, then Space, then tab 3 Times, then Space again) OR at least 5 keystrokes (1 combination keystroke Alt+D, then tab 3 Times, then Space)

1 keystroke (Space) or 1 combination keystroke (Alt+R)

Rename to keep both files

Not available in Windows XP

1 click (single file), 2 clicks (all files)

4 clicks to rename all (keep both versions for all files)

Dialog supports mouse "Snap To" for less mouse movement

Yes (pointer moves to most useful button – Yes button)

File conflict dialog doesn’t support “Snap To”, folder conflict dialog supports it

Neither simple nor advanced dialog supports mouse “Snap To” at all

More clicks and keystrokes for UAC protected locations

No

2 clicks or keystrokes

Even more additional clicks and keystrokes than Windows 7 for UAC protected locations

It’s not all bad. For example, the XP dialog lacked Rename ability. The Windows 8 dialog also adds the ability to skip files with both same date and same size and visually compare files. But you can see how for the most important operation - seeing the conflict details to make a decision, the overall number of mouse clicks, mouse re-positioning requirement and keystrokes have increased unnecessarily and the design complexity also increased by splitting the dialog into two. The proper design would have been to keep it all in a single dialog, yet show multiple files in a scrollable area. But considering that there is no way to disable the annoying auto sort feature which shuffles all your files, compared to that monstrosity, this regression in the copy experience is nothing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why does Windows XP refuse to go away?

Dear Microsoft, time and again, you have attempted to convince Windows XP customers like me to upgrade to the latest version of Windows and we have refused to upgrade. It’s been what: 5 ½ years ever since Windows Vista debuted that this issue exists and Microsoft keeps wondering why we don’t upgrade. Just in case, Microsoft, if you are waiting for us to upgrade before support ends, get a clue, please!! Ever wonder why Windows XP is your most successful product ever? It is because the usability of the Windows XP platform (and Office 2003 as well for that matter) was unmatched. There are no plans to upgrade for many users because the newer product does not serve our needs, it does not include many features that Windows XP has and we use them, we depend on them for our day-to-day computing activities. For example, this issue which has remained unfixed since 2006: Compulsory automatic sorting of all items in Explorer. Without problems like these ever getting fixed, there is no question ever of upgrading from Windows XP. Do you still want to be so stubborn and arrogant that you refuse to even acknowledge these issues and ignore them permanently? Then let me remind you, customer is king, it’s never the other way round. You will lose your Windows XP customers permanently.

If Microsoft ever gets into a situation (that I foresee coming) where XP users just won't upgrade to a newer version of Windows such as Windows 7 or Windows 8, kindly work with us to understand why we won’t upgrade and fix the “by design” issues of your products. There are certain issues, you can’t ignore them, not just a handful of problems but hundreds of “by design” problems. I am not talking about some lame, antiquated or obsolete features, I am talking about real useful features which Microsoft just removed. Nothing that will prevent the typical end user from upgrading but most definitely deal breakers for advanced users. Acknowledgement is the first step towards fixing a problem. In fact, Jim Allchin, whom I recently privately contacted via Facebook personally acknowledged that he understands the issues I am facing and he gets them but unfortunately, with him, no longer at Microsoft, he has no influence whatsoever.

The market share of Windows XP as Net Applications reports has remained more or less constant for the past 6 months (Nov.2011 to April 2012). You certainly don’t want to lose half of your Windows customers permanently, do you? End of support won’t be the end of the world for Windows XP users. We will always find a way to run it – get supported hardware, using high performance virtualization like VMware Workstation Extreme which also virtualized graphics, and secure it properly by half a dozens ways, such as by using good anti-malware, running as standard user and using SuRun to elevate, lock down the system using Software Restriction Policies or use edge network security products. It’s not as if we don’t want to upgrade, it’s because Microsoft hates us so much that they won’t change the design of their product, not even fix these blocking issues around our feedback to get us to upgrade. There is still time. And it looks like you really want us to upgrade. Why not, for once, listen to us? You can work with me over email to resolve longstanding issues or you can invite me over to Redmond to get a real understanding of how you can maximize your product sales by caring about your own customers. Surely, if you can get me to upgrade, I bet you can get all of your XP customers to upgrade too. Once upon a time, I used to be one of the biggest Windows enthusiasts. I swore by Microsoft products and I thought their software was the best thing that happened not just to computers, but to every person for the value its offers in life for work and entertainment. Not any more because you “simplified” it so much that it became useless to power users like me.
 
Windows 7 is only slightly improved than Windows Vista but is not a good enough replacement for Windows XP because the issues Windows Vista introduced were never all fixed, they were just ignored and classified as "by design", plus Windows 7 introduced problems of its own. Why Windows 7 succeeded when Windows Vista failed has many reasons. Windows 7 is slightly faster than Windows Vista, but PC hardware was a lot faster in October 2009 than in January 2007, thus Windows 7 came across as a far better performer, when in reality the most improvement lies in the hardware. Furthermore, the drivers for Windows were mature by then, the whole ecosystem had basically caught up. The negativity around Windows Vista was gone because of clever marketing. That doesn't mean all of the post-XP issues were resolved and it suddenly became a good enough product to replace the venerable Windows XP. No, it isn’t because those issues aren’t fixed at all. Still, all the hard work and innovation post-XP has been done by Jim Allchin and his team. Steven Sinofsky's team has just added some bug fixes to it, streamlined it and improved the UI slightly (and made it worse in just as many cases e.g. the search UI). They got way too much accolades for this.
 
Windows XP will be truly and completely gone only when Microsoft provides a newer product that does everything it did and more. Until then, Microsoft can keep churning out new incomplete OSes and remain in complete denial they have removed any essential features. Microsoft will keep living in their bubble that there are zero issues with Windows after XP, but the users who need XP features are not going to swap what they absolutely need for something new that makes them lose what they already had.

Just think if all the clock and watch manufacturers in the world removed the minute and second hands from the dials and said "We simplified and re-imagined it for you to give enhanced performance and higher battery life". That's what's happening with Microsoft.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Introducing the new Windows from Microsoft: A tragedy due to over- “simplifying” and “re-imagining”

Microsoft: “We have re-imagined Windows 8 so we can bug you, rob you of features and cheat you, and “simplify” your user experience” and “re-imagine your world”.
 
recall-bbasile[1] 
The chart below shows a proper break-up of features:

Feature

Windows XP

Windows 7

Windows 8

Windows RT

Re-imagined for no reason on the desktop

Can run your existing Windows programs

New Metro WinRT-apps so more Windows copies can be sold

Developers need to share paid app revenue with Microsoft

Run Android apps with Bluestacks or YouWave

Customization and choice

Productive user interface and best shell features

Usable user experience

Start Menu

Taskbar

“Simplified”

Covered by Start

Covered by Start

Decent file management

Flexible file type associations

“Simplified”

Restricted

Restricted

File search that works

Dumbed down “simplified” User Experience


(Dumb)


(Dumber)


(Dumbest)

Audio acceleration

Tailored for audio pros and musicians

Fast and reliable servicing which doesn’t take hours 

Needs to "configure updates" on startup and shutdown

Disk footprint increases to unacceptable levels after applying updates

Service packs can be slipstreamed

Backward compatibility of of system features and design

Compatibility for the most part of older programs

Perfect 100% compatibility of older programs and games

Serious workhorse computing

Is missing features from previous versions

● (List 1)
  (List 2)

● (List)

● (List)

No compromise experience (just kidding)

True no compromise experience

Customizable logon features

● (somewhat)

Ruined and buggy Task Manager

Ruined Windows Media Player

No Windows Media Player

Ruined Internet Explorer user experience

Design changes in hotfixes & service packs

Bugs are “by design” & persist throughout lifecycle

You control the operating system UI

The operating system UI controls you

Incomplete/half-baked experience

Design aesthetics

Fair but
customizable

Beautiful

Ugly

Ugly

Security

Secure enough

Highly secure

More secure

More secure

Graphics

GDI, DirectX 9

GDI, Composited DWM, DirectX 11

GDI, Composited DWM, DirectX 11.1

GDI, Composited DWM, DirectX 11.1

Networking

SMB

SMB 2, Better discovery

SMB 3

SMB 3

OS Image Deployment

Slow, HAL-dependent

Fast, HAL-independent

Fast, HAL-independent

Fast, HAL-independent


Microsoft: “Please “upgrade” as Windows XP support ends in April 2014 and Windows 7 support ends in January 2020. Eventually, you will be forced to upgrade anyways.”

Joe Average who owns iDevices: “Oh wow, this is awesome. Take my money, Microsoft”.

The conscious user: “Nice try but epic fail Microsoft. Next time, get someone back in the company, who actually understands first what software usability, consistent interface design, backward compatible design and power user experience mean.”

Monday, April 2, 2012

Welcome to Classic Shell for Windows 8

Welcome to Metro Classic Shell

video

Now with 10 million downloads! Download today!

You are welcome to report any bugs you discover on the Classic Shell forums website.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The most successful user interface and app platform in the history of computing is being killed

I came across a very interesting case study on the Windows UI. Absolutely worth reading for any Windows enthusiast: Windows 95 User Interface: A Case Study in Usability Engineering. It evoked many nostalgia-inducing thoughts in me. Microsoft had really got its act together with Windows 95 and reached a GUI breakthrough. But they didn't stop there, Microsoft continually refined the Windows Shell in IE4/Windows 98, Windows 2000/Windows Me and perfected it in Windows XP (yes Windows Me shell which it shared with Windows 2000 was a huge step ahead of the Windows 98 one). With Longhorn which eventually shipped in a drastically altered form as Windows Vista, the shell had been heavily changed, in some parts for the better, but in many areas, for the worse. Still it offered a decent user experience. It's a shame Microsoft is totally abandoning these ground-breaking concepts of Start Menu, Taskbar and the desktop while moving on to the Start Screen, whose paradigms of multitasking, switching, launching, searching, notifications etc are all inherently inferior and far less advanced. No one at Microsoft, not even the UX designers have a clue how bad it is. They are just scared of Apple and their growing ecosystem - the flourishing iOS platform, and probably live by the expression "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". And it's not like Windows veterans haven't given the Start screen a fair go and tried to adapt to it with an open mind. Problem is it is less advanced than the Start Menu - the same problem that plagues Microsoft since Vista - create something new and great but it doesn't do all the great things the old one did, not even half of them and then they force their choice on you.

Microsoft should have adapted and extended the existing shell concepts to a touch-friendly UI with a larger surface area. Instead, they re-imagined the concepts of launching, switching and multitasking for the Start screen and in the process, will end up completely ruining the carefully designed Windows GUI. The very reason Metro was introduced was because the existing Windows shell didn't work for touch-based GUIs. Why it didn't work is because the surface area is smaller and designed for the mouse pointer, instead of the fingers of your hand and because touch-based UI also has to incorporate gestures. That part is fairly true, but somewhere in the process of re-imagining things, Microsoft forgot how well the Windows Shell worked for mouse and keyboard. They just don't understand that there is no reason why there must be a unified interface. Add to that their really evil decisions to force a choice on the user ever since the Vista era and to engineer a UI without backward compatibility. With the Start Menu gone and the Start screen no longer having a taskbar, we truly have a disaster on our hands.

The Windows Shell was a masterpiece of usability engineering and now they have ruined the experience by declaring it "legacy". How dare they even call desktop apps and environment as "legacy". Windows Vista, Windows 7 added some truly wonderful features like Start search and jump lists but they also slightly ruined the shell in both releases because Microsoft UX is doing a really lousy job overall since Vista. Windows 8 will completely deprecate it. I expect future releases of Windows to also incorporate the Windows File Explorer into Metro in a dumbed-down form and kill its powerful desktop avatar.

Windows loyalists with a sharp eye, and good understanding of usability and backward compatible interface design immediately noticed the mis-steps in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Vista UX was a disaster for reasons more than just bad interface. The ecosystem hadn't caught up, the stability was questionable and parts of the OS were a work-in-progress. These were all addressed in Windows 7, except of course, the interface issues. However, the core UI concepts of the Windows Shell were so good and remained the same. With the rest of the Vista issues gone, this was good enough for the average crowd, which is why Windows 7 was a success. It's a sad day for Microsoft Windows fans who saw how great the UI was.

Now as for as this Metro UI is concerned on the tablet form-factor, what Microsoft is doing with Metro isn't bad, it's okay but it's nothing special, it still requires more effort to switch seamlessly. And it certainly doesn't match the smooth multi-tasking which the taskbar and Start menu combination offer on a larger screen. Why they couldn't adapt similar concepts to Metro is beyond me. And then, neither the iPad, nor Android-based tablets are doing anything that innovative with the tablet UIs. But at least they are more beautiful than Metro.

Jim Allchin, the guiding father of Windows, is no longer with Microsoft and Microsoft needs a leader who can guide them on user experience of building products in a backward compatible way, I don't believe the current leadership is committed to backward compatibility. Microsoft is not Apple, and if they stop caring about backward compatibility and choice like Apple do, they won't survive.

Windows was a rather unique platform, it was not as closed, proprietary, locked down and controlling as Apple, it was not something like free software or Linux which doesn't reward its developers. Windows wasn't as dumbed down as Apple products, yet at the same time, Windows didn't burden you with so many overwhelming choices (like Linux distros) that it's difficult to make a decision. That all changed after the release of Vista and Windows is today a totally locked down and dumbed down software platform. Apple's platform looks more open, more customizable and more powerful to me right now. Windows 8 is a product of you not objecting to Microsoft removing features in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

On a lighter note, Windows 8 can be summed up as in the following video:


Saturday, March 3, 2012

How to install Windows XP on today's hardware or immortalize it

So if you have realized by now that Windows XP offered you the best computing experience and everything after that is a reduction in productivity and usability, here's how to install Windows XP on your modern computer. Yes, don't believe the fanboys who tell you that XP won't run properly on "modern hardware", Windows XP runs just as well on a modern multi-core computer. The kernel of Windows 7 and Windows Vista operating systems may be optimized a little bit more for multi-core processors, no one's denying that, but that doesn't mean Windows XP will run with any considerable slowness as right from the very beginning, at its fundamental core, Windows NT-based systems have always been engineered for symmetric multiprocessing and scale in performance very efficiently with modern hardware. The most common issue you are likely to run into when trying to install Windows XP on a modern PC is SATA/AHCI driver availability. Specifically, when you try to install Windows XP on a computer with AHCI/SATA mode enabled, setup will halt at a blue screen (BSOD).

When Windows XP was released, there was no SATA, there was only IDE. Intel standardized the SATA disk controller and host bus adapter interface into an universal interoperable standard called AHCI. In simpler terms, this means, you need AHCI drivers for Windows XP if you wish to use it on a modern PC with AHCI enabled in the BIOS. If your BIOS permits it (most BIOSes do), you can set it to IDE mode and install Windows XP from the original disc or the CD you burnt as you were always used to doing without any issues.

But if you turn on AHCI (recommended), you need to supply Windows XP "Text Mode Setup" (the one you see when you begin XP setup from CD) with AHCI drivers. To do this in the simplest way possible for non-geeks, you need to first determine which disk controller your motherboard chipset has. The F6/AHCI drivers can be downloaded from the website of your motherboard's chipset manufacturer or disk controller manufacturer. For example, if you have a motherboard from any manufacturer, but with an Intel-based chipset, you need to go to Intel's driver download website to download F6/AHCI drivers. Once you locate and download these, simply download nLite and slipstream (integrate) the F6/AHCI drivers into Windows XP setup. Now you are all set to install Windows XP.

The next step involves transferring the updated Windows XP setup files to a CD or even better, to a USB flash drive. To make this easier, I recommend you to download WinToFlash and use it to create a bootable USB flash drive with Windows XP setup. Set your BIOS to boot from USB, start XP setup and now you can install Windows XP, just like you could install it before SATA arrived. 

Now, that you know how install Windows XP natively, here's how to further immortalize your copy of Windows XP so Microsoft can't kill it by working with its partners to pull driver support and forcefully make it obsolete:

1.  Virtualization: Use a product like Parallels Workstation Extreme. With virtualization, drivers get out of the equation and you can forever run Windows XP. Parallels Workstation Extreme will also virtualize high performance graphics and network with near-native performance. Currently, Parallels Workstation Extreme works with any Intel CPU/chipset with both VT-d and of course VT-x, as well as high-end workstation-class GPUs like NVIDIA Quadro series (which have a technology called SLI Multi OS) or AMD FireGL/FirePro. This is groundbreaking stuff actually, as for the first time, you will be able to virtualize Windows XP with high performance graphics. (Update: Parallels tells me, that Workstation Extreme will also work on consumer grade high-end hardware like Intel Core i7 Extreme and NVIDIA GeForce/AMD Radeon GPUs. The chipset/platform should support VT-x and VT-d). Although, note that I haven't personally tested Workstation Extreme on consumer grade high-end hardware.

2.  When security upgrades end for Windows XP, run as standard user and use SuRun to elevate apps as admin that don't run as administrator. In fact, even now, you should switch to standard user accounts and start using SuRun. SuRun behaves exactly like Windows Vista/7's UAC.

3.  If you are an end-user/consumer, get the last supported high performance consumer platform: Intel Sandy Bridge-Extreme (X79) chipset and Core i7-3960X on which you can run Windows XP with full AHCI support. With the next chipset revision, Intel may not release AHCI and chipset drivers for Windows XP.
4. If you prefer to run as administrator, you can lock down most apps and run them as ‘Basic user’ using Software Restriction Policies. Follow this guide to run any program as Basic user instead of Administrator.