Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The status bar fiasco and viewing sizes in Explorer

Sometimes, I'm really appalled at the current state of Windows Explorer. How can a single app degrade so much? Just how could they mess up in a single app so much? I'm talking about the lack of a functional and useful status bar in Explorer on Windows 7. The status bar, like the standard toolbar debuted in Windows 95. It showed the total number of items in a directory or drive, and the total size occupied all the items in a folder (minus the size of subfolders) when browsing folders. This info was most useful when working with any file type and was reported nearly instantaneously, that is, Explorer didn't have any performance issues while showing the total size minus the subfolders. The status bar also showed the free disk space when the folders pane was on. This was another piece of extremely useful information (and it updated upon every refresh like the size), especially when an application was writing large amounts of data to disk. In Windows 9x, the info the status bar displayed, especially the size didn't appear every time but Windows XP onwards, the status bar got totally reliable.

One fine day, Windows Vista came along and along came the horrible Explorer, that I feel they forgot to finish it (and the code got lost perhaps during the reset, no lol just kidding). The Status bar no longer showed the total space at one glance used by items in a folder when displaying a folder's contents. Users had to select files to see their size, what's more, the Vista Explorer's status bar has a horrible bug that persists as of this writing, yes, even in Windows Vista Service Pack 2. It incorrectly calculates file size and misreports it if the file is selected and the view is refreshed and the same file is reselected. It is a broken and partially implemented "feature". Vista also comes with a details pane, which btw is much nicer, more useful and also allows showing and editing metadata. The details pane is supposed to the status bar replacement but it doesn't report free disk space. What a half-done piece of work! Plus, a bonus horrid experience is that selecting more than 15 files makes the details pane force the user to click on a "Show more details" link to see the total size and other date-related details. Select or deselect one file and repeat the whole thing all over again. What a horrible user experience!
Apparently, the shell team wasn't done yet which is why they chose Windows 7 to ruin the situation even further. In Windows 7, the status bar does not show the size of any selected item, nor the free disk space. It is now a useless deprecated UI element that only redundantly shows the total number of items. When no items are selected in a folder, neither the details pane nor the status bar show the total size of files in the folder. When 15+ items are selected, the "Show more details" craptastic non-sense persists. (Microsoft's explanation via email when I asked about this issue was "calculating size is a complex operation which is CPU and I/O intensive!" and with libraries coming into the picture, Microsoft can't implement this correctly. WTF!?) Suddenly, for Microsoft, the total size without selecting a file and without the subfolders is a shallow computation that they decide is of no value to the user.

Windows XP isn't popular without a reason. A lot of useful working stuff which remained constant from Windows 95-XP inspite of the difference between 9x and NT was simply shoved up and moved around, redesigned for the sake of it or removed.
Why has Microsoft made viewing the total size such a pain in the a**? Are they forcing us to use the details view which annoyingly shows sizes in KBs instead of a meaningful MB or GB reporting? Do they want us to use the folder tooltip to view the total folder size? The folder tooltip doesn't show the size quickly enough for large folders, so that isn't a reliable way. The Properties dialog shows the size but again that isn't quickly accessible from the toolbar, but lies one more click inside the Organize menu or context menu . Plus, who the hell wants to view Properties every time he is changing his selection when working with files? Additionally, Alt+Enter is broken in the left pane of Explorer and simply plays the default beep sound. And with IColumnProvider gone, viewing folder sizes in a column in details view is impossible. Viewing sizes is now a two-or-more-clicks operation everywhere.
The performance reason is non-sense and for what its worth, I'd rather have it with the supposed performance hit. For virtual views like libraries or search, they need not implement the show-size-without-selection feature at all, neither was it implemented in Windows XP's search. And what is the explanation for removing universal free disk space reporting? Is that computationally intensive too for today's CPUs? That is, as one angry commenter in Microsoft's forums said, like removing the clock from the taskbar because you have got a nice analog clock as a gadget.

A side effect of deprecating the status bar is that it is no longer possible to accurately know how much space you can free up by emptying the Recycle Bin items if it contains folders. As long as only files are selected, file sizes are shown in the status bar details pane. However, selecting a single folder along with any number of files makes Explorer stop displaying sizes; the Properties menu item is broken as well when multiple items are selected in the Recycle Bin so it is impossible to know the size of your selected items before you delete them. Plus, the 15+ files nonsense continues.
Is there no one complaining or noticing this seemingly small but practically huge regression? Apparently, there are quite a number of complaints, with some threatening to go back to Windows XP for this simple but important "feature", but they're being shown the "This behavior is by design" billboard.

Status bar rants:

Recycle Bin status bar issue:

... and so on but does anyone at Microsoft care? Apparently not because it's been this way since the Windows Vista betas.

Once again, Classic Shell's Classic Explorer shell extension fixes this!! It even fixes Windows Vista's own buggy implementation which miscalculates the file size in certain cases.

Update: This looks like a cat-and-mouse game. Windows 8 Explorer uses a non-standard status bar control in Explorer and eliminates most of the functionality so now not even Classic Shell can fix it. I guess Microsoft weren't happy with third parties fixing Explorer.

1 comment:

Bob Bobson said...

Yes, there are people who notice it, and for us, it is incredibly frustrating, irritating, and annoying. Unfortunately there are a lot of novice users who never use the status bar or care about file sizes, so Microsoft tried to simplify the OS for them, without thought about leaving the option available for advanced users.