Sunday, November 28, 2010

The usability of 'Classic' reigns supreme

When I first tried Windows 7, not only was I shocked to see the Classic Start Menu gone but I was extremely saddened that this very interface was touted by Microsoft 15 years ago when they launched Windows 95. Today it is not a choice presented to users at all? (Remember the "Start me up" hoopla) Just because something is old does not make it useless or obsolete. The Classic Start Menu was a very carefully designed UI. The new Windows menu has obviously noticeable performance issues when several programs are installed. The taskbar is another example of Microsoft trying to reinvent something when it already served its purpose extremely well. In their attempt to produce a real superbar, they broke and removed several classic Taskbar features, omitting many user preferences.

And Windows Explorer? How a single application critical to the user's file management experience can be ruined to such an extent is beyond me. I think during the Longhorn days, they fooled around too much with Explorer and after the reset, they forgot to include large working parts of Explorer back. There are so many things wrong in Explorer that this alone makes Windows 7 or Windows Vista immediately worthless and impossibily difficult to use. Fortunately, what Microsoft broke, others have tried to resolve. There are 2 heavenly apps that fix Windows 7's horrid Taskbar, Start Menu and Windows Explorer.

7 Taskbar Tweaker which I already covered about a year ago is now updated to allow us to individually group or ungroup applications. It fixes most usability issues with the Windows Taskbar.

Finally, Classic Shell, ahh, Classic Shell is too good of an app to be given away for free!! It packs in tons of configurable features that Explorer broke or removed. It includes the best Classic Start Menu implementation anyone has ever produced, far superior to Microsoft's original one. And it fixes numerous problems in Windows Explorer. The Classic Explorer toolbar makes Explorer completely customizable and extensible.

Check out these two heavenly tools if you haven't yet. They are indispensable. Windows 7 is useless without them.

1 comment:

Jänis Policy said...

I have managed to restore my Taskbar to XP style with "7 Taskbar Tweaks". That program should be part of Seven's Control Panel as an applet. The built in customization options that can be accessed by right-clicking on the taskbar are poor.

I disabled the Jump List (still accessible by shift-clicking), and the large tooltip that sometimes showed multiple windows and obstructed too much screen area, in addition to grouping.

There is nothing super about the Sueprbar. Pinned icons are analogous to icons on a toolbar such as the Quick Launch toolbar. But their appearance all over the taskbar rather than in group is confusing, and they take up more space. WinXP was not perfect. They introduced the "grouping" with XP, where multiple windows with similar titles appeared on a menu under a single button. But that function was easy to disable.

I noticed how Programs is the only item that does not get a "classic" flyout style menu under Seven. Games, Computer, Favorites, Desktop (if enabled on taskbar) all get responsive, conventional menus. But not programs, which are constrained to a small box within the start panel. That must be a "conspiracy" done on purpose.

I managed to restore a *working* Programs menu by repurposing the useless MSIE Favorites shell folder, which can be enabled on the Start panel. I changed the location of respective registry value under HKCU Shell Folders and User Shell Folders to point to "Start Menu\Programs" instead of "Favorites". Then I also copied all links from All Users' Start Menu into my own Start Menu. Then I archived the default All Users start links for future reference, and deleted them. The Favorites link cannot combine both these sources on the fly. I adjusted the permissions of %UserProfile%\Start Menu directory to allow it to be listed, while keeping the Hidden atribute.

This results in a menu item called Programs to be visible on the Start panel, which acts exactly like in classic mode. It supports dragging and renaming, and doesn't require any 3rd party components running. However, starting programs from this menu doesn't register them as recently run, and the main Start panel isn't populated with them.

The Classic "theme" GUI was also superior in speed and readability of a multi-leven "3D" structure. (i.e. Windows and buttons appearing raised or sunken relative to others.) This GUI theme should have been kept for use on performance oriented Server editions at the very least, and by extension alowed in Client mode.

The remains of the Classic theme on Seven / Server 2008 sucks! Large parts of the interface are not designed for this theme: the address bar of Explorer looks disabled when it is not, the folder icon in address bar is not correctly aligned, the start panel is featureless and ugly, many applications still use blurry Segoe UI font, for example Calculator. I may be nitpicking here, but the tabs on "tab control" has corners chopped off. Overall the experience is as if in an unpolished beta. The system really needs to be used under Glass with ClearType.

Video demonstrationg superior performance of the classic theme: