Friday, February 18, 2011

Features removed in Windows Virtual PC

It is never too late to complain about lost functionality. While Windows Virtual PC did add some nifty new features like RemoteApp, multithreading and USB support, it also took out plenty of existing features of Virtual PC 2007 for no reason at all which Virtual PC users are still unhappy about:

 The Virtual Machine console is replaced by an integrated ''Virtual Machines'' shell folder. Several options from the console have been removed such as ''Restore at start'', CPU time performance settings, muting sound in inactive virtual machines, full-screen resolution related options, configuring the host key, mouse capture options and settings for requiring administrator permissions.
 There is no official guest support for operating systems earlier than Windows XP Professional.
 Drag-and-drop file sharing between the guest and the host is not possible.
 Sharing of folders between host and guest operating system is not possible. Only volumes may be shared between operating systems.
 The ability to commit changes stored in Undo disks upon turning off virtual machines is gone from the VM turn off dialog. Doing so is now only possible through the VM's Settings dialog.
 The ability to use physical and virtual parallel ports has been removed.
 The user interface for using virtual floppy disks has been removed. Virtual floppy disk functionality, however, is still supported and may be accessed using a script.
 Virtual PC additions for guest operating systems no longer supported have been removed. However, you can install Virtual Machine Additions from an older Microsoft virtualization product for some guest OSes:
   • DOS VM Additions
   • Windows 98/Me VM Additions
   • Windows 2000 VM Additions
 Properties of the Virtual Machine like Guest OS, processor, processor features, video mode, Video RAM, code cache, IDE controller reads and writes, ethernet reads and writes, video frame rate and command line options can no longer be viewed.

This list also exists on Wikipedia (contributed by myself) but I am replicating it here because unsourced material on Wikipedia howsoever accurate it may be is often removed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

UI and customization removed and degraded in Windows Internet Explorer 9

The IE9 GUI is the worst I have ever come across in any app in my Windows experience since Windows 95. It deserves the user interface hall of shame award. Just more clicks to do everything from managing downloads to running downloaded files to searching in the one box. The god awful notification bar appears constantly covering the bottom on the webpage as well as a portion of the status bar, showing the most annoying useless status messages. As soon as I close it, it appears again showing some other notification. Why is it so hard for Microsoft to understand that user interface is something that should change as little as possible and require as few mouse clicks/keystrokes as possible? Things should not be moved around and redesigned merely for sake of change just because Microsoft wants to give users something fresh looking. The redesigned GUI, especially the notification bar increases the number of clicks required to perform any task.

While Internet Explorer 9 represents significant improvements to the Trident rendering engine and the Javascript interpreter (32-bit IE9 only), several user interface elements and most features that are present in Internet Explorer 8 are no longer present in Internet Explorer 9. The following is a list of such features that have been removed in IE9:

● The dedicated search box has been removed. Searches can be performed from the address bar but did you know that searching from the address bar, with or without keywords, was already possible in all previous IE releases, even IE6? Because of the removal of the search box, users have to repeatedly type the same search terms if they want to search using a different search provider after searching with one. Textual descriptions for search providers are no longer shown except in a tooltip when hovered over making it difficult to identify search engines which do not have a favicon. Keyboard usability due to lack of search box is poor in general. For example, it is no longer possible to press Ctrl+Down after Ctrl+E and type the first letter of the search provider to search with it.

 When working offline on Windows 7, Internet Explorer 9 automatically goes online if the web page is not available offline without giving the user the option to stay offline. This does not happen on Windows Vista where IE9 still shows the normal "Connect' and "Stay offline" options.

● Sound notification upon discovering a new search provider and ability to add the discovered search provider from the page it was discovered on 1-click is removed. Search providers can only be added by clicking the tiny Search icon in the address bar and clicking "Add" which takes you to a webpage with pre-defined OpenSearch providers.

● Searches from in-page search boxes do not synchronize with the one box.

● Dragging and dropping a URL from the address bar to a folder or Taskbar creates a Pinned Site Shortcut bookmark/favorite (shortcut with extension ".website") instead of a web document shortcut (extension: .url). Pinned Site Shortcuts do not have a shell property sheet to configure their icon, target URL and shortcut key. Of course, the pinned site metadata can specify this but it's taking control away from the user.

● Tabs cannot be shown on a separate row in full-screen (F11) mode.

● Internet Explorer 9 setup cannot be sequenced using Microsoft App-V.

● Tab list menu button has been removed. (Accessible using Ctrl+Shift+Q) - not to be confused with Quick Tabs (Ctrl+Q) which is still intact but it's GUI button has been removed.

● The page title is no longer shown in the browser's title bar.

● Each download does not get its own button on the taskbar showing the progress of individual downloads. All downloads are grouped without user preference in a single download manager button. The download manager UI requires too many clicks compared to the simple older download window.

● The progress bar when loading pages, items remaining and 'Done' message after page loading is complete have been removed from the status bar.

● All functionality from the status bar except zoom button and showing hyperlink upon mouse hover has been removed. The status bar in Internet Explorer 8 showed page loading, especially JavaScript errors, security zone info, Protected Mode status, SmartScreen information, certificates info, addon manager, pop-up blocker, privacy policy/report and InPrivate Filtering status.

● The ability to freely move browser UI elements such as toolbars in unlocked state has been removed. The menu bar, favorites bar and command bar could be moved in Internet Explorer 8.

● Large icons cannot be used on the command bar. This can be turned on through Group Policy though.

● Completed MB and the progress bar have been removed when downloading.

● The Notification Bar replaces the Information Bar which appeared above the page content. The Notification Bar  overlaps a certain part of the page and a part of the status bar. It requires the user to close it to see underlying parts of the page or status bar, something which the Information Bar did not require.

● Internet Explorer can no longer be set to notify download completion with only a sound. Every download completion shows a visual notification on top of the page which has to be closed.

● When clearing browsing history from within the browser, there is no progress bar or any sort of indication. Instead, a visual notification is shown on the notification bar which has to be closed by the user to see underlying page content. As if I needed to know that that history has been cleared when I just did it myself. Ridiculous.

● 'Save As' is no longer the default option when downloading files. Instead, 'Save' is now the default option which always saves to the Downloads folder. Thought you could get used to using 'Save' and download to a single directory but IE9 does not prompt you if you use 'Save' to download a file that you have already downloaded. It downloads the same file again and renames it. Truly pathetic.

● The about:tabs page cannot have the status bar enabled. Recently closed tabs from the current or previous session no longer show the URL below.

● The file type and icon are no longer shown on the Notification Bar download prompt (only the file extension is shown).

● No documentation or help files shipped with the product.

● The following configurable options have been removed without explanation:
   • Reset text size to medium while zooming.
   • Force offscreen compositing even under Terminal Server.
   • Enable page transitions.
   • Always use ClearType for HTML. (The IE team says this setting is gone because IE9 follows the system ClearType setting.)
   • Smart image dithering.
   • Print background colors and images (The same option in Page setup probably takes precedence)
   • Do not submit unknown addresses to your auto search provider and Just display the results in the main window. (This option although gone from Internet Options -> Advanced tab is configurable per search provider in the Manage add-ons dialog. Just select your search provider and then click Enable/disable top result in address bar.)
   • Security Zone settings: Automating prompting for file downloads.
   • Security Zone settings: Open files based on content, not file extension.
● HTML+TIME 2.0 support is removed. Granted it’s obsolete but apps have been written based on it.

Internet Explorer 9 feels like it suffers from Chrome-envy. The IE team probably didn't feel confident about standing their ground with IE8's helpful and customizable UI.

InPrivate Filtering is renamed Tracking Protection and everyone thinks it's a new feature when it already existed in IE8. Sure, InPrivate Filtering had to be turned on every time IE was started but could easily be made to persist across sessions with a simple registry tweak. The only difference seems to be that Tracking Protection Lists are now provided by Microsoft partners ready to be imported by 1-click from a convenient web page instead of importing your own XML file from InPrivate Filtering's Advanced settings.

It is obvious that only speed and standards compliance matter now to Microsoft. Usability is probably an afterthought. For example, quite a number of users are missing the progress bar. And some are disappointed with IE9 for having a useless status bar. IE9 is a fast, secure, stable and standards compliant browser. The problem is it is now only a fast, secure, stable and standards-compliant browser. The web may have become more beautiful but it's not usable any more. Just imagine the loss of features users would have to ensue if Windows got Chrome OS-envy.

Got any more features you notice removed or broken? Feel free to notify me of them.

Firefox 4, it appears, is going the same way although the FAQ does say the user interface will remain completely customizable. Besides, its audience is far more of the power-user type and they have a robust addon ecosystem and a community which shares my opinions that less is not always better which means it can be my primary browser for now. I was a long-standing IE user so it will take me some time to adapt to Firefox especially because IE's RSS reading experience was very convenient.

Update: Classic Shell 3.1.0 with Classic IE9 is now available to fix some of the most annoying issues such as the lack of a progress bar, page title in the title bar and display of security zone and protected mode status.