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:


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


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.