Window 8 Metro. Nothing to do with Rome's underground train network...

1. Stop Stealing My Focus!!!

I can’t stress this enough. The single greatest threat to the economic recovery, continuation of the species and integrity of my sanity is the way Windows is completely dense about giving applications focus.

I simply can’t count the number of times I’ve been typing away merrily and Windows switched applications under me. This is a huge security threat!! I have seen people typing passwords into password boxes during demonstrations only to find that just as they typed the first keystroke of their ultratopsecret, high-entropy passphrase Windows switches to an open Word document and the million people in the stadium, and the forty billion people watching the webcast see you’re a fan of obscene passwords. (And immediately, empty your bank accounts).

That’s slightly exaggerated but I have seen my parents suffer this while helping them set up internet banking. While entering a password into IE, Firefox finally loaded after an update, immediately took focus, and Dad ended up putting his password into the address bar and got a list of Google results for the password. This means that now not only do I know the key to my inheritance fund, but so do Larry and Sergey.

So, I open one application (App1) and then click a shortcut to open another (App 2). While App2 loads, I begin working in App1. Perhaps I start typing in a username, and then tab to the Password box. Suddenly App 2 is finished loading. Somewhere inside Windows, it recognises that App2 was clicked AFTER App1, so it should direct the user to App2 and that application gets focus. You end up typing your password into a global IRC chat window. Or perhaps your Facebook status. Stupid.

My thoughts are that Windows isn’t in the best position to judge who gets focus. Each application should be asked if it is ready to yield focus. In the case where somebody has JUST clicked into the password textbox and is typing their password, then obviously the answer is NO! And newly spawned windows should just load behind the current one.

Wikipedia describes stolen focus as a “Mode Error” and is “frowned upon in interface design”. They say such errors in interface design “can be quite startling and disorienting as the user copes with the sudden violation of his or her user expectations“.

I say it’s frickin’ annoying and makes me want to take a dookie on Windows from a very great altitude.

Jeff Atwood from puts it much better:


2. Kill WMP

Windows Media Player is Satan in digital media player form. Microsoft have taken it upon themselves to totally disregard their own best practices for application design and used their own chrome (the bit around an application which contains useful shizzle like menu bars, etc. After the move from Windows Media Player (classic) to WMP7 it took me no less than three months to find out how to get to the File menu. I faeces you not.

Its biggest let-down is the playlist management and CD burning. So many of the lists in WMP7 can’t be dragged into other lists. For example, if you’ve selected a list of songs and they’re in the Now Playing queue, you can’t select them all and drag them into the CD burning window. You have to add them all manually. And vice versa, you might have built up a nice burn queue, but you can drag them to the Now Playing queue. It’s pathetic.

They’re now up to WMP12 with Windows 7. Do you know what the Apollo program achieved in its 12th iteration? That’s right, they landed some blokes on the moon for the second time. And yet WMP12 can’t even burn some bangin’ choons on a CD properly.

Sure, it says it is normalising each song (wait 10 minutes…) then it says it is preparing each song (10 minutes…) then it says it is burning each song (you guessed it…) and finally it says it is complete! But the disc is often blank or corrupt. I haven’t had this problem with any other software!! IMGBurn or even Windows Explorer’s slightly-dumb-but-does-the-job CD Burning Wizard even works fine.

Get rid, MS!


3. Explorer Search

Do you remember searching  for files in Windows XP? It was a life-changingly good experience. You even had a little dog sniffing its crotch with glee when you decided to filter your results by a narrower date range or file size.

Windows XP Search
Windows XP Search


XP Search Dog
XP Search Dog


With a little playing around you could get a little cartoon Albert Einstein practicing mixing chemicals (which has nothing to do with the study of Physics that he is famed for) instead of the dog. Although why you’d want to get rid of little Groin Nose I’ll never know.

Filtering by date was achieved using a collection of drop-down calendars. Very easy. But now? Now you need to run some Linux Bash script to get any sense out of the search. It’s a collossal backwards step:

Windows Vista and 7 Search
Windows Vista and 7 Search: Give me back the dog and nobody gets hurt...


Searching by file extension
Searching by file extension


There’s no help, no IntelliSense, no autocorrect, nothing. What a sham!

Oh wait! STOP PRESSES! I’ve just been reading the awesome Jeff Atwood on again and it turns out I’ve missed a button somewhere that opens up all the old functionality! More info here:

If this is a lot more prominent (and had a footballing, ass-sniffing dog in it somewhere) then Windows 8 is a guaranteed success!!


4. Promote Add/Remove Programs

I’m a fairly advanced user of Windows. I’m a software developer with 10 years experience and I can herd bytes with the best of them. Want an ActionScript physics engine? Sure, no problem. Want an HTML5 realtime chat site? It’ll cost you. But no worries, give me a few days. Need a Windows Phone 7.5 application that talks to your car via Twitter? I’ll get back to you on that.

And yet, 99.999% of the time, when I go into Start > Control Panel, I’m heading to Add/Remove Programs. Or Add & Remove Programs, as it was briefly known. Or Add and Remove Programs. Or, as it is now, Programs and Features. FFS… (The other 0.001% of the time, I’m going to Administrative Tasks to do something ubergeeky.)

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. How often do you recalibrate your joystick? Or reconfigure the quick keys on your graphics tablet? Or change the gamma correction on your nVidia card?

It’s time Microsoft made application management a first class citizen of Windows. In fact, hell. Why not follow Apple, Amazon, Google, Ubuntu and many others’ lead and build an App Store?

Oh, you already have? Excellent. Just don’t hide it away under the Control Panel!


5. Shutdown – Let us help!

Look, Windows, Microsoft, Bill Gates, whoever you are. When I hit “shutdown” I want Windows to assume that I have 8 seconds to get into the nuclear bunker or we’re all freakin’ doomed, ok? If I have anything open and unsaved applications ARE GOING TO ASK ME TO SAVE MY CHANGES! This is in your best practices isn’t it?

So why for the love of the Baby Cheesus does Windows 7 stick up a big darkened image of my desktop with “something is holding up the shutdown process” on it? Why the hell doesn’t it let me actually help the shutdown process by clicking “Yes”, or “No” or “Wibble” on the message boxes that are appearing? Let me read what the message is! And worst of all, there’s no way of knowing if it’s waiting for user input (like asking me to save my changes) or if it’s just taking a bit of time to close itself down (Firefox saving my millions of tabs, for example).

Just throw some of that control back to the user so we can help.

The old way, which would say “you’ve got 30 seconds to save your work, Bucko, or your latest changes get it!” was awesome. It was perfect. Everybody who ever had to make it to a secure bunker before the A-Bomb hit, and was using Windows XP, made it. And still had all their changes saved.

Everybody who ever had to make it to the bunker before the A-bomb hit, and was using Windows 7, was still wondering why Photoshop was “preventing the system from shutting down” as the radiation tore the skin and muscle from their bones and vapourised the computer.


6. Don’t Piss Off 3rd Party Developers, Developers, Developers

When Bill Gates decided he would rather be Ghandi than Bill Gates anymore, lovable, loud orangutan, Steve Ballmer, took Microsoft’s comfiest seat. Steve was adamant that Microsoft’s future success pivoted on how well it brought software developers with it.

He put it best in his famous “Developers, Developers, Developers” anthem:



However, recently Microsoft’s love of its Independent Software Vendor (ISV) community has been questionable. When apocalyptically unsuccessful Windows Phone 7 originally shipped without Copy and Paste functionality some clever developers heeded Ballmer’s call and released an unofficial patch to make the phone operating system better. Surely he would have been Knighted and employed, or something? Not quite. Microsoft said that anybody who had tried to put the functionality (which absolutely should have been there from Day One) would not have been eligible for future Official upgrades. Fuck you, early adopters.

Windows Phone 7 first shipped on October 21st 2010. Do you know how many days it took Microsoft to fix the lack of cut and paste? It wasn’t days. It was months. Five months to be precise!

And now? Well, after the debacle making its first Windows 7 customers feel like crap they now accept the “NoDo” unofficial update as part of Windows Phone 7’s history.

Gah! Make up your friggin’ mind!!

7. Press Alt For Useful Things to Appear!

What? Alt? When has anybody in the history of forever used the ALT key? Yes, I’m being pedantic. For a change.

Microsoft started to hate keyboards in the early 2000s. Which is strange, because these words are typed on a Microsoft keyboard, and I have the same one at home, and I had another one before that. A decent amount of revenue for MS comes from hardware including keyboards. So why did they suddenly start hiding the little underlines on letters in words which would let you know what the keyboard shortcut was when you combined that letter with pressing the ALT key? By the way, here’s how you turn that stupid feature off:

And then later they removed the entire menu bar from Internet Explorer 7.0 until you clicked “ALT”. A bunch of people were confused by this. It’s not normal behaviour to try pressing ALT to see if the much-used menu bar will appear. It isn’t what User Experience (UX) specialists call “discoverable”.

In fact, it’s retarded.

And now they want to get rid of keyboards all together and push everyone down the smeared fingerprinty computer monitor route!

This week I upgraded to Firefox 10 and, sure enough, they’re going the way of Google Chrome with their tabs held high, and have removed the menu bar too. Firefox! The last bastion of sensibility have been swayed by the inexplicable market share of the Internet Explorer browser and their missing menu.

A quick right-click and then a lefty on “Menu Bar” and we’re back, but by default?!


Firefox 10
The Firefox "Awesomebar"


I was showing Dad how to multi-select images using the Control (Ctrl) key so he could sell something on eBay and this is how the conversation went:

Me: “Hold down the Control key-”

Dad: “I’ll never remember this!”

Me: “Course you will, it’s the bottom corner one.”

Dad: “I’ll just do it one by one, it’s ok. Thanks for your help.”

And that’s your market, Mozilla and Microsoft!


8. Focus

Seriously. Stop stealing it!!!